Construction of the new IP3, Casa Telhada, end of March 2012
By tradition, April is the season of rain in Portugal - “Em abril àguas mil” goes the saying - and never was it more welcome than in 2012. Without rain, not much grows or flowers, even if the temperatures are quite high. A third of the way through the month the endless succession of warm sunny days was at last broken. Cold wet weather at last! The swimming pool almost overflowing! Our guests shivered in their short-sleeved shirts and we turned the heating on again. But spring-flowering plants like peonies at last started to produce new growth, and our miserable frost-damaged shrubs began their slow recovery.
A familiar wayside sight in Portugal is a great mass of lemon-yellow flowers on a clump of annual cruciferous weeds. In northern Europe, this might very well be oilseed rape (Brassica napus), which has everywhere escaped from cultivation, but this is not much seen in Portugal. As the season progresses, various species of Brassica and Sinapis take their turn, but in April, it is mainly Rapistrum rugosum. All these species look much alike from a distance, but seen close to they are quite distinctive, mainly in their seed-pods (“siliquae” in a crucifer). These may be long or short, hairy or not, long-stalked or short-stalked, held parallel to the flowering stem or spreading, containing many seeds or few. R. rapistrum has a fruit like a little drumstick, held parallel to the stem, with only a few seeds in the round rough head of the stick. As the fruits mature, the stems lengthen, and extend sideways rather than upwards, so you finish up with a fine tangle of fruiting stems.
Plants of the genus Cistus are characteristic of the Mediterranean garrigue and contribute greatly to the great flush of colourful flowers which marks the Mediterranean spring. What are normally rather dull shriveled shrublets suddenly burst into colour, red or pink in some species, white in others, or white with a purple centre. The species are sensitive to soil pH and around Bendafé, on limestone, we get the ones favoured by the calcareous soil (C. albidus, C. crispus, C. salvifolius), while C. ladanifer, favoured by acid soils, occurs further inland. C. albidus, the first to flower, is covered with numerous light pink flowers. Cistus may be loved by botanists, but they are scorned in Portugal: their presence on land is a sign that its owner has let it go to rack and ruin. And it’s troublesome to get rid of them if you want to bring the land back into cultivation.