Front Page Titles (by Subject) Spring Flowers of the South of Europe: Remarks on Some of the Spring Flowers of the South of Europe, and on Their Representatives in the British Isles OCTOBER 1860 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXXI - Miscellaneous Writings
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Spring Flowers of the South of Europe: Remarks on Some of the Spring Flowers of the South of Europe, and on Their Representatives in the British Isles OCTOBER 1860 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXXI - Miscellaneous Writings 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXXI - Miscellaneous Writings, ed. John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1989).
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Spring Flowers of the South of Europe: Remarks on Some of the Spring Flowers of the South of Europe, and on Their Representatives in the British Isles
Phytologist, n.s. IV (Oct. 1860), 289-96. Running title: “Spring Flowers of the South of Europe.” Signed “J.S.M.” Not republished. Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “An article headed ‘Spring Flowers of the South of Europe’ in the Phytologist for October 1860”
(MacMinn, p. 93).
the english botanist who has resided or travelled in the countries of southern Europe, and has filled his herbarium with the treasures of their copious Flora, must often have thought, with almost envious regret, of the comparative poverty of our own. But as we have no power to change the lot which in this matter the general arrangements of Nature have assigned to us, we shall do well to look at its brighter side, and find matter for congratulation in some points of superiority which our indigenous Flora, meagre though it be in comparison with those of France and Italy, nevertheless possesses over the richest regions of the basin of the Mediterranean. Two of these points have particularly impressed me in the course of a tolerably extensive wandering over the south of Europe, and I will communicate them here for the benefit of those who may not already have adverted to them.
The first is our pre-eminence in Ferns. Though the species of Phaenogamous plants in (for instance) the French Flora, outnumber ours almost in the ratio of four to one, the species of Ferns in the two countries are about equally numerous, and indeed nearly identical. In the excellent Flora of MM. Grenier and Godron the only Ferns which are not (under the same or some other name) included in the fourth edition of Mr. Babington’s Manual, are two Nothoclaenae, N. Marantae and vellea (the last found only in Corsica), Pteris cretica (also confined to Corsica), Cheilanthes odora, and Scolopendrium Hemionitis.1 Two more, Ophioglossum lusitanicum and Grammitis leptophylla, are, as British plants, limited to the Channel Islands. On the other hand, Lastrea Foenisecii, Hymenophyllum Wilsoni, and Trichomanes radicans, among the most precious of our ferny treasures, have not hitherto been discovered in France. We are thus scarcely outnumbered in species of Ferns by the whole of France, Corsica included. But when we compare this country, not with all France, but with the part of it which in most branches of botany we have greatest reason to envy,—the Mediterranean provinces,—we find that they, in this particular department, have cause to envy us, their powerful sun and dry atmosphere, to which they owe their vegetable riches, being unfavourable to the growth of nearly all the more beautiful Ferns. It is only the damper, Atlantic provinces of France, the west and north-west, which offer any parallel in this particular to our green commons and moist hedgesides. Our numerous Lastreas, our Lady-Fern, our Polystichums, our Blechnum, our Osmunda, in the true South are scarcely to be met with out of the mountains. Our Sussex Hymenophyllum, except an indication in Corsica, is known as a French plant solely in Brittany. Even our common Brake, the Pteris aquilina, is rarely met with in the plains of the Mediterranean region. The only Ferns which are at all widely diffused in that portion of France, are the Ceterach, which, as in our western counties, abounds on walls and rocks; the commoner Aspleniums (Trichomanes, Ruta-muraria, and Adiantum-nigrum), the universal Polypodium vulgare, and, most beautiful of all, the Maidenhair, Adiantum Capillus-Veneris, which haunts the spray of falling water, and lines all cavities which combine dampness with depth of shade. Here, then, is one of the loveliest families of the Vegetable Kingdom, one of those which by their verdure, grace, and conspicuousness, and by their abundance in climates suited to them, do most to beautify the face of nature, and in which the opulent South cannot be for a moment compared in wealth with our modest northern latitudes.
