Saturday, February 20, 2010

The goat-chewed steppe

Didn’t quite know what to expect from the Atlas mountains, where we recently went, more in the search for somewhere to get away from during the truly dismal period that is a British February, than anything seriously botanical or horticultural. First impression is that, being dry and high altitude, it is a bit like the short-grass prairie on the Colorado/Wyoming border Scott Ogden took me around back in October – all short grasses (Festuca mairei) and spiny little shrubbettes. The reason for the predominance of the spiny species is of course the goats, the curse of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern habitats, at least where poverty still encourages goats and overgrazing – I can’t remember what language this is from – “My great-grandfather had trees, my grandfather sheep, my father goats… I have nothing”. Only richer countries are able to appreciate just what an eco-crime goat-possession is.

Funny thing is though, that at slightly lower altitudes (1000-1500m), is the presence of ivy and brambles, two absolutely quintessentially British wild plants, which are not a particular feature of the European mainland. It is that Atlantic climate I suppose, I can imagine that there is a real connection between the floras of North Africa, the Iberian peninsula and the British Isles; in addition we all have species of bluebell (Hyacinthus). It would be interesting to come again, further north, where they have more rain and see what else we have in common.

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