While much of France is still stuck in late-Winter’s chill, the almost year-round sunshine of the Cote d’Azur offers ample opportunities to explore ‘La Route des Mimosas,’ a “trail” spanning eight villages centered around the beautiful golden mimosa tree.
One of the many plants introduced to Europe following Captain Cook’s famous 19th century voyage of discovery to Australia was Acacia dealbata, a shrubby tree that subsequently made its way down to the Mediterranean coast of France with the many English gentry who had summer residences there. Conditions proved ideal for this plant, which became known as mimosa locally, and soon the French Riviera had one of the largest mimosa forests in Europe.
At this time of year, along the 80-mile route between Sainte Maxime and Grasse—what is now known as the Route des Mimosa or “Route of Gold”—the trees are laden with golden-yellow flowers. In their native Australia, these trees regularly reach a height of 1oo feet but here in France they seldom get above 30 feet, something that has not prevented the French from turning them into a thriving industry.
The Route of Gold becomes a colorful tourist attraction at a time when few other plants are flowering. This is one of the major festivals on the winter calendar, attracting over sixty thousand visitors each year. Most of the villages along the route decorate floats, shops and municipal buildings with the blossom. And in the areas around Tanneron, Pegomas and Mandelieu-La Napoule hot houses have been built that specialize in the forcing of mimosa flowers. Roughly twelve tons are mimosa are produced here for festival decorations and 118 million stems are exported to florists around the world.
The use of mimosa flowers does not end there, however. They also act as raw ingredients for cosmetic producers in Grasse. This town is famed for being the world’s perfume capital and produces over 2,000 types of scent. Many of the greatest perfumers or “noses” in the perfume industry have spent time honing their trade in this little town.
There can be no doubt that mimosa is an invasive species but it is one that draws little complaint, except from the sneezing hay fever sufferers of the region. Mimosa now carries enough economic clout not to be viewed as a threat, aside from the occasional eradication project that crops up from time to time.
If you are thinking of growing a mimosa in your own garden then “Le Gaulois” is regarded as the best flowering variety. It generally grows to between 10 and 30 feet but will not tolerate temperatures of below fifty degrees Fahrenheit (or ten degrees Celsius), something to keep in mind if you live in a northern climate.
Mike Alexander, GV’s European correspondent, lives in Southern France where he manages a large estate garden. A horticulturist for more than 20 years who has professionally gardened in the UK, France and Africa, he writes regularly on gardening, food and environmental issues for magazines and Web sites in the U.S., France, South Africa and New Zealand.