Delta de L’erb

South of Barcelona in the seaside town of Sitges Date Palms line the beach. The dog was busy eating these at every opportunity.


Date Palm

Dotted along the coast are small pockets of protected foreshore and back shore where the public are asked not to walk. This allows a miriad of mediteranean coastal plants a chance to survive. Below is a pic of some back shore on the Calafat coast.


Backshore Calafat

The foreshore at Calafat


Foreshore Calafat


Further down the coast we reached the Delta de L’erb and spent a few days at Casa de Fusta Amposta . This area is a birdwatchers paradise and covers 360 square kilometers of wetlands providing overwintering habitiat. Here we saw Flamingos, Egrits and Marsh Harriers.

The area is used for rice growing with 21000 hectares of Paddy Fields. Irrigation chanels supply and drain fields with fresh and waste water. To assist the bird life the fields are kept flooded over the winter and only drained in March when they are ploughed leveled and sown again. It’s such an unusual landscape and probably best visited in the winter as they warn about the Mosquitos which I can imagine must be horrendous..


Fresh water supply channel to the Paddy Fields

Little mud banks around the field edges retain the water. A break in this bank is used to drain a field shown below.


Drainage ditch

A traditional building in the delta surrounded by Paddy Fields


The causeways / diches that divide the fields are useful as access walkways but also as places to grow vegetables that can be eaten with the rice such as Broadbeans. The origins of Paella as a peasant food came about by combining rice with shellfish found in the mud and adding whatever vegetables were to hand.


Vegetables growing on the dividing ditches/ access ways

Our base was becide a restaurant ( Casa de Fusta) that allowed vans to park. Wifi was free with a meal. We really enjoyed this place.


View from hide near restaurant

All along the coast south of Delta de l’erb high rise holiday apartments line the shore. However just behind this strip of beachside holiday accomadation one finds agricultural farmland. The area between Peniscola and Benicarlo a few hundred metres behind the highrise looks like this. Also in this area are enormous Orange and Mandarin plantations where one can buy them for about 30 to 35cent a kilo. ( Non Organic)  or about 1.50 a kilo (Organic). . Other crops included brassicas and everything is on drip irrigation. Traditional farm houses dot the landscape but you get the feeling these are no longer used as residence but more as a base while working in the fields. Each has a pump and large water resevoir used to pump water though channels accross the fields.




Drip irrigation


Fieldscale production


Traditional farm house


Crops at various stages all on drip irrigation

While I was here I was looking about for some slugs for an assignment. It seems too dry here, all I could find were some snails under a log beneath an olive tree.


In the town of Cuenca wild rocket growing along the footpath.


The changing landscape into Spain

While in Brantome I came across this shrub growing in a small garden. Its a Siberian Pea tree (Caragana arborescens) and is often grown as an Ornamental. Its seeds and pods are edible and features on the Plants for a future database. It’s a beautiful tree to look at.


Siberian Pea Tree

Below a banana plant with some small bananas.




Robinia pseudocacia

The seeds of Robinia are said to be edible raw or cooked. The seed heads of Sumach can be used with cold water  to make a sweet drink.


Stags Horn Sumach Rhus Typhina

From the medieval town of Beynec we visited the hanging gardens at Marqueyssac famous for hundreds of thousands of Box Hedges all cliped into weird and wonderful shapes. They are all hand clipped in Spring and Autumn and we could see them being clipped for winter. The work was very precise with string lines and measures. The garden is high up on a rocky outcrop overlooking Castlenaud and The Roc Gageac. I like the wilder parts of the gardens also but the hedgeing was impressive. Other plants seen here included Mediteranean Cypress ( Cypressus sempervirens), Viburnum tinus, Holm Oak ( Quercus ilex ) which we would see much more of heading south. Turns out that this is edible also and some of the acorns we found were sweet eaten raw. The Holm oak acorns are what the top quality Iberico pig feed on in regions like Extremadura in Spain. It was here that I ended up buying a French plant I.d. book specific to the region. I have had difficulty finding english guidebooks to the trees and plants of France. You just don,t find any english books anywhere.


Box Hedgeing at Marqueyssac


Less formal parts of the Marqueyssac gardens

Further south we visited the hilltop town of Lautrec. This region is famous for its rose garlic which at this stage has been harvested and the fields are being ploughed for the winter. There is such a contrast between the well tended family allotments in the town and the surrounding large scale production of ail.


Like other regional products of France only those growing locally can call their product rose garlic.At the moment the earth is bare in the fields and the plants in the hedgerows and woods are starting to change to those of a drier climate. Even now water pumps are irrigating the dry cracked soil and burning of farm wastes dots the horizon. Along some field edges farmers have sown strips of wildflowers /beetlebanks perhaps to increase biodiversity.


Burning and Irrigation





Wildflowers along field margin

Beyond the city of Carcassonne we past through a wine region before the landscape dramatically changed. We had arrived in Lagrosse an olive growing region whose climate is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean. Everything had change in terms of plants by this point,gone almost completely were deciduous trees except in river valleys, in favour of a drier rockier environment. It was here we started to see the pencil cypress growing alongside Rosemary and lavender. In places it looks like someone planted it. Holm Oak which I remember seeing outside the engineering building in U.C.D. was able for this environment as were some pines.


Olive grove in Lagrasse

Crossing the border into Spain we stayed in Figueres. Outside the city a large citadel sits atop the hill here in scrubland was growing Hawthorn, Blackthorn, in the moat of the fortress. Broom grew in abundance and Euphorbia too.


Citadel in Figueres

Its easy to imagine how hot it must get here in the summer.



The beautiful town of Besalu on the river Fluvia was our first real trip into the Spanish countryside. Here we saw the village allotments with a complex irrigation system of chanels between the plots. We hiked up to a viewing spot above the town with plants like Holm Oak, Arbutus, Aloe on view.


