Saturday, May 19, 2012

The shiny yellow autumn buttercup

Autumn buttercup (Ranunculus bullatus)
During the past few days summer gave way to autumn. The air became cooler and enough rain fell to stimulate bulbs, corms and tubers to start growing leaves and to initiate the process of germination of those seeds that had been lying dormant in the soil from last spring or earlier. 

The change from parched brown to fresh green takes place incredibly fast and the change from green to bright yellow which will take place within a few weeks time is even faster.

Plants with underground storage organs have an advantage over plants which have to germinate from a seed.

This advantage makes it possible for them to flower soon after the arrival of the first rains. This weekend I found one of the first plants to flower in autumn, the autumn buttercup.

This plant, which is known in Maltese as ċifolloq, has shiny yellow flowers. It can be found growing in garigue, maquis and steppe.

In the next few days the flowers of the autumn narcissus (narċis imwaħħar) will also appear in the same habitats. These will be followed by the yellow-throated crocus (żagħfran salvaġġ) which is found mainly in garigue and steppe habitats in the Buskett and Dingli area. 

There will also be less showy plants for which you will need to look more carefully. Among these is a small orchid known as autumn lady’s tresses (ħajja u mejta). Most of these flowers will disappear by the time winter officially starts by which time many other species of winter flowering plants will be in bloom.

Autumn in Malta is a time of rebirth. The autumn rains give life to the countryside and many species of plants make the most out of the available water and sunlight to grow rapidly before the arrival of the colder and darker winter months.

This article was published in The Times on 19.10.11

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