Sunday, 27 April 2014

When do the poppies appear in Tuscany?

Wild flowers in Tuscany.


This is the time of year when many readers ask me, "When do the poppies appear in Tuscany?" Of course, the exact time varies a bit from year to year, but right now, the end of April and beginning of May, is the time to see poppies and many, many other species of wild flowers in Tuscany. This is basically because April is one of the two rainy months in Tuscany (the other being October) and as long as the temperature and rainfall are more or less average, flowers will spring up everywhere - ploughed fields, olive groves, vineyards, roadside.

The picture below shows a bunch of wild flowers that I picked yesterday during the course of a 20 minute walk through my olive grove here in central Chianti. Those are just a few of the more spectacular blooms that had sprung up since the thunderstorm the day before, irises and poppies among them.

wild flowers of Tuscany
Tuscan wild flowers

Poppies of the Val d'Orcia

When visitors to Tuscany ask about poppies in bloom, they're usually referring to the red poppies that blanket the Val d'Orcia at this time of year. This display is most spectacular on the ploughed hills of the heavily alkaline Crete Senesi in the Val d'Orcia before the crops are planted, and is the object of many a photographic excursion to that area of Tuscany during the last days or April and early May. Cultivation of agricultural land is often detrimental to wild plant species but not so the Tuscan poppy which, indeed, is also known as the "corn poppy" because it thrives on land subject to the annual rhythm of grain cultivation. This species is also famous under the name "Flanders poppy", the emblem of the fallen soldiers of World War I. Papaver rhoeas, the variety of papavero (poppy) that has become known as the Tuscan poppy, probably originated in Egypt, where the cyclic agricultural practices regulated by the annual flood of the Nile began favouring this spectacular plant. By growing on disturbed soil and seeding itself profusely during its growing season, the poppy has found a perfect harmony with the agricultural practices for the past 3,000 years or so and remains of poppies have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

Poppies in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany
Poppies blooming in the Val d'Orcia of Tuscany

Orchids in Tuscany

Not everyone realises that there are more than 40 species of orchid native to Tuscany. Ophrys speculum is one of the most common and easiest to recognise of the Tuscan orchids, but the diligent flower enthusiast will soon discover several other common species that are currently in flower. Many of these are found in or near bogs high in the Apuan Alps, but others are common throughout Tuscany, especially in the hilly vineyards and fields of Chianti. The flowers of members of the genus Ophrys are famous for their resemblance to female insects, to the extent that male insects, bees in particular, attempt to copulate with them, hence pollinating the flowers. Although many authorities list between 50 and 150 species of Ophrys in Europe, molecular genetic analysis suggests that there might be as few as 10 species, with the other apparent species being variants arising from hybridisation. Nevertheless, whether they are different species or not, this genus alone provides a huge variety of floral pleasures for country walkers in Tuscany.

A Tuscan orchid, Ophrys speculum
A Tuscan orchid, Ophrys speculum
More about the orchids of Tuscany.


Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
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