Pesce d’aprile! April fools day in Italy and France.

Today… Pesce D’aprile!

Eclairs in a French patisserie

Il pesce d’aprile, April Fools’ Day, is celebrated on April 1st and it is a day during which Italians and French have the custom of playing practical jokes on friends and relatives, following the ancient traditions of tricks played in far-off times.

This custom is supposed to have its origins in the 16th century, but it only really became popular in Italy around 1860-1880, especially in Genoa – which inaugurated this tradition – and was particularly practiced among the upper classes of society.

The explanation of the name pesce d’aprile, literally April’s fish, is often linked in Italy to the zodiac and in particular to the fact that every event that happened on that date was related to the abandoning of the Pisces constellation by the Sun.

Or maybe it’s more simple… “Pesce d’aprile” (April fish) stems from the fact that an increase of young fish is noted at this time of year and the young fish are easily “hooked”!

An ancient joke in Italy is that of the announcement made by Buoncompagno from Florence in the XIII century when he promised to fly over the town of Bologna with a machine he invented on April 1st. The whole population gathered to see the flight, which actually never took place as it was a trick.

As the name hints, the most common prank involved in Pesce d’Aprile is to affix a paper drawing or cutout of a fish onto the back of an unsuspecting victim. Then, everyone else asks if anyone has seen “April’s fish” – when, of course, the victim doesn’t know he or she is the one they’re talking about. Although this may be a bit old-fashioned today, taping a fish onto someone’s back is still something Italian children do.

PlantNet and me: yellow blooming shrubs around Florence

Orange Zone. Ick. Covid. Ugh. Florence, almost endlessly interesting, even without museums, churches and libraries. Almost. I am doing the best I can to stay interested in things.

And, upon another walk in the sunny spring, I came upon this.

What is that little shrub with the yellow blooms, you might ask. I did. No, it isn’t forsythia. That would be too easy.

Checking my trusty app, PlantNet, and I believe it would be called Genista scorpius. Interestingly enough, Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry on this plant, but there are plenty of other references if you Google it.

OK, how about another one: What’s that yellow blossom on this invasive little plant?

According to PlantNet it is ranunculus lanuginosus L. and Wikipedia says this:

“The generic name ( Ranunculus), passing through the Latin, derives from the Greek Batrachion, and means “frog” (it is Pliny the Latin writer and naturalist, who informs us of this etymology ) as many species of this genus prefer the humid, shady and marshy areas, natural habitat of amphibians.

“The specific epithet (lanuginosus) derives from the Latin and means “woolly” and refers to the characteristic down of this plant similar to wool.

“The currently accepted scientific binomial (Ranunculus lanuginosus) was proposed by Carl von Linné (1707-1778), Swedish biologist and writer, considered the father of the modern scientific classification of living organisms, in the publication Species Plantarum of 1753.”

And finally, perhaps the most commonly seen yellow blooming shrub in my native USA, is also, sometimes located in Florence. But, not as often as you would think.

I saw this on my walk. What’s unusual to me is that I don’t see forsythia much in Florence. Until this particular outing, I had never seen it here. What does PlantNet say its real name is?

From Wikipedia we learn:

“Forsythia suspensa (Traditional Chinese: 連翹; simplified Chinese: 连翘; pinyin: liánqiáo, weeping forsythia or golden-bell) is a species of flowering plant in the family Oleaceae native to Asia. It is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine. It contains the lignans Pinoresinol and phillyrin.

Forsythia suspensa is a large shrub. It can be grown as a weeping shrub on stream banks and can be identified by its pale flowers. Garden cultivars can be found. It is a spring flowering shrub, with yellow flowers. It is grown and prized for its toughness.”

For once, Wikipedia was rather silent on a topic, but Kew Science had more to say:

“Geography and distribution
Native to China, where it occurs in Anhui, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi and Sichuan provinces, at 300-2,200 m above sea level. It has long been cultivated in China and Japan.

A straggling, deciduous shrub, with many spreading, pendulous, branches. Weeping forsythia grows to around 3 m high as a free-standing shrub, and higher if trained against a wall. The golden-yellow flowers are about 3 cm across, and appear before the leaves, singly, or in small groups, in March to April. The opposite, broadly ovate, green leaves are usually simple (undivided), but are occasionally three-lobed, and have toothed margins, except at the base. They measure about 4-8 cm in length and about 3-5 cm in diameter. The narrow capsules (fruits) appear from July to September.”

I saw a lot of forsythia while walking through this tony section of Florence. Even inside the grounds of the ASSI sports club:

Why look, there’s forsythia blooming near Michelangelo’s David. Nah, that’s a copy (and a bad one at that) of the David in a private garden.