Another advantage which we possess, and which has not perhaps been so much remarked upon, is our striking superiority over the South, considered generally, in the flowery beauty of our spring. We are indeed greatly surpassed in the mere number of species which flower at that, as at every other season. But the multitude and splendour of gregarious flowering plants which constitute the floral brilliancy of the South, and to which our mild summer can show nothing comparable, does not really begin until the Cisti are in bloom. Nearly the whole glory of an English April and May is derived from plants which, universal with us, are scarcely, or not at all, known in the South, except as mountain plants. We may count on our fingers the few ornaments of our spring which are common to us with the Mediterranean provinces of France. They possess the Celandine and the Sweet Violet in abundance. They have our Daisy, and our three common Buttercups, R. repens, R. acris, and R. bulbosus. Cardamine pratensis is found, but not, as with us, in almost every wood or hedge; only in irrigated meadows and by the sides of streams. Our common Symphytum abounds, and so does the common Polygala; and, best of all, the Blackthorn and the Whitethorn are as much at home in their hedges and thickets as in ours. Now, however, I am at the end of the list. I do not believe I have omitted anything of importance. On the other hand, mark the catalogue of our spring plants which (except in the mountains, or in some very peculiar localities) do not grow in the southern countries of Europe.
Of wood plants they have neither our Wood Anemone (A. nemorosa), nor our Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Acetosella), nor our Woodruff (Asperula odorata), nor our Primrose (Primula vulgaris), nor our Hyacinth (Endymion nutans), nor our Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), nor the graceful Adoxa Moschatellina, nor the beautiful Allium ursinum. Of meadow plants they want the Cowslip (Primula veris), the Daffodil (Narcissus Pseudo-narcissus), the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), and both our early Orchides, O. mascula and O. Morio. Of the plants which adorn our hedges and banks, they have neither the Wood Violet (V. canina, or V. sylvatica), the wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca), the delicate Ranunculus auricomus, the elegant white Potentilla Fragariastrum, the starry Stellaria Holostea, the fragrant Ground-ivy (Nepeta Glechoma), the cheerful Mercurialis perennis, nor the bright-eyed Germander Speedwell (Veronica Chamaedrys). There are but few of our water plants which flower in spring, but they want the loveliest of these, Hottonia palustris. Of early heath plants they have neither our Bilberry (Vaccinium Myrtillus), nor our brightly coloured Pedicularis sylvatica. Among flowering trees they have not at all, or but rarely, either the Crab-apple (Pyrus Malus) or the splendid White Beam-tree of our chalk-hills, the Pyrus Aria. A still greater deficiency is the absence of the two plants which by their masses of deep yellow, convert many of our spring landscapes into the likeness of Turner’s pictures—the Furze (Ulex europaeus) and Broom (Sarothamnus scoparius). The former they do not possess at all, the latter nowhere in the plains, except occasionally about the roots of the mountain ranges.
It will be said, if they have not these plants, they have equivalents: and this is true, but the equivalents are seldom equally beautiful, and scarcely ever so abundant and so universal. The case of the Anemones is one of the most favourable which can be cited. The equivalent of Anemone nemorosa in central Italy is A. apennina, one of the doubtful plants of our Flora; and this is certainly as beautiful and nearly as abundant, where it prevails, as A. nemorosa, but it prevails only in a limited range. In southern Italy the place is occupied by the starlike A. hortensis. But neither of these is found, except as a rarity, in the south of France. The blue and red Anemone of our gardens, A. coronaria, is the most widely diffused of all the Anemones of the South, and in the places where it is most abundant, it is one of the most gorgeous flowers of the year. But this, though commoner than the two others, is but partially distributed in Mediterranean France. The substitutes for our Broom and Furze are much more inadequate. There is a small Furze, Ulex provincialis, (parviflorus of Grenier and Godron,)2 extremely local in its distribution, neither so large nor so beautiful as our dwarf Furze, and which can at most be allowed to pair off with Genista anglica. In almost every part of Europe, however, there is some prickly Leguminous plant, which in early spring colours the landscape with its yellow blossoms. In Sicily it is Calycotome spinosa, formerly a Cytisus. In the south of France and the neighbouring provinces of Spain, it is Genista Scorpius, a low bush, whose thorny branches, spreading on every side, are very rough to handle. Later in the year those regions are dotted over with the stately and powerfully fragrant Spartium junceum, the Spanish Broom of our gardens; but this is a summer ornament, a plant of the Cistine period. Still later the Genista tinctoria displays itself with a beauty and luxuriance far greater than in our colder climate. Advancing from the plains to the mountain regions of the Cevennes and the eastern Pyrenees, and leaving the Spartium junceum at their foot, we come first upon the English Broom in the lower zone of the mountains, among the Chestnut and Beech woods; then, above these, another Broom, more bushy, tougher, coarser, but still beautiful, Sarothamnus purgans. All these plants are highly gregarious, and colour great spaces of country in a similar manner to our Furze and Broom; but, if we except S. junceum, they are far inferior. Not one of them has either the height, the size of flowers, the delicate enamel-like polish of corolla, nor combines so rich a verdure with its golden inflorescence, as those matchless ornaments of our spring.
