Mediterranean Garden Society
Associazione Giardino Mediterraneo
June 2021 - Piano Grande, Umbria ... more of a wander than a walk
The Piano Grande is a vast flat valley, once a glacial lake, trapped between high mountains. The areas are cultivated for wild flowers and also lentils. Some years it is a kaleidoscope of color. The famous town of Castelluccio dominates the end of the main valley. It was mostly destroyed by the recent earthquakes.
It's a little later than we usually visit here and some of the fields have already been harvested. First we explored the roadside verges which have been missed by the tractor or harvester and found quite a few different species such as Venus's Looking Glass, Greater Mullion, Hogweed and Cornflower. We also found a field cricket.
We then drove the various roadways exploring the wild areas; such a kaleidoscope of colour and such a huge variety of plants, especially Pete's favourite: Meadow Clary. Some of the photographs show you the number of varieties.
As we wandered the wild uncut areas we saw many tarantula burrows amongst the wildflowers. Whilst exploring Pete found two types of Burnet moth both on the same flower head, and disturbed a Skylark.
We chose a different route for our return journey and saw amongst other things, Figwort, Downy woundwort, Pale Flax and lots of honeysuckle.
On the way home we reminisced about all the things we had seen here on different visits over the last 17 years, each one marvellous. Another lovely day out discovering wildflowers - what more could one want!
Photos: Pete and Jan Thompson
List of plants found:
Hog weed - Heracleum sphondylium
Bistort - Bistorta officinalis
Common Sorrel - Rumex acetosa
Cornflower - Centaurea cyanus
Lesser stitchwort - Stellaria graminea
Corn spurry - Spergula arvensis
Common poppy - Papaver rhoeas
Everlasting Pea - Lathyrus latifolius
Sanfoin - Onobrychis viciifolia
White Melilot - Melilotus albus
Meadow buttercup - Ranunculus acris
Wild candytuft - Botrychium ascendens
Tufted vetch - Vicia cracca
Pale flax - Linum bienne
Common milk wort - Polygala vulgaris
Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare
Ladies bedstraw - Galium verum
Heath bedstraw - Galium saxatile
Vervain - Verbena officinalis
Green alkanet - Pentaglottis sempervirens
Meadow clary - Salvia pratensis
Downy woundwort - Stachys germanica
Figwort - Scrophularia
Great mullein - Verbascum thapsus
Eyebright - Euphrasia officinalis
Yellow rattle - Rhinanthus minor
Small scabious - Scabiosa columbaria
Venus’ looking glass - Triodanis perfoliata
Honeysuckle - Lonicera periclymenum
Oxeye daisy - Leucanthemum vulgare
Ribbed Melilot - Melilotus officinalis
Wood vetch - Vicia sylvatica
Woodruff – Galium odoratum
June 2021 - We went in search of Violet Birds-nest Orchids
Remembering a place we had visited before where we had seen many violet birds-nest orchids (Limodorum arbortivum) became the target for the today (see May 2017 Mountain walk). After perusing the maps for a while we found a cross marking the spot. Collecting paninis as usual we travelled through Sarnano towards Amandola looking for a turning to Toccarelli and Garulla
En route there was plenty to see in the hedgerows and roadside banks along the way, very different vegetation to where we usually visit, more of a woodland type of environment. One special orchid we found on a corner of the lane was what we believe to be Dactylorhiza maculata subsp. saccifera.
When lunchtime arrived we found ourselves near to refugio Garulla, which is on the Grande Anello dei Sibillini, and had our picnic on the benches outside - how convenient!
On reaching the spot on the map we remembered that we had first visited this area in 2004 when on the way back from purchasing a dishwasher in Comunanza. So with dishwasher on board we had travelled home exploring the lanes along the way, and found this area to be a very rewarding, and it still is today.
Sadly this time there were no violet birds-nest orchids, and no sign of them having been there this year, but still a very rewarding area to visit.
A full list of plants seen:
Kidney vetch - Anthyllis vulneraria
Cistus - Cistus crispus
Spiny restharrow - Ononis spinosa
Bladder senna - Colutea arborescens
Rampion bellflower - Campanula rapunculus
Flax - Linum pubescens
Peach flowered bellflower – Campanula persicifolia
Saint John’s-wort - Hypericum perforatum
Feverfew - Tanacetum parthenium
Pyramidal orchid - Anacamptis pyramidalis
We have never known the snow stay on the mountains this late in the spring. We tend to monitor it from the top of our driveway to see if a flower walk could be possible. Today looks good. Pete checks the weather forecast - sunny and the wind is 'vento debole' (light).
