A few unprecedented rainy days in July, and another wet spell in early September, have upset the usual pattern of autumn flowering. I spotted the first cyclamens on 15 August – an unexpected sight as they normally flower towards the end of September. Most years, once prolonged rain comes in October, summer has already departed, and new growth struggles against the growing chill; this year, warm weather has followed the soak, triggering an almost springtime explosion of green undergrowth. It won’t be long before spring flowers are tricked into bud – indeed, one cranesbill has already bloomed along my little lane.
Nearby, a real autumn flowerer has appeared, the first time I have seen it in this area. This is the Biarum, a type of lily – but not the pretty, sweet-smelling type. It’s a sinister-looking plant, dark purply-black in colour, comprising a blade-shaped upright and a long, snaking proboscis. Rather than attracting insects with a sweet scent, it puts out a reek of sewage combined with rotting carcases. Luckily there are only three growing so far; a mass blooming is required before our poor noses pick up the stench.
The first time I came across the Biarum was when, several years ago, I was escorting an autumn botany and walking tour. The punters were particularly anxious to see Biarums and accordingly the botany leader, Simon, had procured a sketch map from a friend, who told him that a location near Makrades was the only spot in Corfu where the Biarum grew. From the sketch, I managed to work out the exact place, and we set out hopefully on the Great Biarum Hunt.
Simon finally spotted one on a terrace above the track (Simon was renowned for spotting things at vast distances). Not having Simon’s hawk-like eyes, and not really knowing what we were looking for, none of us could see it, so I volunteered to climb up on the terrace so that Simon could guide me to the spot:
‘Left a bit, right a bit; OK, you’re there.’ said Simon. ‘Would you point it out to us?’
‘Simon, all I can see is a stick stuck in the ground.’
‘It does look rather like a stick.’
‘Simon, I’m really sorry, but it actually IS a stick!’
Disappointment all round. We did find a narcissus, though.
On the last day’s walk, we climbed into the hills above Nissaki.
Nearing Katavolos on what would a few years later become a section of the Corfu Trail, I was suddenly stricken with a terrible head pain, as if something was simultaneously burrowing up my sinuses and driving a compass point between my eyes. We were surrounded by Biarums! They were everywhere on the olive terraces, and it was the reek of them en masse which had literally browbeaten me. So much for a single Makradean terrace being the Biarum’s one and only habitat on Corfu.
I’ve never got up that path and out of the olive groves so fast since.
But at least the botanists were all happy.Return To Hilary’s Blog Main Page