Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cream narcissus

Clusters of showy flowers with an enticing fragrance are the special virtue of this native narcissus. First to appear are flat green leaves that grow from an underground bulb. The flowers--with their white waxy petals and a short yellow cup--open in bunches of 3 to 10 or more on erect cylindrical stems 12-20 in. (30-50 cm) in height. Depending on elevation and microclimate, flowering may take place anytime from November to March of the following year. This species is highly variable and many selections with different flower characteristics have been introduced into horticulture. They grow in open sunny pastures, cultivated fields and sunny roadside slopes.

Scientific name: Narcissus tazetta
Italian common name: Narciso nostrale
English common name: Cream narcissus

Friday, February 20, 2009

Almond tree

In late winter and early spring the almond tree is one of Sicily's first trees to signal the impending end of winter. Throughout the countryside thousands of almond trees are transformed into radiant pink or white clouds by 5-petaled flowers that open in pairs or singly along branches, before new leaves appear. Almonds are a close relative of the peach, and their fruits look something like small leathery peaches covered with fine, fuzzy hairs. Mature seeds or kernels of the almond may be sweet or bitter, depending on the type, but both kinds have many uses. This small to medium sized non-native tree with a rounded canopy was introduced into Italy and North Africa in ancient times. This tree is cultivated for commercial and home garden for almond production. It also grows wild on dry sunny hillsides, in fence rows and along roadsides.

Scientific name: Prunus dulcis
Italian common name: Mandorlo
English common name: Almond

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Snowy Sicily

Last week a snow storm with occasional hail and dense fog left a blanket of glistening white snow over much of the hill country of Sicily. At Gangivecchio (elev. 850 m) the falling snow melted for several hours before beginning to stick. When the storm finally ended, we measured 12 in. (30 cm) of snow on the abbey grounds. Landslides have temporarily cut highway access to the nearby towns of Castelbuono and Nicosia. The upside to recent rains and this snow storm is that springs in our area are flowing fast and strong with crystal clear, cold water.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Lichens are often ignored life forms in the Sicilian countryside. They are unique however, and in many respects fascinating components of nature. Among the more than 10,000 species are those that can endure extremes of drought, temperature and solar radiation. All lichens are composite organisms. Many kinds are made up of a fungus and a green alga. The fungus absorbs water and minerals from rain and dust in the air or from the surface on which the lichen grows. The green alga within the lichen is photosynthetic, and produces sugars for itself and for the fungus. Some lichen species thrive on bare rocks, clay tile roofs or other surfaces that have no soil. Lichens that are epiphytes grow on other plants, often tree trunks and branches. Epiphytic lichens are not parasites. Instead they use the host plant merely as an anchor or a means of support.

Scientific name: Lichens are classified according to the fungus species
Italian common name: Lichene
English common name: Lichen

Common polypody

This attractive woodland fern takes both its scientific and common names from the creeping, hairy rhizomes (underground horizontal stems) that grow in a spreading mat, near or at the soil surface. Fronds that are deeply divided into 10 to 18 pairs of leaflets appear at intervals along the rhizomes. On the bottom side of the fronds reproductive spores are produced in conspicuous oval spore cases.

Habitat: Wooded hillsides and stream banks, in rocky nooks and crannies, and at the base of trees in deep to dappled shade. Mid-to upper elevation zones.

Scientific name: Polypodium australe Fee
sin. Polypodium vulgare var. serrayum Willd.
Italian common name: Polypodio meridionale
English common name: Common polypody