Switzerland – Apricots vulnerable beauty

You are certainly familiar with the spectacular white blossoming of cherry trees in Japan in spring season. In turn, you may not be acquainted with the awesome flowering of apricot trees in Valais region in Switzerland during the same period of the year. Apricot, and particularly the Luizet variety, is the most emblematic fruit produced in the Valais region, let aside grape.

Apricot farming was likely introduced in Europe from China through the Silk Road in B.C. era. During the Greek and Roman Antiquity, apricot farming spread from today’s Armenia across the Mediterranean area. Apricot cultivation developed in Valais region in the late 19th century, based on tree cuttings imported from the Lyon region in France. 

Apricot farming illustrates the beauty and the vulnerability of Nature vis-à-vis climatic challenges and other natural hazards.

Apricot flower is as delicate as it is ephemeral; its white-rose co tree flowers last only about two weeks before fading and falling down to the ground. 

Apricot fruit is round and sweet in shape and taste. Its collection period in summer is also short, while its maturation process is very tributary of climatic conditions. 

Apricot trees dislike much cold temperatures and wet soils, particularly during the blossoming period. They are affected by a variety of natural diseases spread by various funguses and bacteria. 

My photographic essay aims to interpret and to reflect on the beauty and the vulnerability of apricot farming in the Valais region. The essay is two-fold. The first and the main part was created by mid-March, in the apex of the apricot blossoming period. The second part was crafted in late April during the growth of the young apricot fruits. 

Blossoming, mid-March

In March, substantial parts of the valley bottom and the lower slopes of the mountainous Valais region turn white-rose. Myriads of delicate apricot flowers lighten and soften the mineral landscape, playing with the spring light to charm the eye and create surreal sceneries.

Local farmers often install beehives in the apricot fields to stimulate the pollinisation (fertilisation) of flowers. They also take benefit of spring season to grow fresh apricot cuttings that will become the next-generation trees in the future. 

When night temperatures are markedly below zero degree, some farmers rely on small water nozzles to encapsulate the tree flowers and buds in a protective ice layer. More commonly, hundreds of stearin (paraffin) candles are lightened to mitigate the risk of frost. 

Growing, late April

The transforming power of Nature operates fully during spring season, turning the apricot fields from a white-rose firework into a green cascade within a few weeks. The amazing vegetal metamorphosis could have reached a fuller extent without the occurrence of natural hazards. 

This year, the apricot fields that I visited suffered a bit from the frost bite, but more importantly from a fungus named fruit blight (moniliose), which dries up branches, flowers and leaves. The central part of Valais received abundant rainfalls this year, which allowed funguses to prosper during the critical period of flowering. As outcome, the number of viable fruits notably declined in those fields.

Farming apricots has never been easy, as the culture is very weather-sensitive and vulnerable to a variety of diseases. The marked climate instability and change that is at play nowadays has only augmented such natural vulnerability.

Agronomic research endeavours to develop new apricot varieties more resistant to those challenges; the project will take time to deliver concrete and large-scale outcomes. Meanwhile, some farmers started diversifying their activities to move away from a risky monoculture paradigm. 

I wish and I trust that apricot flowers will continue blossoming in the Valais region and elsewhere year after year for the centuries to come. I will never get tired of the delicate beauty generated be it only for a few weeks. More largely, apricot flowers remind us about the awesome transformative and creative power of Nature during the spring season. 


By Bertrand

Trotting the globe with vision, values and humour