I generally focus on the flora we discover on our walks in the Algarvian hills and saltpans, occasionally however I make myself stop for a moment to take a closer look at the trees in the towns and villages. And I am never disappointed as there is always something new and special to discover in the canopy above our heads.
The Brachychiton as with many of the cultivated trees in the towns and villages is not native to Portugal. It is from Australia but is now found throughout the world where there are Mediterranean climates; California and Spain apparently regularly use it for public planting projects. I cannot recall seeing it before in the Algarve, and it isn’t even mentioned in my book on Portuguese flora. Fortunately MrB tracked down its name for me; we are pretty sure this is Brachychiton populenus. The tree itself isn’t noteworthy but the pods are certainly worth a second look and why it caught my eye in Moncarapacho. Probably best not to touch the pods though; the seeds are coated with a dense matte of urticating hairs and they sound almost as impossible to extract from your skin as the hairs on a prickly pear!
My next tree for today’s portraits post is also frequently planted in towns and villages in the Iberian Peninsula, and is also not native. Can you spot it below?
Nope not the palms, the ones with the green seed pods! They are from tropical America, and their name is Jacaranda mimosifolia. Apparently in South Africa if the blooms fall on a student from the University of Pretoria they will pass all their exams, and in Brisbane, Australia the sight of the Jacaranda in full bloom is a sign that it is time to knuckle down to their studies. Whilst we’ve seen the trees in full flower in Madeira we rarely see its gorgeous blue flowers here in the Algarve as we are always here in the winter months. Just occasionally though we will see the odd bloom in late October alongside the large seed pods.
A favourite of mine is the Cercis siliquastrum, more commonly known as the Judas Tree. At this time of year there is nothing particularly special about this deciduous tree, but I’ve decided to include it as the seed pods might have caught your eye. And in a only few weeks it will definitely be catching everyone’s eye with its wonderful pink flowers. The legend is that this lovely Mediterranean redbud tree turned its flowers pink because it was so ashamed that Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, used its branches to kill himself.
Another tree whose seed pods catch your eye at this time of year is the Indian Bead Tree. Amazingly I do not seem to have mentioned it before. Its scientific name is Melia azedarach, and whilst not native to Europe it is now found throughout the Iberian Peninsula and southern France beside roads and in villages. The yellow berries seem to stay forever on the tree, so guess not that palatable to the Portuguese birdlife as elsewhere in the world the birds gorge on the berries.
Indian Bead Trees are not the only trees full of fruit at this time of year, the palms are dropping their fruit everywhere and the bay laurel is full of colour. Well we think it is the bay laurel. I was really struggling to identify it but MrB had a search and is pretty certain this is the laurus nobilis with unripened berries as the stems are the wrong colour for the Portuguese Laurel (prunus lusitanica). Unfortunately I didn’t think at the time to smell its leaves to be 100% confident it is the bay!
I know there are numerous trees I haven’t mentioned such as the glorious magnolias in Porto, the invasive and problematic Eucalyptus and the Bottle Brush. But I’ll come back to them another day, and instead finish with a few photographs of some everyday trees – the lemons, oranges and satsumas.
By the way it was partly the picture below that inspired me to write an urban tree post. I am sure you like me tend to take them for granted as we rush past in our urban environments but maybe we should regularly take a moment to stop. Samuel N Baxter, a 19th/20th century American arboriculturist and landscape gardener sums up perfectly the importance of trees in his poem ‘I Love a Tree’.
When I pass on to my reward,
Whatever that may be,
I’d like my friends to think of me
As one who loved a tree.
I may not have a statesman’s poise,
Nor thrill a crowd with speech,
But I can benefit mankind
If I set out a beech.
If I transport a sapling oak
To rear its mighty head,
’Twill shade and shelter those who come
Long after I am dead.
If in the park I plant an elm,
Where children come to play,
To them ’twill be a childhood shrine
That will not soon decay.
Of if I plant a tree with fruit,
On which the birds may feed,
I’ve helped to foster feathered friends,
And that’s a worthy deed.
For winter, when the days grow short
And spirits may run low,
I’d plant a pine upon the ‘scape;
’Twould lend a cheering glow.
I’d like a tree to mark the spot
Where I am laid to rest,
To me ‘twould be an epitaph
That I would love the best.
And though not carved upon a stone
For those who come to see,
My friends would know that resting here
Is one who loved a tree.
I LOVE A TREE
by Samuel N. Baxter