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Sicily's wild sweet pea- a touch of heaven.

Posted by Suzanne Turrisi on 09 Jun 2022

A divine wild flower

Last month, in the Sicilian spring, I was coming along the idyllic SS120 from Petralia Soprana to Polizzi Generosa and was on the lookout for what has to be one of the most beautiful spring flowers in the world - the Sicilian wild sweet pea.

I spotted a lot tumbling down an embankment close to the road. The colours, pinkish reds and cardinal purples and the soft powdery perfume were heavenly.

A devoted monk and a heavenly flower

This sweet little flower (which I do love and wrote about briefly a few years ago) has two colours in the same bloom, and it has quite a history. It is said to have been ‘first noted by a Sicilian monk, Franciscus Cupani (1657-1710) …he kept a celebrated botanical garden in Misileri (now Palermo). And it was listed in his 1696 book, 'Hortus Catholicus".

Ambra Edwards tells all this about the keen botantist monk in her beautiful book “The Plant Hunter’s Atlas’ (it has been my ‘go to’ for interesting sweet pea history and lots of details...Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)) and she also notes that this “annual climber is native to Sicily and Sardinia”.


Wandering Sicily's National parks in search of the divine sweet pea.

A devoted botantist and plant lover Cupani would have loved wandering the national parks where the sweet pea loves to grow; maybe the Madonie National Park, the very one I was in - it's not far from Palermo.

This botanical minded monk sent seeds off to other likeminded people across Europe to Amsterdam, Oxford, and Enfield near London. By 1900 in fact, in London, a special floral exhibition was held for the sweet pea- it was ‘so popular’, such a favourite.

Seeds were obviously propagated, and by the very early 1700’s other enthusiastic botanists/gardeners described the sweet pea as having different colours- some said red with pale blue, others purple with sky blue and in 1753 ‘the great classifier of plants, Linneaus” said it was pink with white and native to Ceylon.

Ambra Edwards tells that this ‘Ceylon’ detail added to the confusion, as sweet peas do not grow in Ceylon.

Cupani's sweet pea

She does say though that the sweet peas sold as “Cupani’s or ‘Cupani’s Original’ today, all of Sicilian wild origin, are deep purple and crimson”; these are the very colours of the divine wild sweet peas I spotted on the SS120 in the Madonie National Park in mid-May.

They are Cupani’s Sicilian wild sweet peas. One of many reasons to go to Sicily in the spring time.





Ambra Edwards' book: "The Plant Hunter's Atlas - A World Tour of Botantical Adventures, Chance Discoveries and Strange Specimens" Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. (Greenfinch 2021)


P.S  I did return for a short visit in the first half of May and look forward to a long stay in the coming year.

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