Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Spiny Restharrow

I am having difficulty confirming the name of the plant I have in mind. In my wonderful old book titled The Natural History of the Mediterranean (by Tegwyn Harris, Pelham Books, 1982) it is specified as Spiny Restharrow and by its scientific name as Ononis spinosa. The illustration and the description provided in the book indicate to me that the plant I have in mind is indeed spiny restharrow, however, when I look it up on the internet under this name I cannot be certain. The pictures do not look like the plant I know.

One reason I can think of for the discrepancy with the pictures I see on the internet is perhaps this plant is different due to climatic conditions in the environment I come across it. A better reason would be that it is a variety of restharrow one does not come across often.

This is a plant native to the Mediterranean. I have always looked for it during my travels in the south of France, in Corsica, along the Amalfi Coast in Italy and in the northern and southern parts of the Aegean shores in Turkey. I have not found it anywhere except around the Kadınlar Denizi beach of Kuşadası in Western Turkey. It does not exist in the surrounding hinterland either.

I am learning that Ononis is a large genus of perennial herbs and shrubs from the legume family Fabaceae. The members of this genus are often called restharrows as some species are arable weeds whose tough stems would stop the harrow. I look up harrow which I learn is a farm implement for breaking up and smoothing out the surface of the soil. My next search is for arable weeds. Arable fields have certain characteristic weed species which would be categorized as arable weeds.

The above illustration in the public domain on the internet is quite similar to the plant I am familiar with.

Here is what my book says about this plant: “Low-lying, straggling; stems stiff, spiny, with slender, zig-zagging branches; flowers pink similar in shape to broom. In sandy and stony places by the sea”.

It is in flower from May to August. It can grow up to 1.50 meters in height. Prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. It can grow in acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils. It has tough roots. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure. This is definitely my plant.

In the following pictures we see the restharrow in very dry soil and in front of a café by the sea where it is watered almost every day.

I pressed and preserved two branches of restharrow, alas, I have not been able to keep its color. I also have a sample of the poorest soil it can grow in.

Spiny restharrow’s habitat is under constant attack. The land on which it grows is increasingly being turned into hotels, malls and beach condos. Apart from its looks-the contrast of its spines and the little delicate pink flowers-another reason I love this plant is that it keeps coming back and making me happy. Just like me, it loves the sun and the sea.

                                                            Kadınlar Denizi in the early 1960s.

1 comment:

  1. If only Kadinlar Denizi still looked like that, with the flora intact!