........... Corse Plantes de Maquis

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What are they? Fragrant maquis plants from Corsica, unique to the Mediterranean region, which have remained unchanged in their native wilderness for centuries. The maquis, a special wild-scrub area of Corsica, covers approximately 20% of the island. Beginning at the sea and continuing up towards the mountains, it is divided into three distinct stages: Le maquis bas (low), moyen (middle) and haut (high).

Le maquis bas begins at the coast. Intensely exposed to the elements, it offers an incredible variety of low growing, aromatic plants. Each plant has a unique aroma, the blend of these wild scents creating a living potpourri that is Corsica... Once experienced--like the island itself-it is never forgotten. While used in recent years for perfumes, bio cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and medical research, the plants of the maquis are deeply ingrained in Corsica's folklore as a source of food, medicine and cultural identity.

What gives them their scent? The alluring fragrance is released from the plant's leaves, ensuring a long season of scent. While relatively dormant in winter, production of aromatic oils increases with spring's warming weather. The plants are so fine tuned, their fragrance levels can vary throughout the day, based on surrounding soil and air temperatures. As one encounters these enticing scents floating over the Corsican countryside, breathe deeply to connect with the island's essence... It's a scent like none other.

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Plants that TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES! Living in the Mediterranean, their weather patterns mimic those of the Pacific Northwest-- wet, rainy winters and long dry summers. Because of these conditions, they're very drought tolerant. And since they're from the wild countryside, they're amazingly low maintenance. They don't need to be fertilized or sprayed, and any pruning or deadheading can be done once a year.

These plants just need a sunny location, (remember, heat = fragrance), soil amended for sharp drainage (see instructions below) and enough room to grow. While some of them could be considered 'tender perennials', others do well in other temperate climates.

Some of these plants are show girls...beautiful and exciting. Others wouldn't do as well in a beauty contest, but they often have the strongest scent de maquis, and they are my favorites.

If you're looking for 'picture perfect' gardens, you'll be disappointed... If you're interested in trying a new gardening style that offers minimum-care, low-water-use plants with exotic long-lived fragrance and brings the spirit of Corsica into your own garden, you will find a Corsican Mediterranean garden very rewarding.

~ PLANT LIST ~

Maquis Plantes de Corse

L'immortelle d'Italie: Related to the straw flower, this evergreen plant has a lovely sweet scent of curry, hence its common name "Curry Plant". Run your fingers through the scented, soft, gray foliage and release its wonderful perfume. Its year-round scent is enough to get anyone out of their winter doldrums, and in summer, its tapestry of colors is exquisite. New flower clusters of fresh yellow settle in among older flowers of antique mustard, all above lacy fronds of sea-foam green.

Growing 1' - 2' tall', its best planted near a path where you can fully appreciate its scent as you walk by, but allow a little extra room (or staking) to allow the graceful drooping of its golden-yellow blooming, (see picture). Plant in gravel amended soil.

In Corsica this grows in rocky sandy soils or even slits in granite. Its scent is an important part of the maquis, and has been used for a wide variety of purposes, in part due to its high oil content which produces a thick smoke. Popular uses have included: Medicinal expectorants, cough medicine, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory, smoking of meat, air purification, fumigation and perfume.

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Cistes: Corsica has a number of Cistus (Rock Rose) in various sizes, colors and fragrances. Just pinch the leaves and you find a little heaven--in hot weather it will come to you on l'air. The cistes scent is also crucial to the blend of the maquis odor. These plants do well with amended crushed-gravel drainage and gravel mulch. (See planting instructions).

Ciste Velu (Muchju Rossu): Everything about this cistus is large- its leaves, flowers and size making it popular with the larger bees. It resembles pink cistus seen around the Pacific Northwest, except its scent and an ultra-violet color hidden in the flowers- only noticeable when the sky turns electric, right before a storm. The purplish-blue color revealed in the blossoms is quite unusual. Leaf fragrance is very sweet, like a blend of rose and sandalwood.

This plant needs plenty of room to grow. While it can get up to 6' tall and wide- after hitting a certain height, its branches relax outward with new branches growing up from them. It can be easily shaped with light pruning.

Ciste de Montpellier (Muchju Neru): This is a much smaller cistus- with delicate elongated leaves and dainty white flowers that are beautiful, simple and clean- no deadheading necessary. While cistes flowers are not normally fragrant, these flowers have a delicate, lemon-blossom scent that attracts smaller bee varieties to the garden.

Plant size gets up to 4 feet high and 2-3 feet wide. The picture below right shows its beautiful brown bark that appears on newer branches. It's leaves have a much stronger fragrance than the Ciste Velu—of a sharp, earthy oil. This unique scent dominates Corsica's small dirt roads close to the sea. (If you're interested in seeing pictures of these wonderfully isolated dirt roads, click here).

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Fenouil (Finochju): This fennel looks similar to wild fennel and dill growing in the Pacific Northwest, but this variety grows quite nicely in the wilds of Corsica. Its delicate, elongated leaves have a light, minty, anise taste that is perfect for those interested in subtly spicing up their cooking, or just to take a breath freshening nibble when you're out in the garden. This flavor is intriguing! Fenouil has a number of beneficial properties. It not only aids digestion, but contains vitamin C, B8 and B9, as well as potassium and magnesium. It is often added to tomato sauces, fish dishes and ragout.

