Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Spanish wattle sounds like a brass band?


In early October these yellow-coloured, wattle-like flowers graced a small shrub in the terrace garden, near the Terrace Tea Rooms, in Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens.

It's not an Acacia but an Azara. There are ten species of Azara, all from South America, and after these showy flowers they produce attractive clusters of berries. In our species, Azara serrata, the berries should be creamy white and I have been watching with interest as they mature, from this picture taken in the middle of November...


To this one last week!


In the UK, the species Azara microphylla is apparently common in public parks but rare in home gardens, to the surprise of The Telegraph. Azara serrata is recommended for wider planting by The Telegraph and said to have showier flowers. Two other species are mentioned, but somewhat dismissively.

The UK's Royal Horticultural Society roots even more strongly for Azara serrata, giving it one of its Awards of Garden Merit.


Remembering the dingo-took-my-baby days of the early 1980s, I wondered whether the name azara might have the same origin as Azaria (Chamberlain) which was claimed at the time to mean 'sacrifice in the wilderness' but turned out to mean more like 'god helped'.

In the case of our terrace plant, the genus is actually named after a chap called Félix de Azara. According to Seattle garden blogger Arthur Lee Jackson, Félix was a Spanish geographer and naturalist who worked in South America in the late eighteenth century.

Our plant also has some interesting common names. Chin-Chin, or Chinchín, is applied, or misapplied, to various species of Azara, including at various times Azara serrata and Azara microphylla. Wife Lynda, who has recently added Spanish to her linguistic skill set, tells me Chinchin is the noise a brass band makes, or perhaps cheers! (as in when you clink glasses). I have no idea how this relates to our plant other than it's rather upbeat and appropriate.

Another name, Corcolén, is perhaps more commonly associated with Azara serrata, but I can only track this down to a village in Chile, about 70 kilometres south of Santiago. It probably grows there.

Aromo, is easier to source. It is the common name for wattles (Acacia) in Spain. I can see why you might associate this plant, with its pom-pom flowers bristling with stamens (the male bits), to a wattle. A variant of this name, Aromo de Castilla - the Wattle of the Castle or perhaps the Castle Wattle - is trickier but maybe it is again a locality name. 

For me I think I'll stick with Aromo, which also allows for the robust perfume which Arthur Lee Jackson compares to fresh fruit salad.


Images: It was a wet old day when I photographed the flowering specimen using my phone camera. It really did look much prettier.

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