The term "messicole" refers to annual or hardy plants often present in crops. Etymologically, the word defines plants which colonize the crop harvest. Some are considered as weeds by agronomic scientists as they are likely to have a negative effect on the precious cereal output. Various treatments and the use of herbicides have been used to the point that certain species may dissappear, thereby negatively affecting biodiversity.
The Origin of Messicole Plants
These plants have grown alongside cereals for a long time. Many of them come from the Middle East as they were imported with the cereals around six thousand years ago when the Mediterranean region was colonized by Middle Eastern colonists. There is therefore a historical link between them !
Some compare these plants to "self-propagating plants", a term which botanists use for a plant which spreads spontaneously for various reasons in a new region sometimes hostile for humans.
For horticulturalists, this term is used for plants which develop in a non-determined spontaneous manner among crops. "Wild" plants, as well as the usual undesirable plants in the plot, are included in this this definition. Soja, for example, growing in the middle of a wheat field may be qualified as a self-propagating plant.
Messicoles are part of the self-propagating segetal flora, a term taken from the Latin 'Seges', meaning 'harvest'.
Characteristics of Messicole Plants
More often than not annuals (80% of them), these plants can survive tillage and flourish in the middle of intensively-grown crops. Most of them produce a huge amount of seeds (a simple poppy can produce up to 50,000 seeds) and are have an amazingly resistant. Often assimilated to "weeds" , they have even given birth to a new science, "weedology", whose objective is to study them in order to eliminate them more effectively...
Annual messicole plants have a very short lifespan and produce seeds before the harvest. They flower mostly in June and July, the seeds thus having the time to spread before harvesting takes place.
Mesicoles can adapt to the contraints of cereal production. Some, like the cornflower, germinate spontaneously from autumn on, while others like the pheasant's eye need the winter cold to blossom correctly. Species with hard seeds have a longer dormancy period, like certain apiacaea or leguminous plants whose germination may take place two or three years after sowing.
Problems related to the destruction of messicoles
The segetal flora which included 140 species in the 19th. Century has regressed very rapidly in Europe. Over 40% of messicoles have dissappeared or are in the process of doing so. In the south of France 37 species are in danger of extinction. Fortunately, conservatories are working to maintain these populations. Programmes where land is laid fallow are being put in place for this purpose.
These plants, which have inspired many artists, now depend on the evolution of mentalities and on the development of organic farming for their survival.