7 Aug 2011

July in Bloom

Welcome to La Baguette's latest feature: 'A Month in Bloom', which debuted in our February edition. At the end of each month, this blog will showcase a gallery of floral blossoms of the wild order encountered during that month on random walks around my current base in Northern Corsica.

An ode to immortality: Helichrysum italicum
In this part of the island July was hot, only slightly cooled down by a 5-day windy spell, a couple of overcast days and even the odd heavy shower. The humidity levels interspersed with dry heat wreaked havoc on cultures, in particular tomatoes, and also fostered infestations. Sadly yet predictably the high winds encouraged the odd scrub fire across the island, and closer to home too. Firemen patrols were on red alert and the overall damage has been 'contained', although hazard will remain until the back end of September.

Botanists and flora lovers at large won't have found as much satisfaction in July as they would have in Spring when the diversity of Corsican wild flowers will have put on a fabulous show of colours and contrasts. Comparatively July looked rather bland on the floral front and one will have to be patient until next Spring in order to re-live the Corsican floral jamboree!

Beauty secret: Helichrysum italicum
Having said that, it would be fair to mention the likes of Helichrysum italicum, otherwise commonly known as immortelle in French. Helichrysum flowers in late June, in the form of stemmed clumps of bright yellow blossoms found on exposed sunny rocksides, mostly by (but not restricted to) the seaside. In July, the yellow blossoms turn gold as they dry up, fragrancing the air with their distinctive aroma. Helychrisum is one of the plants that contribute to the so-distinctive Corsican maquis fragrance, that very fragrance that kinds of hit you as you step off the aeroplane in airfields across the island.

In skincare, helichrysum was to the noughties what green tea and tea tree oil were to the 90s, with its success showing no sign of waning thereafter. Helichrysum extract is used, not only by French skincare specialists L'Occitane, Corsican skincare firms Réalia, Imiza and Les Simples & Divines, and by dermatologists, to correct skin blemishes, but also to soften wrinkles, soothe sunburns and even bruises! Talk about a miracle in a jar!

In the spotlight: Helichrysum italicum
Another plant fondly associated with Corsican riches is Myrtus communis (myrtle). The shrub is a component of the medium-height maquis, usually found in a tight embrace with nearby shrubs like viburnum, heather and strawberry trees. Its white flowering comes out in late June/ early July and resembles that of the hawthorn, with a delicate fragrance to boot. Although not edible as such, myrtle berries are used to make a strong brandy and nowadays are making a foray into Corsican delicatessen, nouvelle cuisine style (myrtle-flavoured salt, chocolate with myrtle berries).

Yet July is much more than those two cultural heavyweights of helichrysum and myrtle. Open those peepers wide, scratch the surface of the Corsican Summer landscape and you'll start finding a flower or two that's also noteworthy. Go for a wander and it won't be long until you spot Verbascum or Saponaria by the roadside, or down the embankment. Crithmum maritimum, another cosmetology darling, is also making a splash, by the seaside.

Pilar of society: Myrtle
Rejoice, we've just proved our point: despite first impressions it's not that lonely on the Corsican flower front this side of Summer! And remember to join us next month to find out whether August was a close contender!

Harking back to Spring: Saponaria
Seaside companion: Crithmum maritimum
Out in the open: Common Chicory
High and yellow: Verbascum nigrum

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