The villages of southern Portugal are mazes of narrow streets lined with white plaster homes topped with undulating clay tile roofs. Doorways and windows have borders of either lapis blue or sunshine yellow.
It is said that the blue is a superstitious holdover from the Moors who believe the color keeps the devil away. Others say the blue surrounds keep flies at bay. The yellow is said to be the “color of old royalty”. It is also painted around doors and windows to prevent evil spirits from entering.
I have my own theory: The blue color captures the sea and sky; the yellow reflects the landscape of yellow flowers.
As we traveled through the rural reaches of the Western Iberian Peninsula, fields of velvety spires of yellow blossoms swayed in the breeze, like land-locked seas of shimmering gold, clamoring for attention.
I’m not the only one who noticed the fields. An Odemira Tourist Route brochure features a photo of three young people, scarved in the European tradition, sitting in a dell of green with the yellow torch-like blossoms.
Another day, on my way to the Agencia dos Correios in Almograve, I picked a golden blossom. This was my second visit to mail postcards to the U.S. Despite the fact that the first time I handed the clerk a 50 Euro note for postage, depleting her change, she was friendly when I arrived the second time. I used English, holding up the flower and saying “beautiful” while smiling. She, only speaking Portuguese, returned a smile, recognizing the plant immediately. She pulled out a scrap of paper and wrote—Tremoceiro. In her sparse English she explained the plant is grown for its beans, to feed animals. I left the Agencia dos Correios, postcards mailed, mystery solved.
Tremoceiro is the Portuguese word for what we in the U.S. call lupine. A favorite book from my children’s youth, Miss Rumphius, tells of the “Lupine Lady” who scatters seeds of blue, purple, and rose lupines throughout Maine to make the world more beautiful. Thanks to that book, I grew lupines in our garden at Fleur-de-Lys, but never with much success. As it turns out, the yellow lupin (in Europe they lose the “e”), Lupinus luteus, is native to Portugal.
When I wasn’t gazing at fields of gold I was inspecting (and photographing) the jewels of Portugal’s coastal dunes. I was unfamiliar with most of them and had to do a little research when I came home to identify the beauties. Some are native to Portugal; others speak to the country’s seafaring heritage, finding treasure in distant lands. Laurie Lynch
Cistus ladanifer Native to Portugal, Esteva is also called crimson spot rockrose. This evergreen shrub is drought resistant and has sticky green leaves.
Agave americana Brought back from Mexico and South America by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the mid-16th century.
Acacia saligna Shrubs with sprays of yellow, globe-like flowers rise out of the dunes along Portugal’s west coast. It is known as Golden Wreath Wattle in its native Australia.
Carpobrotus edulis I love the succulent foliage of this plant, native to South Africa. It goes by the name of pig face or ice plant, as well as Hottentot or sour fig, because of its edible fruit. The flowers, which start blooming in April, look like large, colorful daisies.
P.S. These last two beauties aren’t plants of the dunes, but they will always whisper “Portugal” to me. The first, Bougainvillea, was introduced to me by my father. He fell in love with the thorny vine when he and my mom went to Portugal and Madeira in 1992. The bracts look like paper flowers of magenta, red, purple, orange, yellow or white.
From Field to Market: One day while in Portugal, Marina and Koen decided to hike along the coast. I was given the keys to the rental car, with Marina admonishing me not to drive and take photos at the same time. I passed a field that looked like it was filled with colorful globe artichokes…but I didn’t get the shot. Several days later, while wandering through the Gent flower market, I found the blossoms. “Protea,” the vendor said, another mystery solved.