The Eden Project has 2 biomes, the tropical biome, which I wrote about in my previous post and the Mediterranean biome. Mediterranean refers to a particular climate rather than just the part of Europe and there are five places on Earth that share this type of climate: California, western Chile, South Africa, parts of southern and south western Australia and of course, the area around the Mediterranean sea. It’s the climate I would most like to live in but for those plants that survive in such places it can be a tough existence. Plants often have to cope with long periods without rain, high temperatures and an intensity of sunlight that would damage many plants. I would highly recommend reading Christina’s ‘My Hesperides Garden ‘ blog about the challenges of gardening and growing her own in her garden in Italy.
The plants that live in this climate though have evolved to cope with the conditions. Grey leaves, foliage packed with essential oils, hairy leaves, leaves that act as water stores, spines and waxy coatings are all ways these plant have adapted to prevent moisture loss and being eaten by animals in search of some much needed water themselves. Often the soil is thin, lacking organic matter and nutrients and yet for centuries countries with Mediterranean climates have been highly productive places for food production. Climate change and pressure on land and the environment though, are already having an impact on these areas and it’s these problems that Eden’s second biome highlights.
I thought it was fascinating that the ancient terraced olive groves that southern Europe is famous for support a rich diversity of animal and insect species. However, as economies change and the younger generation move to urban areas to live and work the old ways of food production struggle to continue, threatening theses ways of life, the local environment and species biodiversity.
The intensification of farming and urbanisation has impacted on parts of South Africa too, threatening incredibly important places such as the Fynbos and its mind-boggling 7,000 species of plants, 1,400 of which are rare or endangered.
I particular liked the cork pig sculptures of Heather Jansch highlighting the problem faced by the traditional farms in Portugal where cork is harvested for the wine trade. Screw top caps are replacing corks in the wine bottles we buy. The discovery that cork can taint the wine within the bottle may be important for producing better quality wine but the consequences for a particular habitat and way of life are devastating. The fields where cork oak trees grow are rich habitats for plants and animals. Cork is the bark of the tree and can be harvested without damaging it and so is sustainable. Farmers also keep pigs in the fields that feed on the acorns from the trees. But as demand for cork from the wine trade declines and young people are no longer interested in agriculture as a way to make a living, these amazing habitats are threatened.
The great thing about Eden is that they are putting their money where there mouth is, so to speak, with projects across the world educating and raising awareness. For instance, they send staff out to a college in South Africa where students can study horticultural, eco-tourism and conservation and the students have the opportunity to come over to Eden.
The Buddha’s hand lemon in the photo above was really bizarre with the ‘fingers’ dangling down a little like a hand but perhaps more like an octopus. Although I don’t think ‘octopus lemon’ sounds quite as good as Buddha’s hand lemon. Its peel is quite thick apparently, with only a little flesh and no juice. Used by the Chinese and Japanese to scent their rooms, it can also be used in cooking with the whole fruit being sliced, peel, pith and flesh, and used with fish or scattered in salads. I’m always amazed that there are so many plants out there that can be eaten that I’ve never come across before. We have a huge selection of fruits and vegetables available to us now in the UK either grown here or brought in but there are still more yet to be given the Delia or Jamie celebrity cook treatment so that we all dash off to the supermarket demanding they stock whatever is the next in-thing. Living in rural Wales it’s unlikely I’ll be able to find a Buddha’s hand lemon to try but I wonder if you can buy them at shops in London?