Sunday, March 9, 2014

Beutiful but poisonous anemone

Crown anemone -Anemone coronaria - Kaħwiela
The crown anemone looks like a small violet poppy. It is indigenous to the Mediterranean region including the Maltese islands but it is not as frequent as it is claimed to be.

It flowers from January to March. It is found mostly in garigue and maquis habitat especially in sheltered valley such as Wied il-Għasel in Mosta and Wied Qirda near Żebbuġ.

The flower is borne on top of a tall stem. It loves the sun and is happiest on bright sunny days and as soon as the sun disappears, it closes up. I realised how fast the petals can close when I was taking a picture and blocked the sun with my camera. By the time I had finished setting up the camera the petals had already started to close.

In Maltese the crown anemone is known as kaħwiela from ikħal the little used Maltese word for blue.

The crown anemone is a perennial species that survives the summer as an underground corm. It grows between 20 and 40 cm high but all the specimens I have seen in Malta were on the smaller side not growing much higher than 20cms.

The crown anemone has been in cultivation for a very long time and many cultivars and varieties have been developed. Last year this species was popularly chosen as the national flower of Israel.

The plant is slightly poisonous if large quantities are eaten. Poisoning can take place by ingestion or by absorption through the skin. Its fresh sap can cause inflammation and blistering if touched and if swallowed it induces vomiting and diarrhoea.

The anemone belongs to the buttercup family. About 120 species of anemones have been identified most of which are found in the cooler parts of the world.

Ovid, the Roman poet who lived 43 BC to AD 17 or 18, wrote in his poem Metamorphoses that the anemone was created when the goddess Venus sprinkled nectar on the blood of her dead lover Adonis. 

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 5 March 2014. 

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