Friday, October 24, 2008

Prickly pear

In Sicily this large-growing, usually thornless cactus is cultivated for its abundant crop of fruit. It's also an aggressive invader of dry, sunny natural areas. Prickly pear is not a native Sicilian plant. However, growing conditions here are so well matched to its needs that this cactus can now be found wild or a garden plant over most of the island. When ripe, the purple or yellowish flesh of the fruit or 'tuna' is edible and sweet, but the small hard seeds that are densely packed in the fruit pulp may be a problem for people with gastrointestinal sensitivity. Besides being eaten raw, Prickly pear fruits are made into jams and jellies, and the Sicilian province of Enna produces a Prickly pear flavored liqueur called 'Ficodi'. Wear gloves when peeling Prickly pear fruits or handle them with tongs or a newspaper to avoid the clusters of tiny, sharp bristles that dot their surface.

Scientific name: Opuntia ficus-indica
Italian common name: Fico d'India
English common name: Prickly pear (India fig)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Service tree

This interesting and attractive native tree of the Sicilian countryside is especially impressive in Autumn when showy clusters of orange-pink fruits decorate its branch tips. Resist the temptation to take a nibble of the fruits. They're usually astringent and mouth-puckering at this stage. However, when stored in a cool dry place until they almost begin to rot, the fruits become sweet and delectable to human taste buds. Even during the winter leafless period, Service tree has a stately, distinctive appearance. It is not abundant in nature, and rarely available in plant nurseries on the island.

Scientific name: Sorbus domestica
Italian common name: Sorbo domestico
English common name: Service tree

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gladwin iris

Early summer flowers of the Gladwin iris are perhaps best described as 'interesting' rather than beautiful, but in Fall big seed capsules open to reveal showy orange-red berries. These are quite striking and longlasting whether left on the plant or added to dried flower arrangements in the home.

Scientific name: Iris foetidissima
Italian common name: Giaggiolo puzzolente
English common name: Gladwin iris

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mystery Stone Wheel

One late summer morning we discovered an ancient stone wheel on a stream bank beside The Laurel Nature Trail. This heavy wheel measuring 19.5 in. (50 cm.) in diameter and 9 in. (23 cm.) thick lies at least a half kilometer away from the Abbey. What was its purpose? Maybe a millstone for grinding grain? 'No' say local amateur archeologists. The plan now is to move the wheel up a steep stream bank with as little damage as possible to the native vegetation. Our hope is that when the wheel can be examined carefully and up close, someone may solve the riddle of how it was used.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Yellow autumn crocus

At Gangivecchio, the autumn-winter show of native flowering bulbs gets underway with a display of warm, glowing Yellow autumn crocus blooms. Growing to 8 in. (20 cm.) tall, this small perennial bulb has slender, dark green, waxy leaves. Flowering plants may appear as singles or in clusters of 10 or more scattered through sunny areas or in light shade. Although its flowers resemble those of the crocus, this plant is actually more closely related to Narcissus.

Scientific name: Sternbergia lutea
Italian common name: Zafferanastro giallo
English common name: Yellow autumn crocus

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

False yellowhead

Adding a note of fall color to the countryside with small, bright yellow daisy-like flowers, False yellowhead is a common perennial in this region and throughout the Mediterranean basin on disturbed sites, in abandoned pastures and along roadsides. The plant's upright stems are woody at the base becoming herbaceous above. Both stems and leaves are covered with sticky hairs that may cause contact dermatitis in sensitive humans.

Scientific name: Inula viscosa, syn. Dittrichia viscosa
Italian common name: Enula cepittoni
English common name: False yellowhead, Sticky fleabane