A Closer Look at the Abundant Winter Flower
Winter on the Mediterranean bears its own bounty of delights. Fewer crowds mean quieter streets, which offers one the opportunity to take a closer look at the novel details of the French Riviera. The crisp air encourages you to thoughtfully layer your garments like breakfast crêpes, fashioning yourself into someone you couldn’t help but notice walking down the cobblestone sidewalks. And nature lends us a most potent joy — the Mimosa flower. Blooming from January through March, its rich yellow starkly contrasting the azure backdrop of the glistening sea. It stands out in a league of its own. A flower when there are no flowers, in a season where all of life tends to close up and hibernate. The Mimosa arrives like the first light of day, warming up the land before the world wakes up: breaking out in abundance when it doesn’t make sense. When we need it most. Perhaps even standing in for the sun when it’s nowhere to be found in the Mediterranean sky.
AN ICON OF ITALY
Mimosas wield the gentle power of offering hope in the hardest of months. Perhaps most fervently appreciated after the second World War had ended. Italy was in ruins and three women were determined to change the spirit of the time. Teresa Mattei, Rita Montagnana and Teresa Noce — all members of the Italian Women’s Union — felt that the renewal of post-war society required the solidarity of women. To do this, each of them chose a flower that would represent their vision moving forward – a symbol that could be passed around easily and uplift whoever it crossed paths with. Out of all the floral suggestions, it was Teresa Mattei’s Mimosa that was picked. No doubt for its rich, golden hue and warm, powdery honey-fragrance, but also because it was neither scarce nor expensive, and could thus be passed around in even the poorest of Italian villages. Its appeal lay not in its rarity, but its accessibility, meaning every woman had something to give and none would be left empty handed. On the 8th of March 1946, the first International Women’s Day after World War II, these yellow sprigs made their way from woman to woman across Italy as an offering of tangible hope to colour homes and soothe souls. Even in the precarity of a time tainted by the war’s lingering shadow, the Mimosa could be sought, found, and shared.
HOW MIMOSAS WOUND UP ON THE MED
The trees have been brightening up Nice and the Italian coastline since 1890, when wealthy travellers from Australia arrived on the French Riviera. This particular variety of Mimosa, still in seed form, was possibly tucked away in the passengers’ back pockets or handkerchiefs. Travelling first over oceans before it would make its way across land, oblivious to the joy it would bring for generations to come. Mimosas are a hardy tree that once planted need no maintenance and spread easily on their own. The distinctive yellow ‘pom poms’ are in fact the pollen of the plant. Perhaps these trees have been assisted in their dissemination while their branches are passed between the hands of sisters, wives, mothers, and grandmothers countrywide every year. Now, almost a century since their March 8th debut, Mimosas still infuse the Northern Hemisphere winter with an air of early spring.
THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS
Mimosa gets its name from the word “mimos” meaning “mime” or “actor”, and the suffix “–osa” meaning “resembling”. Are flowers not always acting as a silent mirror for life on our behalf? Showing a clearer reflection and granting us a new language when the real thing is a bit too difficult or too beautiful to say out loud. The tradition of flower gifting traces back to the ancient world. In Egypt, flowers were used as offerings to the dead, to be placed with them in their tombs. Meanwhile, in Rome, lovers would express their infatuation — or jealousy — through flowers. The Greeks used floral headdresses as symbols of triumph. In the Victorian Era, floriography was popularised — the practice of using flowers to communicate cryptically. Recipients of such arrangements scoured flora dictionaries to decode the sender’s hidden message
Flowers have forever been saying the things for which we do not yet have the words. It is why those three Italian women chose the Mimosa to speak to their sisters en masse: pushing back on the war-torn anguish with a riot of a different tone. Perhaps when the world finds itself in turmoil, beauty becomes the one thing we can handle, that helps us heal. A soft, safe place for our eyes to land. And still, all these years later, as Mimosas beckon in the new year, blooming before all the rest, they remind us there can be sensitivity and strength in tandem, brightness in the dark of winter, and the colour yellow at the end of a war.
If you’re in search of Mimosas, explore La Route du Mimosa, a 130km trip through eight towns and villages marked by the abundant yellow flower.