Spring in Malaga is especially colourful this year. The copious rainfall in March, April and early May, combined with the calima (dust from the Sahara desert), have caused an explosion of flowers in the city's parks and gardens. For those who are not badly affected by pollen and allergies, a visit to places like the Parque, the Pedro Luis Alonso gardens and Puerta Oscura, the Picasso and the botanical gardens of La Concepción and the university, to mention just a few, is well worth the while to reconnect with nature, before the onset of hot weather starts to wither the petals.
The muddy rain from the calima caused numerous problems in the city, but it also fed the soil with a range of minerals, sulphates and nitrates which are vital for plants.
"A lot of elements are needed to create this range of colours in such a short time and the calima provided them," says botanist Enrique Salvo, who is a lecturer at Malaga university. "This flowering, which has happened very quickly, has an extraordinary intensity of colour and for that to happen more than just water and light are needed".
The colours are important, because each one is associated with a group of pollinating insects. White is what beetles and bumblebees see best and they feed, for example, on the large magnolias and end up covered in pollen. The water lilies, one of the most ancient flowers, are also white and can be seen at the moment on several ponds including the one in the university's botanic garden. These plants have an interesting peculiarity which is currently being studied: they have the ability to repel dust.
The one that Salvo describes as "the queen of flowers", the rose, is also in full splendour at present and there are fine examples all over the city, but especially the rose garden in the Pedro Luis Alonso gardens. This is also one of the most genetically hybrid plants, and nearly 5,000 varieties are known, with different shapes, colours and fragrances. Incidentally, one of those which has won the most awards is called Penny Lane, in honour of the Beatles.
Around the city, but especially in the Plaza de la Merced and the Jardín de los Monos (in La Victoria district), jacarandas are currently covered in violet flowers. Enrique Salvo says this tree symbolises wisdom, which is why it is often planted on university campuses.
At ground level, the Parque is currently filled with acanthus flowers, a plant whose shape was used for the capitals of Corinthian columns. There are also wallflowers, the wild variety, which grow on natural beaches and are of great interest in a Mediterranean environment because they are precise bio-indicators of environmental quality.
Elsewhere there are wild garlic plants, with their unpleasant fragrance. This is a plant originally from South Africa, which is one of the few regions on the planet to share the Mediterranean heat.
"In this case, like geraniums and money plants and others from there, wild garlic has adapted perfectly because the climate is almost the same," Salvo explains.
The lilies and St John's lilies, with their bright yellow and orange tones, remind us of the natural flowering order of plants, depending on their colour. The first to flower are, in fact, the yellow ones. Then come white, blue, violet and pink, as spring advances, and this is associated with the insects each plant wants to attract. That's the theory, anyway, because in practice this year the timescale of colours has merged and many plants have flowered at the same time.
The hibiscus, with their wide variety of colours, can be found in many places including La Concepcion garden. These flowers have evolved to the point that their colour changes during the day in order to attract different pollinators.
Thanks to its privileged climate, Malaga can boast of having plants from all over the planet, starting with the ones which the merchant bourgeoisie of the 19th century cultivated in the Parque and La Concepción garden. Among the most striking is the bauhinia, better-known as the orchid tree due to the shape of its flowers.
"If we look at them under infrared light, we can see that they contain a series of signs to show the insects how to reach the grains of pollen," says Enrique Salvo.
Even without leaving Malaga, there are fruit trees in their wild state to be seen, including apples and, above all, pomegranates.
Salvo says that recent genetic studies of pomegranate trees have shown that the first one to be cultivated in Europe was grown in the village of Casarabonela.
And, of course, there are a multitude of aromatic plants which are used in cooking and for making perfumes, such as sage, thyme, rosemary, lavender, fennel, marjoram, etc.
The summer heat is beginning now in Malaga city, and this explosion of shapes, colours and fragrances will disappear before long. That's why this is the perfect time to take a walk among the parks and gardens and enjoy the spectacular show that Nature has provided for us this year.