Friday, September 4, 2009

kermes oak and madder

pine trees die standing,
kermes oak just dissapears

this is grammatiko village, the photo is taken from Varnavas village- everything is burnt, right down to the sea. I still haven't mustered the courage to go to the area to the left in the picture, behind the village to the sea- where the forest used to beDuring my madder hunting excursions I learnt a lot about the habitat of kermes oaks, because madder loves growing between its roots, making it very difficult to dig up the madderroot. Kermes oaks are short bushes. the goats like to eat their leaves when they are young, so the branches become thick and gnarled, something like a natural bonsai. when they are allowed to grow naturally they get tangled and make a low canopy, like a hut for other plants and animals. I've seen ratholes and snakes, and also larger holes, homes for foxes, and weasels. The animals are especially protected because the oakleaves are small, tough and and thorny -very scratchy making entry impossible for larger animals, including man (and madderhunting woman).

spiders like to make their webs between these thorns, and there always were many little coccoons of stored food for later- so it seems insects love this plant too, for the protection it gives.

and about insects: of course the kermes oak is the host of one of the most important dye- insects in the history of dyeing, the source for scarlet, Kermes Vermilio.

I had an eye out for those fat red ladies, not to "harvest"them, of course, because they are endangered, just to meet one of these famous historical personages.

D. Cardons book arrived a bit too late to help me identify the egg laying Kermes, but I think I did see a few "cocoons" with the youngsters gone. I was waiting for the second mating period in September to see them in their red splendour. Now it is too late.

you see they don't have legs, they can't flee a fire.

Their habitat in the north of Attica has been utterly destroyed. I do not know whether there are sufficient numbers of Kermes insects left on surviving oaks for them to repopulate the area when the garrique has recovered, if it ever will.

The Kermes oak is more like a bush than a tree and it does not make an attractive forest. It grows on stony dry land and is strong enough to survive grazing by goats. I don't think it is a first priority in anyones reforestation program. It is considered unproductive and ugly, and the scrub land that is called garrique is the first to be turned into housing land and roads after a fire.

and the madder? I am more optimistic, because of its deep roots, but where shall it entangle itself come spring? Suddenly from being madder- rich I look at the bag of roots that are drying and I see how precious they are, madder gathered in the wild. I'll have to plant some, for the years to come.

Maybe I should try to persuade the local authorities to make a botanical garden, an artificial site of remembrance for the lost ecosystem of garrique scrubland. But who will be willing to give anything for the preservation of pournari( greek for kermes oak) when a common saying uses it to denote something worthless. We say: he left the wedding and went for pournari when we want to show that someone has missed a great chance because of making a silly choice.

see Dominique Cardon, pg 610 onwards for information on the Kermes insect, the oak and the reasons why Kermes Vermilio is an endangered species.

This was taken from my balcony on the night of the 22nd. the fire has left towards Athens, it is burning around Marathon, and going up the mountain of Pendeli, which is actually quite far away.
the little red lights on the left are what the firemen call "kandilakia", votive flames, which are in reality the trunks of olive trees turned into pillars of live coal. some of them are still burning, two weeks later, deep in the ground where the roots are.
It was a horrific spectacle, the glow of the fire lighting the night and turning everything red. how can something so destructive be so beautiful. that thought still wakes me up at night, sometimes.
In reality I'm mourning.
the fat red ladies
the foxes, weasles, owls, rats mice, snakes, millions of insects,
the poor turtles
the plants that were their homes
waiting for the rain. may it be gentle this year.


Manya Maratou said...

oh yes- the sign on the left in the first picture used to say
protect our forests from fire

Jasmine said...

Oh Manya this is horrific. Are there any wildlife/environment charities in Greece that could help you petition for supporting the lost diversity of species? In England we have the RSPB, The National Trust and The Forestry Commission. They are very good at planting the ugly (to some) plants as understand how valuable they are for eco systems, for nature...

dorie said...

this is really terrible and it makes me too very very sad - thanks for sharing the information about the kermes and I do really hope that those little insects are strong enough to survive

Harnett-Hargrove said...

A horrible tale told so beautifully. -J

antonio8332 said...

mom i have seen it and listend it from you but here you dicribe it with a very strong maner good post

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...