This plant dies back to the ground in winter, re-growing from the roots in spring. It's best to have some sort of stake with ties nearby—its end-of-summer height is around 8 feet. Despite its height, it doesn't need much room in the garden, staying at a comfortable 15 inches wide. Even if you weren't interested in this plant for cooking, it's lovely scent and graceful, waving fronds are still a wonderful addition to the maquis garden.

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Inule Visqueuse: From the Aster family, this plant is most noticeable for its indescribable fragrance — perhaps a combination of musk and skunk cabbage with sweet rose overtone? It also offers hundreds of cheery yellow blossoms from Early August through frost, inviting all sorts of bees and pollen eaters into the garden.

In Corsica it is found on stony hill slopes, damp habitats and along roadsides. Medicinal uses have included: diuretics, topical anti-itching agents, and a haemostatic for surface wounds and scientific research continues to find interesting pharmacological effects of this plant. Approximate size is 3 1/2 feet high by 4 feet wide. (Also known as Sticky Fleabane, Dittrichia viscosa or Cupularia viscosa).

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Rue Fotide (Ruta Graveolens a rota): I love this herb for its cheery delicate blue-green leaves, no matter what the weather it appears happy and hardy... Even its yellow blossums--more bee magnets--are open almost year-round. What's even better though, is its scent- yes another fabulous indescribable scent, this one similar to strong celery. This plant has a wonderful spirituality to it and I'm not the only one who thinks so... . With a reputation for repelling evil, this plant was used in the middle ages to ward off the plague. So far, even so close to the ground, no slugs have shown the slightest interest—thwarting evil indeed!

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Dianthus Furcatus: This carnation grows amid the granite rocks at the seashore in Corsica, especially near des Calanche de Piana. It's delicate shell-pink flowers wave gracefully in the breeze, approximately 12-15" tall. Its clove fragrance is sweetly feminine and not overpowering. Plant in a well draining soil with moderate watering over the summer.

 

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Grenadier (Punica granatum L.): This little beauty is a pomegranate that provides an endless summer of luscious orange colored blossoms! A slow grower, after surviving it's first winter outdoors, now only time will tell how large it will grow and if fruit will be set. Pomegranates are the wonder-fruit these days, as they're so full of antioxidants, but even with fruit, the hot orange flowers are beautiful and rich.

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Achillee (Arba Santa, Arba Sumerina, Arba Murella): This plant's delicate wavy leaves, and white flowers invite one for a closer look. Its flowers are made up many perfectly formed, tiny white daisy florettes. This plant is often found in Corsica growing in nooks of stony walls. The scent, sweet and pure, is somewhat reminiscent of camomile. This medicinal herb has been used to aid in healing wasp stings and to stop bleeding. It is reportedly eaten in fritters on Good Friday.

 

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Myrte Common (A Morta, A Murta, A Mortula, E Mortule): Like many plants in Corsica, its evergreen leaves are wonderfully fragrant- the berries AND leaves smell like fresh blueberry pie. Even better than desert, the Corsicans make a special Liqueur de Myrte from its fruit, leaves or sometimes both. This is a large shrub, I've seen it on hillsides in corsica easily 8-10 feet high and almost as wide. In Spring, delicate white flowers cover these plants with a sweet fragrance.

 

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Autre Plantes de Corse

Atriplex: This plant is grown as an ornamental shrub in Corsica. It's gray-blue leaves are evergreen and attractive year-round. . Flowers are insignificant, but the seedpod of curving, twisting green is quite unique. A perfect centerpiece to any mediterranean garden, its color is very complimentary to companion plants.

In Corsica, this plant gets spindly from heat, so every 5-8 years, owners trim it down to approximately 1 foot to begin anew. In the Pacific Northwest, this plant maintains its shape quite well, and only minimal pruning is required to keep this plant well formed.

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Blue Bird Jade (Crassula arborescens): This familiar houseplant to many North Westerners thrives outside in Corsica and does surprisingly well here—when grown in a warm, protected outdoor location in well draining soil. Mine has survived the last three winters outside planted next to the house with just a little cold-weather cloth draped over a cage. It seems the biggest threat this plant has in Northwest climates is slugs! They adore this plant and keep coming back for more. Just in case, I keep spares of this in pots inside the house.

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Les Menthes: When most people think of Corsican mint, they think of that small, delicate ground-cover with a 'cream de menthe' fragrance. While that faux mint is not edible, Corsica has several mint varieties that are strongly aromatic and flavorful. A helpful staple in Mediterranean cooking, these mints have been used for tisanes, soups, fish dishes, sauces, omelets, fritters and Tabouli.

Like any other mint, it's best to grow these in pots to keep their spread under control. Both of these mints enjoy wetter soils, but the soil should also be allowed to drain, so try a potting soil that holds some water in, and remove the underlining pot saucers in winter.

 

- La Menthe de Requien: This mint has a loose draping quality that could cascade over a pot and enjoys a moist soil. Its thin smooth leaves are elongated and somewhat translucent. Its small flowers are a pink with a purple undertone and somewhat circular (see photos). Its mint flavor is a little lighter than la menthe Aquatique, and the leaves are a little thinner and more tender.

 

- La Menthe Aquatique: Similar in looks to La menthe de Requien, this mint has a slightly more elongated leaves and a more upright habit. Flower color is also lighter, a very light pink. This mint taste while similar to la menthe de Requien, has a stronger, fuller flavor and slightly thicker leaves.

 

 

- La Menthe Suavéolens Insularis: This mint is much more elongated- both the flowers and stalks reach upwards. The leaves are much thicker and a bit crinkly. This has a strong spearmint flavor, familiar and yet with a depth that is unusual.

 

 

 

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