Complex irrigation system at Besalu


The hillside near Besalu

In the moutains near Sadernes the Holm Oak and Arbutus unedo were the main trees growing with an understory of rosemary and thyme.  Its a wondeful place and I love the feeling of remoteness here.


Meltwater bridge crossing a small gorge



Out in the middle of nowhere on a dried up meltwater riverbed


The wonderful Arbutus unedo ( Strawberry tree). Funny to think this is a native back home and found in places like Killarney. These were just about ripe and starting to fall from the trees. I ate more than one


Arbutus unedo

The Holm Oak acorn so important to the taste of spanish ham


Holm Oak

I love the adaptability of the plants growing here.


Below the bridge into St joan de les abadesses another example of terraced irrigated veg plots.We stayed here before a 28 km hike to the top of Taga.


Terraced allotments at Sant joan de les Abadesses

Some autumnal colours


The image below is a web created by the Pine Processionary (caterpillar). We spotted these in many pine trees while up in the mountains and it turns out they are actually quite dangerous. The caterpillars hairs give of a powder which effects the repiratory systems in humans and animals while its hairs if touched cause serious skin irritation (Urticaria). The moths feed on pine needles at night over the winter returning to the heat of their web to digest their meal during the day. Then In feburary and March the caterpillars walk down the trees in a procession on a feramone trail to bury themselves just under the soil where they pupate.It is this time particularly that they are a danger to dogs that might investigate or humans that might try to touch them. In urban areas they are removed by the local authorities.There is talk online that these may have reached Ireland also? The webs are quite large with up to 500 individuals. At the end of the summer the moths lay eggs high in the pines and the cycle repeats. Bacillus thuringiensis is used as a biological control. Natural predators include bats,the Great Tit and being parasitised by solitary wasps. Fascinating stuff.


The tent structure of Pine Processionary (caterpillars)

These political pumkins seen in Ripoll


In St Feliu de Guixols this Purple bindweed was growing along the cliffs. Its quite beautiful but I pity the person trying to tame this beast.


Purple Bindweed

This Pinus pinea with it roots exposed due to erosion was,nt giving up the fight for life.


Oranges and lemons were now common place in gardens




A friend of mine recently pointed out that the best tasting oranges are the ones with the navel opposite the stem. Looking into this it turns out the navel is a mutation originating in Portugal which has left the fruit seedless and therfore propagated by grafting and cuttings. They are easier to peel with thicker skins and unsuitable for juicing due to the presence of limonin having a bitter taste. The mistery of a good orange may have been solved in this additional bitterness. Next time look for a navel.

End of November 2014

Harvest time

Access to internet is a luxury at the moment and it has taken a while to get round to writing this post which covers some of the plants seen on the travels in November. Having a few Latin names of plants etc has been very helpful and at least if your looking at a French guide book you see some familar latin names which can then be looked up in English if need be. With the Wwoofing the latin names also came in handy so I think there is real value in identifying a plant in this way if possible.

The town of Brantome in the Dordogne was our next stop. The region is on a bedrock of limestone and is famous for Foie gras with images on postcards of sweet little old ladies funneling grains into the mouth of a goose . It also boasts to be one of the best places for Trufflle Hunters. Trained dogs / pigs and the presence of certain types of insects are used to unearth them from a few centimetres below the soil. Throughout the season one or other truffle is ready for hunting. In the markets, stalls selling only truffles at 15euro for 10 grams were common. These are used to make infusions with olive oil etc. Many other mushrooms are collected in the region. The Bolete family of mushrooms are all called Ceps in the markets even though I had understood a Cep to be a single mushroom, Porcini or Penny Buns  (Boletus edulis).


If you were wondering where to find mushrooms

Near the town we saw an impressive 400 year old Black Poplar.


Black Popular (Populus nigra)

The woodland in the area comprises Oak, Hazel, Ash, Alder, Poplar, Maple and Beech and I didn’t see any Walnut or Sweet chestnut. In the hedgerows we saw Dog Rose, Spindle,Blackthorn, Oak and Old mans beard (Clematis vitalba). Deep in the shade of the woodland Butchers Broom was growing.


Woodland near Brantome


Ruscus aculeatus





Oldmans Beard (Clematis vitalba)

From Brantome we headed on to Montignac and the Lascaux caves. The Dordogne region is famous for its cave paintings. One evening in the village of Saint Leon sur vesere just as the sun was setting this enormous number of finch like birds gathered in a dense thicket of bamboo near the aire. It was so loud that most people came out to see what the comotion was all about. I tried to look in to see what they were but the bamboo was too dense.


This was the first time we saw bamboo growing in large stands as we traveled south and we were to see lots more bamboo taking over the natural vegetation in Les Ezyes de Tayac.

St Cyprien is located on the Dordogne river in a region growing Hazel, Chestnut, Walnut and Almond. Here we were starting to see Orange and Lemon trees. Along the river one house was growing Kiwi





A typical Walnut Grove

Growing out over the wall of a house I saw this fruit which at first glance looked like an orange but the skin texture was much too smooth. A few days later I started seeing more of the trees growing further south and in a market a stall holder told me they were called Kaki and could be eaten raw or made in to a jam.  It turns out to be a Kaki (Diospyros kaki) also knowns as Japaneese Persimon.


I have found it fascinating how the fruit and veg for sale in the markets is so varied from place to place and the offerings reflect very closely what one finds growing locally. It is however odd seeing people paying up to 8 euro a kilo for walnuts and 4 euro for Chestnuts when they can be so easily collected. I feel we have been so lucky moving through France to see the harvests. In the towns and villages trees such as Plane, Mimosa and Robinia are quite popular and pruning is underway at this time of year.