The Narcissi are perhaps the greatest riches of the vernal meadows in the South. The Daffodil is indeed absent, but N. poeticus is frequent, though nowhere but in the mountains have I seen it in any profusion: the meadows of the Pyrenees are positively white with its blossoms. Some of the many-flowered species of this genus are met with in the plains; in some localities N. Tazetta is frequent; the gorgeous N. stellatus, or orientalis, is found in others; and there is a Narcissus near Naples—probably N. serotinus—in flower all the winter, and with which I have seen the plain of Paestum quite covered in February. All these, however, are very local. Veronica Teucrium comes near in beauty to V. Chamaedrys, but is scarcely equal to it, and not nearly so universal. Oxalis corniculata (itself a British plant) is a poor substitute for Oxalis Acetosella; while, for the Primrose, Cowslip, Hyacinth, Woodruff, and Lily-of-the-valley, there is no equivalent at all. When we consider the exquisite beauty of all these, and the immense abundance of the three first in almost all neighbourhoods, and of the two last in some, the assertion will not appear paradoxical that the South, with all its number and variety of species, is on the whole poorer in those flowering plants which make spring beautiful, than our otherwise less favoured botanical region of the earth.
In what precedes, I have been speaking of the south of Europe generally. But there are particular places in it which, from local circumstances, combine much of the character of northern vegetation with that of the more sunny regions which surround them, and these places are the paradise of the botanist, as they are of the lover of Nature. I will endeavour to give an account of one of these, and will begin by describing its situation, since this determines the main peculiarities of its botanical character, and the richest Flora is almost always found among the most splendid scenery.
Whoever has been at Rome is familiar with at least the appearance of the group of noble though not very lofty mountains (for, indeed, it is visible from many streets of the city,) which stands isolated at some distance from the sea on one side, and from the mountain barrier of the Campagna on the other, and is the delight of painters by the aerial purple tint with which it fills up one-half of the southern side of the landscape. Almost all the part of these mountains which is visible from Rome is clothed with thick forests, but nearly their whole base on the northern and western sides is studded, at a small elevation above the plain, with a succession of small towns which, and their neighbourhood, are the resort of the richer Romans and resident foreigners during the unhealthy season. Omitting Frascati and other places which face to the north, the western base is occupied by Albano, La Riccia, and Gensano: Albano, which forms the angular point, being alone visible from Rome. Both in scenery and in vegetation this place, more, perhaps, than any other in Italy, combines the peculiar character and features of southern Europe with a large share of those of England. Its elevation is sufficient to command the whole breadth of the Campagna, and a considerable space of sea beyond. The view from the western side of the town has the solemn, though not sombre, but cheerful, stateliness characteristic of Italian landscape, while on the land side the forests range from the summits of the mountains to the very border of the town, and on the boundary which separates the two regions, an avenue of full-grown forest trees, so rare in most parts of the Continent, stretches along the whole length of the winding road leading from Albano to the beautiful village of Castel Gandolfo, situated on the rim of the crater which holds the blue volcanic lake of Albano. Beyond Castel Gandolfo are grassy downs, which combine with the forest to produce the likeness of verdant England in the centre of Italy, and the resemblance extends to botany as well as to scenery. The spring Flora of this region