Luxuriant grapevines contrast with dried up grass and chicory in a rustic vineyard near Alcabideque
Portugal becomes hot and dry, and the « spring » flowers have gone. There is a different set of summer-flowering plants, typically of the big families Asteraceae, Apiaceae and Poaceae. These are mostly large herbs with lots of small flowers. Many are rather drab, in whites and yellows, and there are few bright flowers, at least among the native plants. However, garden plants from hot parts of the world find that this is the right time to flower, so there is plenty of colour in the urban areas.
This is a familiar plant throughout Europe, and grows abundantly in Portugal. In our garden, it was among the first to grow and flower on the bare area of builder’s rubble which occupied a large part of the slope behind the house. Like the cultivated carrot; it is a biennial, forming a fairly small non-flowering plant in the first year. The plant dies back in winter to an enlarged taproot, which in the wild plant is yellow and only a few mm in diameter, but does smell of carrot. A taller plant grows in the second year and produces the large white umbels typical of the species, with frilly bracts below and a central red flower. It makes quite good ground cover. Incidentally, carrots are used to make jam in Portugal….
Chicory is one of those rather few Asteraceae which have blue flowering heads. In leaf, the plants are not very distinctive and hardly stand out against a general background of other weedy plants. But they suddenly produce masses of blue flowering heads; and then give a carpet of colour along roadsides and the edges of fields. The plants overwinter as enlarged roots bearing the buds of the following year’s growth. When cultivated varieties are encouraged to grow by suitable heat and watering, but given no light, these buds develop into white leafy shoots, bulbous in the “witloof” type (“endive” in French) or more leafy in Italian varieties. Allowed to grow normally, other varieties form a lettuce-like head of leaves (“chicorée” in French). Besides, the roots can be ground up to make a coffee substitute. A versatile plant. We haven’t tried to eat our carrots or chicory, but it’s reassuring in this ecological age to know that they are there!