Practical Ecology

Nature Switched On





in the Pyrenees  the first 10 years

floristic catalogue
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gallery 1: 2006-2012
gallery 2: 2012-

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2007 June 30 & July 1, Saturday and Sunday

 The summer has begun and this means harvest time. In the surrounding barley fields the harvesting is in full action and I also have been busy cutting vegetation with a scythe. Tough work but a nice exercise, using muscles I didn't even know I had them in my body.

The question is if it is really necessary and for what. Well, I am far from sure if I am doing the right thing. It goes of course against the ideas of Louis Le Roy who defends the natural succession of the different vegetation stages. But I have never pretended to be an unconditional disciple and our situation is different in the sense that we want to live in this place and the conditions are Mediterranean.

My plan is to maintain an area with a relative short vegetation around the (future) house. The vegetation will be trampled there all the same and this area could be seen as a transition strip (of 25 metres wide) around the house. One or two cuts a year will keep the vegetation short and stimulate the horizontal growth of herbs and grasses. Taking away the hay will make the soil less fertile giving opportunities for more different herbs. There may also be an additional advantage of a somewhat greener aspect after the hottest part of the summer, in September but that will largely depend on the summer showers.

Once I started to cut I really felt sorry for both plants and animals and my reservations increased when I saw the final aspect of a cut strip of grassland which was really much more dead and dry than before.
I was also in doubt about what to do with the hay. If I left it on the land it might work as a mulch layer, protecting soil and plants and creating relative humid conditions for germination and growth. But from scientific literature (at least from northern countries like Holland) it is known that leaving the hay on the land favours the appearance of aggressive and invasive species.
I decided to take it away after one or two weeks and mount it on the biowall of branches on the higher terrace where it can give additional shelter and material for the fauna. I plan to follow and monitor this strategy for a couple of years and see what effects it will have on the vegetation.

Some words about this almost legendary tool, the scythe. For small strips of grassland (I would say less than 0.5 hectare) it is the ideal tool: easy to store and maintain, no noise and no need for fuel. After some hours you really get the trick provided you keep the blade sharp (with a special stone) and the vegetation is dense enough.
I bought a short model (45-cm-blade) what makes it easy to avoid stones and plants you don't want to cut. I avoided plants like Agrimonia eupatoria and Althaea cannabina which were in full bloom and Verbascum sinuatum which still had to flower. I also tried no to touch small shrubs like Thymus vulgaris and Santolina chamaecyparissus and the occasional Quercus tree.

The popular stringtrimmers (or weedwhackers) miss most of these advantages and cut the vegetation in small pieces what makes it more tiresome to collect it afterwards

  The scythe with a 45 cm blade.
Lowest western terrace, looking north-east.
Sunday 17:57

I avoided here a group of Agrimonia eupatoria on the right and, at the back on the left, a group of Althaea cannabina.
Looking north.
Sunday 17:59


An Althaea cannabina plant which was spared together with some Verbascum sinuatum specimen on the right.
Looking west.
Sunday 18:00








This is what the grassland looks like in areas I didn't cut (and will never cut): yellow, brown and dry but far from dead. Plants are still reacting to the wind, reflecting sunlight and harbouring a lot of wildlife.


Melica ciliata (Hairy melic grass) on the lowest eastern terrace.
Looking north-west.
Photograph taken on Sunday 24 June 18:14
Fructifying Lomelosia stellata and Crupina vulgaris and green Chondrilla juncea.
Lowest eastern terrace. Looking east.
Sunday 12:04
Aegilops triuncialis on the higher terrace in the centre. Looking north-west.
Photograph taken on Sunday 24 June 17:26


Especially prominent of the flowers that start to bloom these days are the Knapweeds and Thistles of the Asteraceae family. To the ones I mentioned two weeks before I can add 5 more. The close-ups of the flowers show the exceptional beauty and variety of their spines and bracts.














Carthamus lanatus is a fearsome weed in America and Australia covering huge impenetrable areas. On the terrain it is restricted to some modest areas. Photograph taken on Sunday 24 June 10:44  Xeranthemum inapertum, an annual on the highest eastern terrace.
Photograph taken on Saturday 23 June 10:41.
The bracts of Leuzea conifera have taken over protagonism from the petals and give the flower the look of a pine cone.
Sunday 12:12 
The only plant of Leuzea conifera; on the lowest oriental terrace.
Sunday 12:10
Centaurea aspera seems to have important anti diabetes effects.
Photograph taken on Sunday 24 June 17:47
Centaurea melitensis (Maltese starthistle) is another example of a thistle that has invaded North-America. Just a few specimen on the terrain.
Sunday 11:07



Orchid number seven started flowering last week: it is another member of the Epipactis genus, with smaller leaves than Epipactis helleborine and I suppose it is Epipactis microphylla. It grows in the half-shade of the wood and I have detected three specimen so far.

Cuscuta (Dodder) is a genus of parasitizing plants and one of its members was  attacking a shrub of Satureja montana.

The next photograph is a close-up of an Althaea cannabina  (Hemp-leaved marshmallow) flower. Photographs in the anterior section about grass cutting showed already the long slim stems and open structure of this remarkable plant. Like the species it has taken its Latin name from (Cannabis) the plant is also cultivated for the fibre to make fabric and paper. It prefers relatively humid soil conditions and that's why it probably only grows in the lowest area of the lowest terrace.






This weekend also many flowering plants of the annual Delphinium halteratum

Epipactis microphylla on the higher central terrace near the wood.
Photograph taken on Saturday 23 June 10:30
  A Cuscuta species on Satureja montana.
Sunday 12:17
Althaea cannabina on the lowest western terrace.
Photograph taken on Sunday 24 June 11:10
Delphinium halteratum on the lower western terrace.
Photograph taken on Saturday 23 June 11:01


From the animal front just two nice pictures of insects. The first one shows the amazing camouflage of the walking stick Clonopsis gallica (PSG 45 for the insiders). The other one shows a Purpuricenus budensis (identified by Manuel Lorenzo) on Centaurea aspera.

Clonopsis gallica (PSG 45).
Photograph taken on Sunday 24 June 10:51
Purpuricenus budensis on Centaurea aspera.
Photograph taken on Sunday 24 June 17:44.


Two weeks ago I commented on the state of the Sedum plantings. We follow them with special interest because we want to use them to cover the roof of our future house. Sedum sediforme (Pale Stonecrop) seems especially promising for the job and fortunately it grows abundantly on several places. When growing and flowering in a dense group they offer a nice aspect with different tonalities of bluish green, reddish yellow and white.

With respect to the plantings, there is a striking contrast between the plantings on the lowest part of the lower terrace and the plantings on the highest part of the terrain. On the lower terrace the soil will be quite more humid and in this particular area there will be also more nutrients available, because the soil has been moved recently.
The plantings of the higher area, near the wood, are giving a much worse impression and they seem to have started to flower out of pure stress caused by lack of water and/or nutrients.








Spontaneous Sedum sediforme on the highest eastern terrace.
Saturday 11:51
  Planted Sedum sediforme with Sedum album and Sempervivum tectorum on the lowest western terrace.
Photograph taken on Sunday 24 June 10:28
Rickety plants of Sedum sediforme which seem to have chosen to flower before it is too late.
Higher central terrace near the wood.
Sunday 9:46
Another stonegroup nearby with slightly better results for Sedum sediforme but Sedum album is showing stress flowering.
Sunday 9:50

floristic catalogue
faunistic catalogue
gallery 1: 2006-2012
gallery 2: 2012-

>> 2007 Jul  7
<< 2007 Jun 16











Latest revision on:  01/08/2018