The Summer Alpine Tours   9,000 km and 3000 plants!  By Paul Cardy, photographs by Stefano Doglio

The summer series of mountain tours in Europe sees me hiring a mini-bus for six weeks, loading up with books and picnic supplies, and setting out on a botanical and butterfly odyssey through the Pyrenees and Alps. Preceded by the spring Maritime Alps tour, which adds even more variety to what can be seen, the Pyrenees, Dolomites, Slovenia, and July Maritime Alps tours run back to back. This gives the opportunity to join two or more tours in a row, and this year some combined the three Alps tours giving a fine appreciation of the flora and fauna of the western, central, and eastern Alps. 

The weather was remarkable this year. Late deep snow and late heavy snow falls led to floods in the Pyrenees, where Aigues Tortes National Park boasted extensive snow fields. Snow slopes across the Dolomites gave an April landscape in July! Despite the strange weather we saw an absolute wealth of plants this year, more or less as expected at lower and mid altitudes, and only somewhat unusual above the tree line, but even there were some superb shows of spectacular species usually only seen in ones or twos, and several others not usually seen at this time were in flower.


Where to start with the flowers? What immediately come to mind from the Pyrenees are roadside rocks yellow with Tulipa australis, the striking Adonis pyreniaca in the Val d’Eyne, higher slopes with abundant Dog’s-tooth Violets, much Corydalis solida in late flower, Ramonda myconi locally in numerous perfect flower, Fritillaria pyrenaica at a new site, Narcissus pallidiflorus and the delicate Narcissus requienii locally numerous, and perfect Lilium pyrenaicum getting the tour off to a great start on the first day. Pulsatilla alpina and Pulsatilla vernalis were both in fine bloom, with the standout Pulsatilla rubra at one site. Gentiana alpina and Gentiana pyrenaica were as always here, and fine cushions of Androsace vandelii were in bloom. Primula hirsuta, Primula latifolia, and Primula integrifolia were all beautiful.    


Primula halleri and Primula minima were fine in the Dolomites, with some Primula auricula still in good flower. Three species of Soldanella were in superb numerous bloom this year here, with two species in Slovenia, and much Soldanella alpina on all tours. Among the many fine species in these stunning mountains were Anemone baldensis, Pulsatilla alpina, Pulsatilla vernalis, Ranunculus glacialis, Potentilla nitida, Geum reptans, Gentiana punctata, Androsace alpina, Androsace obtusifolia,  Rhodothamnus chamaecistus, Loiseluria procumbens, Campanula barbata, Pedicularis rosea and Pinguicula alpina. Higher slopes were white with Ranunculus kuepferi and we met some Germans studying the diploid and tetraploid populations of the species. The first part of our Dolomite tour is spent in the Dolomite Friulani to the east of the more visited areas, where the flora has some elements more typical of the Julian Alps. Here we saw Silene veselskyi, Dianthus sternbergii, Cerastium subtriflorum, Arenaria huteri, and the surprising local endemic Hemerocallis lilio-asphodelus, as always a highlight.


In Slovenia King of the Alps was discovered at a new site for us, a few days after we had seen it in abundant bloom in the Dolomites. The white Papaver ernesti-meyeri and the yellow Papaver kerneri were as always highlights. Paedarota lutea was prominent, with the more widespread Paedarota bonarota, the latter seen also in the Dolomites. Lilium carniolicum was in superb flower this year. Edelweiss was as always appreciated, also seen in Italy, and in both was Lloydia in fine flower, many in Italy in particular. Primula halleri, Primula auricula, Devil’s Claw, Ranunculus traunfellneri, Anemone trifolia and Anemone sylvestris were just some of the many other Slovenian highlights.


In the Maritime Alps were the endemics Potentilla valderia, Viola valderia, Micromeria marginata, Veronica allionii, Leucanthemum discoideum, and the lovely Allium narcissiflorum. Leuzea conifera was an interesting addition to the list here, and the scarce Orobanche salviae parasitising Sticky Sage was a pleasing find. A highlight was the endemic Lilium pomponium, a few days after we had seen the closely related Lilium carniolicum on the Slovenia Austria border.  Some of the group had been with us for both finds.


Saxifrages were a feature on all tours. Saxifraga longifolia cascaded from Pyrenean rocks, where Saxifraga geranioides and the special Saxifraga media were notable among the other species. Saxifraga oppositifolia and Saxifraga hostii featured in the Dolomites, whilst in Slovenia were Saxifraga burseriana in bloom, and the scarce Saxifraga petraea. Saxifraga pedemontana and Saxifraga callosa flowered in France.


Lady’s Slipper was in fine form in the Dolomites where other notable orchids were Corallorhiza trifida, Traunsteinera globosa, Listera cordata, and Malaxis monophyllos. In the Pyrenees were fine Red Helleborines, and Nigritella austriaca. The endemic Nigritella corneliana was superb in the Alpes Maritimes, Nigritella rhellicani bloomed in the Dolomites and Slovenia, with Nigritella rubra also in the latter.


In Spain an important record was Botrychium matricariifolium re-found in the same site where it had been a new Lerida record a few years earlier. The less than showy Plantago monosperma was a great addition to the list this year. Even after nearly twenty years of leading tours in the Pyrenees the 1300 or so plant species list continues to grow, as it does on all tours.


Here I’ve focused on the flora, but each tour is also great for fauna, butterflies especially. A few highlights were Violet Copper at perhaps a new site in the eastern Pyrenees, a late Chequered Blue in Spain, several Camberwell Beauties, Purple Emperor in Slovenia, and a rather late Poplar Admiral in France.


Ibex was seen closely in the Dolomites and Slovenia, and Alpine Chamois at various sites, whilst we had seen Pyrenean Chamois at Gavarnie. Lammergeier soared over the Pyrenean peaks. A herp highlight was an Asp Viper, watched very well in the Dolomites, and Pyrenean Brook Newt was found under the same stone in a rushing Pyrenean stream as every year!


At the end of the last tour I drove back across the highest roads in Europe, my home just below one of those passes, and started work on the immense amount of information we had gathered on the some 3,000 plants we had recorded on these tours.


I’m already looking forward to this year in these mountains.

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