An Explosion of Flora and Fauna in May!

May 15, 2015 / Local Interest

May has arrived! In only a few weeks from the middle of April when buds unfold, to the beginning of May when il glicine (Wisteria sinensis) fully bursts forth with flowers, it appears on every fence and bower. It drips and dangles filling the air with a delicate fragrance attracting bees and butterflies. Native to North America and China, it blooms with profusion all over Umbria and Tuscany. The older ones have vines as big as tree trunks, the younger ones take off after only three years crawling along fences or over a pergola.

Wisteria in the garden at La Foce, Tuscany.


Wisteria and Rosemary blooming at L’Antica Vetreria, Piegaro, Umbria. (<= Colleen's incredible vacation rental apartments! -ed.) may-flora-spring-umbria3

Wisteria along a village street and at the Circolo in Piegaro, Umbria.


A wild profusion of red swathes the fields and roadsides in Umbria in May. Papaveri, the red corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is almost a weed, blooming in the middle of wheat and alfalfa fields. In Roman myth, poppies were given as offerings to the dead, and in remembrance of the fallen in World War I, they are symbols of remembrance and peace. It is estimated that the wild poppy was domesticated in central Europe around 4,000 B.C. In our family, when our 6 year old grandson spotted all the poppies in the fields around Piegaro, he shouted, “Nonna, there’s fire in the fields!”

Poppies in an olive grove and in a field near Piegaro, Umbria.


Poppies beside Lago Trasimeno in Umbria.

We cannot forget the fauna among the flora arriving in May. Lumaca, or the common land snail (terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mulloscus) although beautiful, are a garden pest and will nibble a flower to shreds. The ancient Romans considered lumaca a gastronomic delicacy to be eaten at banquets. In Umbria, lumache (pl.) are prepared with a sauce of tomato marinara and eaten with gusto!

(Recipe follows..)

Brown garlic in oil, add tomatoes, parsley, basil, salt and pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the oregano and tomato paste; cook for 20 minutes. If sauce starts to thicken up, add a 1/2 cup of water, a little at a time, until the correct consistency is attained. Cook sauce for about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Marinara sauce should be to the thinner side, not like the other tomato sauces.

Meanwhile, break up the chopped tomato as much as you can. About 20-25 minutes before the sauce is complete, add the snails, all at once. Increase the heat beyond simmer when the snails are added and keep the sauce just below the boiling point. Stir the snails occasionally during that time.
Serve in bowls with picks for the snails, and crusty Umbrian bread to sop up the marinara sauce.

Colleen Simpson

by Colleen Simpson

Colleen followed a long-held dream and made a home in Piegaro, which is a pristine medieval glass-making village south of Lago Trasimeno in Umbria. She is the innkeeper at

14 Responses to “An Explosion of Flora and Fauna in May!”

  1. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    I am enjoying a lovely weekend in Rome and loved reading the flora post….all so special! About the snails….I have some memory that after being collected from the damp fiels after a rain they have to be put in a bucket of corn meal for a couple of days ( not sure exactly..) so they can be ” cleaned out” as it were…..before cooking. So embody check my facts please!

  2. Gian Banchero

    Colleen; A million grazie for the article! Your recipe is similar to my Sicilian nonna’s approach, the only difference she using origano instead of basilico, and, of course, a little hot pepper. Wonderful are the memories of she and I in the California fields collecting our “imported” petit gris snails brought over by the French in the 19th century, then to escape their confinements to happily populate the all of central California. Most people who have purged snails know the story of not putting a lid securely over their container and to wake the next morning with snails on the walls and ceiling. Horrors!!! Several years ago before racoons dined on my funny little ducks neighbors employed them to rid their gardens of the little shelled “pests”, what a humorous sight to see the girls waddling home so stuffed with escargot that their chests would be dragging on the sidewalk, their tails up high… Since there are snails in the freezer I’ll make your recipe tonight.

    • Colleen Simpson

      Gian: So happy that my Note brings back such special memories for you!!! I love your story about the snail escape! And wow, snails in the freezer just ready for the recipe…..very impressed.

  3. Ginny Siggia

    The sawed-off evergreen hedges look kind of unnatural, but the profusion of wisteria is everything a flowering vine should be — colorful, lush, propagates, and graceful. In north coastal Wales (hardiness zone 9!!) I saw masses of red/purple fuschia, which unfortunately are not perennials in New England. Oh, the beauty of these plants, with such a fleeting season in colder climates!

    • Colleen Simpson

      Hi Ginny: We love the wisteria that blooms twice, once in May and again in June! The clipped box hedge is one of the garden “rooms” at La Foce estate designed for the Marchesa Iris Origo by Cecil Pinsent…a mix of classic Italian and English garden. It is actually very beautiful during the day and evening as the hedges create different light and shadows. A beautiful garden to visit in Tuscany close to Montepulciano.

  4. Iris Mathewson

    Colleen, love this article, beautifully written with lovely pictures. Miss you, Ciao Bella

    • Colleen Simpson

      Iris, I miss you too! It has been way too long since we spent time together in Piegaro. Really, really look forward to your return.

  5. Especially enjoyed this article and seeing the photos of the beautiful flowers. Brought back wonderful memories of our visit to Umbria and your villa just a
    year ago.

  6. louise

    So, so lovely. Sights for sore eyes and wistful hearts, wishing to be in Italy in springtime. Thank you.

  7. Lina Falcone

    These are beautiful pictures of springtime in Italy, I just got back from there and I was able to enjoy the beatiful flowers in bloom. Grazie for sharing.

  8. Gerry Eagan

    I love seeing wisteria! The memory of poppies in Sardegna is still a strong one! Love, Gerry


Leave a Reply