is of an almost English character, though the particular species are mostly such as are either rare, or do not grow at all in England. On the downs of Castel Gandolfo are found Hesperis (now Arabis) verna, with its flower resembling Virginia Stock, and one of the most graceful of the Irides, I. tuberosa. Along the circuit of the lake, Lunaria biennis, the “Honesty” of our cottage-gardens, exhibits its lilac, cross-like flowers, and its large, flat, almost nummular, pods. Nearer to the town, Lithospermum purpureocoeruleum puts forth its bright, metallic-looking blossoms. The woods abound with the yellow Anemone ranunculoides; the light-blue Scilla bifolia, with its hyacinth-like leaves; Pulmonaria officinalis, another plant of cottage-gardens, and indigenous in England, with its flowers of various hues on the same stalk, and its broadly-spotted leaves; the snowy Allium pendulinum; the rarer of our two species of Solomon’s-seal (Convallaria multiflora); one of the smaller Aristolochiae (A. longa); the four-whorled and delicate-leaved Asperula taurina, a plant of the Alps; and the smaller of the two English Symphyta, S. tuberosum. Further on in the woods, towards La Riccia, we meet with Narcissus poeticus. Further still, near Gensano, we come upon the Bladder-nut of our shrubberies, Staphylea pinnata; Dentaria bulbifera, one of the finest of our rarer indigenous plants; and the blue Iris of our gardens, I. germanica. If we would ascend the highest member of the mountain-group, the Monte Cavo, we must make the circuit of the north flank of the mountains by Marino, on the edge of the Alban Lake, and Rocca di Papa, a picturesque village in the hollow mountain-side, from which we climb through woods abounding in Galanthus nivalis and Corydalis cava, to that summit which was the arx of Jupiter Latialis, and to which the thirty Latian cities ascended in solemn procession to offer their annual sacrifice. The place is now occupied by a convent, under the wall of which I gathered Ornithogalum nutans, and from its neighbourhood I enjoyed a panoramic view, surely the most glorious, in its combination of natural beauty and grandeur of historical recollections, to be found anywhere on earth.
The eye ranged from Terracina on one side to Veii on the other, and beyond Veii to the hills of Sutrium and Nepete, once covered by the Ciminian forests, then deemed an impenetrable barrier between the interior of Etruria and Rome. Below my feet, the Alban mountain, with all its forest-covered folds, and in one of them the dark-blue lake of Nemi: that of Albano, I think, was invisible. To the north, in the dim distance, the Eternal City; to the west, the eternal sea; for eastern boundary, the long line of Sabine mountains, from Soracte, past Tibur, and away towards Praeneste. The range then passed behind the Alban group, and became invisible, but reappeared to the south-east as the mountain-crescent of Cora and Pometia, enclosing between its horns the Pontine marshes, which lay spread out below as far as the sea-line, extending east and west, from Terracina in the bay of Fondi, the Volscian Anxur, to the angle of the coast where rises suddenly, between the marshes and the sea, the mountain promontory of Circeii, celebrated alike in history and in fable. Within the space visible from this one point the destinies of the human race were decided. It took the Romans nearly five hundred years to vanquish and incorporate the warlike tribes who inhabited that narrow tract, but this being accomplished, two hundred more sufficed them to complete the conquest of the world.
[1 ]Jean Charles Marie Grenier (1808-75) and Dominique Alexandre Godron (1807-80), Flore de France, ou Description des plantes qui croissent naturellement en France et en Corse, 3 vols. (Paris: Baillière, 1848-56), Vol. III, pp. 623-42; and Charles Cardale Babington (1808-95), Manual of British Botany, Containing the Flowering Plants and Ferns Arranged According to the Natural Orders (London: Van Voorst, 1843).
[2 ]Grenier and Godron, Flore, Vol. I, p. 344.