When you think of cemeteries, you usually think of sadness, gloominess and death. But cemeteries are also peaceful and quiet places, where plants and animals can thrive with little disturbance…
I visited the Cimetière de Schaerbeek (which is one of the 19 municipalities of Brussels) with scientists from the AEF (a Belgian association which studies botany and floristics), and discovered a rather unexpected biodiversity.
The cemetery is famous for holding the grave of what is probably the most famous Belgian painter, aka René Magritte. For those who don’t know, he was obviously a strange guy, and a great ambassador of surrealism. I would have expected his gravestone to be more…imaginative, though!
Between the tombstones, the stony and drier soil is home to small inconspicuous plants like Aphanes arvensis (Parsley-piert) which is very rare in Brussels or this lovely little Geranium with rounded leaves (Dovesfoot Cranesbill, Geranium molle).
There was also many individuals of this gaunt-looking plant, which has ridiculously long stems, small white flowers and hairy leaves at the base. Has anyone guessed what this could be?
No? Then I’ll give the answer : it’s Arabidopsis thaliana (Thale Cress), the plant used as a model in genetics labs all over the world, the first plant to have its complete genome sequenced in 2000. Surprising, isn’t it?😀
Now good news for biodiversity? Montia minor (a kind of Blinks) is showing a considerable increase in its distribution range in Belgium. In the past few years, it has been discovered in many new places, and it seems to thrive in urban environments like Brussels. This cemetery is the newest addition to the range of places where it can now be found!
Unfortunately it’s so small that it’s quite a pain to photograph…
A companion of Montia minor is Rumex acetosella (sheep’s sorrel) which has quite remarkable arrow-shaped leaves. It’s also edible (soups, sauces), with a bitter taste due to oxalic acid…I didn’t try though😀
The next area of the cemetery is made of large lawns where ashes can be scattered. We found several interesting species there, like the creeping Ornithopus perpusillus (Bird’s-foot) pictured here, or the Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris).
The walking paths are made of ballast-like rocks. Unlike in many other places in Brussels, they don’t seem to be spraying weedkillers here, so we can still see this characteristic drought-resistant vegetation : Erodium cicutarium (Common Stork’s-bill), Sedum acre (Biting Stonecrop)…