While preparing this post, I heard that Dave Brubeck had died, at the age of 91. I got to like his music very much, though at first I had to shake off my feeling that it was a guilty pleasure: should a jazzman be as white as me, classically trained, have a tendency to play fugues and rondos, and be big with the crew-cut Yankee college crowd? What got me over all that was his swing, his melody, and the wonderful quartet he led for 17 years. One thing I admire him for is his willingness to tackle issues with music: for example, with his wife Iola he created the perceptive and funny show The Real Ambassadors, performed at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival with Louis Armstrong. It was a critique in jazz of the US State Department tours – a brilliant idea which was so novel it never took off. His quartet also had the great advantage of Paul Desmond on alto sax – not only a perfect partner for Brubeck but also the author of one of the funniest pieces I’ve ever read on jazz. It begins:
Dawn. A station wagon pulls up to the office of an obscure motel in New Jersey. Three men enter – pasty-faced, grim-eyed, silent (for those are their names). Perfect opening shot, before credits, for a really lousy bank robbery movie? Wrong. The Dave Brubeck Quartet, some years ago, starting our day’s work.
You can read the whole piece here – it was to have been part of a history of the group titled after a stewardess’s question: How many of you are there in the quartet? Desmond died in 1977.
Dave’s group will play us out at the end, but for now let’s move on to the botany. This five-petalled pink flower is Erodium malacoides (Erodium a feuilles de mauve in French, Mediterranean stork’s bill in English). So, there are your identifying clues: it has leaves a bit like mallow (mauve), and fruits with elongated stigmas like a stork’s bill – though to be fair, so have most of this genus, this family (Geraniaceae) even. The plants have now grown after the autumn rains and are starting to flower, though their main period is the spring.
Now, I’ve lent all my printed flower guides to a friend, so this was identified with the help of some flower websites. They may not be portable if you don’t have an iPhone, but they do show what’s out there, including plants thought too common, too recently arrived or too invasive to be in the printed guides. They also tend to be more up to date. These below are my own favourites, arranged as a top five to make your very own handy ‘cut out and keep’ guide! They’re all on my ‘Resources and links’ page. Click on the name in bold to go to each site. This will be very tedious reading if you don’t want to put names to blooms, so you might want to skip to the end, and a track from a favourite Brubeck album.
Top of the bots: Flore Alpes
The best by quite a long way: the easiest to use, the most search options, and the best quality photos, usually several per plant, so you can see the details you need for identification: leaves, underside of flower etc. Don’t be put off by the word ‘Alpes’ in the title – the photos come from there but also Provence, Roussillon, Catalunya etc.
In Brief: Language of site: French only. Search for flower by: colour, family and genus, multiple criteria, Latin name, French name, flowering date, random, all plants. Number of plants/photos: 3,162 plants/15,000+ photos. Site run and photos taken by: Franck Le Driant, who also runs botanical field courses in Provence/Alps/Corsica.
In second place: Flora Catalana
This well designed site is easy to use, and while it says it concentrates on north-east Catalunya, this will include very many species common around the western Mediterranean. Other big pluses: Google Translate works pretty well here for headings and most content; and it has a huge range of images. One aim is to preserve traditional plant lore (ethnobotany), so there are interesting links and snippets of info.
In Brief: Language of site: Catalan, though Google Translate gives you a very wide range of alternatives. Search for flower by: scientific name, or name in Catalan, Spanish, French, English or Occitan. Number of plants/photos: about 2,680 species, over 18,000 photos. Site run by: ‘the volunteer work of people who love nature’, coordinated by Albert and Peter Mallol Camprubí Barnola Echenique.
In third spot: Fleurs de Roussillon
An enthusiast’s labour of love with many pages of information about the département of Pyrenées-Orientales, including its flowers. Useful because it covers very similar flora to the Languedoc, and gives some fun facts, including Catalan names.
In Brief: Language of site: French only. Search for flower by: Lists of family names, scientific names (Genus and species), French names. Gives Catalan names in each entry but not in an index – though the search engine included on the site also works for Catalan names. Number of plants: 1,327 plants: one, sometimes two photos per species. Site run by: Jean Tosti, who cheefully admits he’s a keen amateur rather than a botanist.
Fourth, maybe the best for some people: Tela Botanica
There are massive resources on this site, especially the uploads of volunteer collaborators – but these are only as good as the contributor! Lots of documents to download and specialised pages for the scientifically-minded. Useful maps of distribution – but only according to users’ reports. All botanical content open-source.
In Brief: Language of site: French or English (icon in top right of home page), but English seems to work just for headings; most text remains in French. Search for flower by: Scientific name, French name. Number of plants/photos: Total plant number not known, over 70,000 photos! Site run by: an association based at the Institut de Botanique in Montpellier.
Fifth, but first for foragers: Plants for a Future (PFAF)
‘Plants For A Future (PFAF) is a charitable company, originally set up to support the work of Ken and Addy Fern on their experimental site in Cornwall, where they carried out research and provided information on edible and otherwise useful plants suitable for growing outdoors in a temperate climate’. A good source for food or healing uses – where else can you search for a plant using the words ‘curdling’ or ‘antidandruff’?
In Brief: Language of site: English only. Number of plants/photos: 7,000 species worldwide claimed, most with drawing or photo from wiki sources. Search for flower by: Scientific, common English or family name, and also edible or medicinal uses. Site run by: charitable company, professionally designed site.
A wild card: Flore en ligne
A resource of photos only – no text – and not restricted to the Mediterranean. I’m including it because it enables search by colour and other criteria.
In Brief: Language of site: French only. Search for flower by: scientific or French name, or family, or colour, or fruit, or foliage. Number of plants/photos: 2,039 species and 4,026 photos – this may include flowers outside France. Site run by: Olivier Gaubert who took most of the (very good) photos.
Enough of all that, on to the music. From the Brubeck Quartet’s Jazz Impressions of Japan (1964) – an album whose mood reflects real affection for a country they toured – this is a tune written, Brubeck says, in Kyoto: ‘ I was awakened by a sudden clap of thunder. Watching the rain drench the streets below, I thought “The city is crying”, and the words became a melody of another musical impression.’
Coming up soon: I’m sorry I haven’t a Kew.