Over the past couple of summers, while Joe and I were in Montepulciano in Tuscany, Italy, for his work, we went on many walks outside the town. Seeing the flowers, vineyards, olive groves, and other wonders of the countryside up close was an amazing experience, even after weeks of walking the same paths.
This page, which will be expanded over time, shows flowers and plants that I’ve identified — to the best of my ability. A little information about each one will be included, eventually.
Red valerian, Centranthus ruber, grows on the high walls all around Montepulciano, rooted into any and all available spaces between stones. Hummingbird moths seem to love the flowers. They must be a great source of nectar!
In mid-to-late July, Montepulciano manages to “mow” these plants off of some of the high walls. I wish I had seen the work in action.
According to Missouri Botanical Garden, red valerian is native to Europe but has been introduced to the U.S. Its best success at naturalizing here has been in the Western states.
Sun spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia, like other members of the Euphorbia family, contains a milky-goo (this sticky liquid is also called “a latex”). This plant is one to stand back from, because that milky-looking goo is considered to be poisonous. According to the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility, the plant can cause a burning sensation and swelling, if eaten. The result can be fatal.
St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, is native to Europe, but the USDA Plants database shows that it has made itself at home all across the U.S. Probably, you have seen this plant before, even if you have never been to Tuscany! I certainly had seen that distinctive pouf of stamens before, which made this flower’s identify easier for me to confirm than some of the other wildflowers in Tuscany.
The USDA Plants database includes links to outside websites, including to the site for herb expert Steven Foster. His page for St. John’s Wort explains not just the history of its use as a medicinal herb, but also how to extract red oil from those yellow flowers. Very cool.
Tuscany wildflower Grey Leaved Cistus, Latin name Cistus albidus, always had many pollinator-visitors every time I saw it, near Montepulciano. The flower petals have the appearance of slightly crumpled crepe paper. The grey-green leaves, which are a bit fuzzy, stay on the plant all year. The flowers show up in early summer. This plant has not yet naturalized in the United States.
Plants for a Future Database indicates that the leaves of this plant are occasionally used to make tea, but grey leaved cistus is not included in either of the books (in Italian), about edible wild plants in Italy, that I have consulted.
Corn marigold is native to the Mediterranean region, but you can also find it in California. The Alabama Plant Atlas notes that a specimen of corn marigold was collected in Mobile County back on 4 August, 1893. Corn marigold doesn’t seem to have taken hold in the Southeastern states, though. We are probably too rainy; the plant seems to do best in drier regions.
Corn marigold, sometimes called field marigold, used to have the Latin name Chrysanthemum segetum. Plant taxonomists who study this group of plants — all the ones in the Chrysanthemum family — re-sorted and re-named plants in this family a couple of times back in the 1990s. As a result, this plant is now Glebionis segetum.
Italian bugloss is an easy one to identify; the flowers are so very blue! The plants also are generally fuzzy, like other borage-family plants. This one is native to the Mediterranean, but the USDA Plants Database shows that it also now can be found in many parts of the United States — mostly the drier parts. It is not yet found in the humid Southeastern states.
The Plants for a Future database tells that Italian bugloss flowers are edible — great in a salad — and it has been used for medicinal purposes; also, the root can be used to create a red dye.
I saw this unusual Star Clover growing in a grassy strip between a vineyard and a road near Montepulciano. The USDA Plants Database shows that Star Clover can also be found, now, in California. The Online Atlas of British and Irish Flora tells that this starry clover is native to the Mediterranean region.
Tuscany wildflower crown vetch, Latin name Securigera varia (used to be Coronilla varia), is a bean-family plant. Like many plants in this family, crown vetch can add nitrogen to the soil when it has root nodules formed in association with special rhizobial bacteria.
The circular arrangement — like a crown — of pink flowers is distinctive. The leaves of this plant are in the form that botanists call pinnate. To everyone else the leaves look somewhat like fern fronds, with pairs of tiny leaflets running along 6 to 7 inch leaf stems.
USDA Plants database shows that this is one of the Italian wildflowers that can now be found all over the continental U.S. An Illinois wildflowers website offers a different perspective, saying, “Crown Vetch (Securigera varia) is another introduced plant from abroad that has run amok in the countryside.”