Arbutus in flower along the road above the house, November 2012
With the change in the clocks, we get more daylight in the morning, but the sun sets terribly early. There’s a lot of rain, not falling in occasional storms, but in a steady downpour going on for hours. Just as well, because Portugal relies for its year-long water supply mostly on the rain which falls in winter. This is all stored in reservoirs up in the hills to the east. By the end of the month, there may be a touch of frost in the morning, but this is usually followed by bright sunny days. But there are not many plants flowering.
This abundant ericaceous plant (related to heather) grows as a small under-storey tree in the woodlands. As an evergreen, it contributes a lot to keeping our local woodlands green in winter. It is a true November flowerer, producing large and conspicuous clusters of drooping white heather-like flowers. Curiously, its fruits, which are like large slightly bumpy cranberries hanging from the shoots, take a year to ripen, so that the trees are carrying new flowers and ripe fruits at the same time. The plant gets its name from a fancied resemblance of the fruits to strawberries, being red and bumpy, but they are not really at all like strawberries in their structure. They are rather insipid and hardly worth bothering with as fruits, but they are widely used here in Portugal to make a liqueur. The distribution of A. unedo ranges from Ireland down to Portugal, and then throughout the Mediterranean.
This is a plant that flowers almost throughout the year, but it only really becomes visible in the autumn because there are no other more conspicuous plants to attract attention. It is a small-flowered small-leaved straggly labiate with pale pink flowers and a minty smell. In our garden, it is outshone by other labiates like marjoram, wild basil and various mints. It occurs in England, but is hardly a conspicuous member of the flora.