Friday, February 27, 2009

España en la Vereda

This is an excellent nature program that I found on the website of the Spanish radio station, COPE. It’s actually a production of Popular TV, and can also be seen on their website and on YouTube. Popular TV offers not only the current program, but a collection of the earlier editions of the program on its website. I recommend it highly! There are, of course, other interesting programs on the website, but this one is particularly good for people who want to learn more about Spain’s geography and natural features.

España en la Vereda is a weekly program (A “vereda” is a foot-path or byway.) The program is directed by Carlos de Prada, a well known naturalist, and has lovely photography. Each week, de Prada visits some lesser-known part of Spain and focuses on some aspect of natural or traditional life in the area. A couple of weeks ago, it was cherries in the Río Jerte valley in the province of Cáceres – and I must admit, I had never realized that Spain had a huge cherry crop that came from this area – and this week it was the palmeras (palm groves) of Elche.

The palm trees of Elche are primarily date palms, although many smaller and less spectacular species grow there. Several years ago, I visited a truly spectacular palm garden, the Huerto del Cura (literally, the Priest’s Garden). In the 19th century, it belonged to a family named Castaño, and at the beginning of the 20th century, was inherited by one of the sons, a priest named José Castaño, who began to plant exotic plants in it. It was famous for its seven-trunked palm, which can still be seen, although I’m not sure it’s the same palm tree. In the 1940s it was taken over by the Orst family, who expanded and improved it, making it a fascinating place full of different palms and exotic plants as well as statuary and fountains. The interesting website Arboles Ornamentales, dedicated to the flora of Murcia, has a page about the Huerto del Cura. The blog Granada Gardens, run by two British gardeners in Spain, also has a short post on the Huerto del Cura.
The other function of the palm trees of Elche is to produce the famous white palm branches used for Palm Sunday. Anyone who has ever been in Spain during Holy Week will remember the people – mostly from Alicante, where Elche is located, selling elaborately woven palm leaves or simply long frondy white palm branches. The palms are white because the top branches of the trees are wrapped in plastic bags during the early part of the year so that photosynthesis cannot occur, thus yielding lovely white or cream-colored palm branches that are still soft enough for weaving.