But, my favorite viewing of forsythia on that day was it growing quasi naturally, with less trimming. What a glorious day to be out looking at shrubs!

A plant mystery finally solved: jasminum mesnyi or Japanese jasmine

For the past five springs, during the time I’ve been so lucky to be living in Florence, I’ve seen this spectacular shrub or vine or whatever it is and wondered what it was. Was it in the rose family? I’ve seen it vining through the most spectacular locations: over walls, through lattice, draping over fences.

On a recent walk through a tony section of Florence, I was able to get up close and personal with the flowers shrubby thing, and to get some decent pictures of the blossoms.

With this closeup and my trusty PlantNet app, I could finally get to the bottom of my query: it is obviously the Jasminum mesnyi. Now how come you didn’t know that?

Wikipedia has some information:

“Jasminum mesnyi, the primrose jasmine or Japanese jasmine, is a species of flowering plant in the family Oleaceae, native to Vietnam and southern China (Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan). It is also reportedly naturalized in Mexico, Honduras and parts of the southern United States (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona) [and I can personally attest that it grows in Florence].

“Jasminum mesnyi is a scrambling evergreen shrub growing to 10 ft tall by 3–7 ft wide, with fragrant [the ones I’ve seen are not fragrant, believe me, I’ve sniffed any I could reach] yellow flowers in spring and summer. The form usually found in cultivation has semi-double flowers. It is not frost-hardy. With suitable support it can be grown as a slender climber, though in confined spaces it will require regular pruning.

“Jasminum mesnyi has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.”

Another day, another walk, another plant: Bellis perennis

See that pretty white flower that looks like a little daisy? They are low to the ground and blooming all over Florence right now. I checked my app, PlantNet, to learn more.

Of course, I had to consult Wikipedia for more info, and I am glad I did!

Bellis perennis is a common European species of daisy, of the family Asteraceae, often considered the archetypal species of that name.

“Many related plants also share the name “daisy”, so to distinguish this species from other daisies it is sometimes qualified as common daisy, lawn daisy or English daisy. Historically, it has also been commonly known as bruisewort and occasionally woundwort (although the common name woundwort is now more closely associated with Stachys). Bellis perennis is native to western, central and northern Europe, including remote islands such as the Faroe Islands but widely naturalised in most temperate regions including the Americas and Australasia.

“It is a perennial herbaceous plant with short creeping rhizomes and rosettes of small rounded or spoon-shaped leaves that are from 3/4 to 2 inches long and grow flat to the ground. The species habitually colonises lawns, and is difficult to eradicate by mowing – hence the term ‘lawn daisy’. It exhibits the phenomenon of heliotropism where the flowers follow the position of the sun in the sky.

“The flowerheads are composite, in the form of a pseudanthium, consisting of many sessile flowers about 3/4 to 1-1/4 in in diameter, with white ray florets (often tipped red) and yellow disc florets. Each inflorescence is borne on single leafless stems 3/4 – 4 in, rarely 6 in tall. The capitulum, or disc of florets, is surrounded by two rows of green bracts known as “phyllaries”. The achenes are without pappus.

“Etymology: Bellis may come from bellus, Latin for “pretty”, and perennis is Latin for “everlasting”.

“The name “daisy” is considered a corruption of “day’s eye”, because the whole head closes at night and opens in the morning. Chaucer called it “eye of the day”. In Medieval times, Bellis perennis or the English Daisy was commonly known as “Mary’s Rose”. It is also known as bone flower.

“The English daisy is also considered to be a flower of children and innocence.

Daisies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1894)

“Daisy is used as a girl’s name and as a nickname for girls named Margaret, after the French name for the oxeye daisy, marguerite.

“Culinary: This daisy may be used as a potherb. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, noting that the leaves become increasingly astringent with age. Flower buds and petals can be eaten raw in sandwiches, soups and salads. It is also used as a tea and as a vitamin supplement.

“Herbal medicine: Bellis perennis has astringent properties and has been used in herbal medicine. In ancient Rome, the surgeons who accompanied Roman legions into battle would order their slaves to pick sacks full of daisies in order to extract their juice; bellum, Latin for “war”, may be the origin of this plant’s scientific name. Bandages were soaked in this juice and would then be used to bind sword and spear cuts.

Bellis perennis is still used in homeopathy for wounds and after certain surgical procedures, as well as for blunt trauma in animals. Typically, the plant is harvested while in flower when intended for use in homeopathy.

Bellis perennis flowers have been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally as tea (or the leaves as a salad) for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tract.

“Daisies have traditionally been used for making daisy chains in children’s games.

The daisy chain by Maude Goodman (1936)

Thank you Florence, PlantNet, and Wikipedia. You are keeping the long, boring days of Covid in check (more or less).