Right, let's get moving. Along our route we see many Tragopogon porrifolius inthe hedgerows. As we are nearing Pian di Pieca the wind seems to be very strong. We collect paninis on the way as usual and the ladies in the shop comment about the windy weather. Pete mentions to them about the weather forecast on the TV - vento debole, ha ha ha!
Taking our usual route the first find is a collection of beautiful Orchis msacula, then across the road a Ophrys sphegodes, just the one!
A little further along there are a number of Cephalanthera damasonium which are literally growing in the rock debris deposited by the snow plough. They have obviously struggled through to flower. Isn't nature wonderful?
Continuing upwards it's obvious that the snow has only just left this area as the grass appears dead, straw coloured and as if it has just been rolled. Hidden amongst it all there are lots of tiny grape hyacinths wanting to be seen. There are also a few narcissus poetica, and we note how short they are, due to the late covering of snow. We could also see early signs of asphodels which usually cover this area by now.
At this point we decided to walk and have a look around. The wind here was very strong and gusting. Pete managed to go for short walk, I tried and failed. I managed to get to the back of the car sheltering from the wind, then struggled back in again - not for me, my viewing was from the car window. I found it impossible to stand in the wind. Pete was having to lean into the wind just to stay upright.
Moving on we see cowslips and corydalis on the banks and more Narcissus poetica, which are still very short, only 8 cms tall.
Lunchtime, because it's so windy we need to find a sheltered place to sit and eat our paninis. We never have our lunch in the car. We travel on passing a huge patch of Doronium columnae growing like a curtain in the side of the rocks, until we reach the entrance of the zig-zag walk, which is fairly sheltered. You know sometimes I think it's the only reason we go for flower walks, the paninis are so good!
After lunch we travel on to where we have seen many types of orchids growing. We are not disappointed. There are five species, all growing together covering a large area. Orchis pallens, Orchis pauciflora, Orchis tridentata, Orchis morio, Dactylorhiza sambucina, what a beautiful sight, although there are large areas devoid of plants. There are not as many flowers here this visit, all due to the late snow. Never mind another later visit will be planned I am sure.
NB: The photographs were all taken by Pete, at 1/800 to 1/1200 due to the high winds, and I think they are amazing all things considering.
Tragopogon porrifolius - Salsify
Muscari neglectum - Grape hyacinth
Onobrychis viciifolia - Common sanfoin
Anemonoides ranunculoides - Yellowwood anemone,
Corydalis cava - Corydalis
Viola tricolr - blue and yellow pansies
Globularia meridionalis - Globe daisy
Polygala nicaeensis - Milkwort
Doronicum columnae - Leopards bane
Sanguisorba minor - Salad burnet
Cyclamen repandum - Spring sowbread
Lotus corniculatus - Dovesfoot trefoil
Dracunculus vulgaris - Dragon's teeth
Narcissus poeticus - Narcissus
Galeopsis tetrahit - Red hemp nettle
Petasites hybridus - Butter bur
Orchis pallens - Pale flowered orchid
Orchis pauciflora - Sparse flowered orchid
Orchis tridentata, Tooth orchid
Orchis morio - Green winged orchid
Dactylorhiza sambucina - Elderflowered orchid
Cephalanthera damasonium - Large white Helleborine
Ophrys sphegodes - Early spider orchid
Anacamptis morio - Green winged orchid
It's the first of March, our Wedding Anniversary, and a beautiful sunny day. We decide to celebrate by going to the mountains. We can see from the top of our driveway that there's still plenty of snow up there, but we go anyway. On route to the panini shop we pass a house which has always had a lawn full of anemones. It doesn't disappoint us this year either as there seems to be more than ever in a splendid variety of colours, some have even escaped into the grass verge outside of the garden.
After collecting our panini, we decide to travel via the main road over the mountains from Sarnano as this road is always kept clear. Along the route the grass verges are covered in anemones – thousands of them.
At our first stop we see snowdrops (Galanthus) down the bank, impossible to photograph; and there are several clumps of Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) emerging. At home these are already in flower. I can also see, high on the grassy banks, several hellebores which are impossible to get to.
On reaching the turning for the 'zigzag' walk we realize that this is impassable due to a large snowdrift.
Never-the-less we stop to admire the beautiful beech trees (Fagus), with their lovely markings, and find a few snowdrops (Galanthus).
Continuing upwards the views are magnificent. We sit on the steps of the little Alpine house at Sassotetto to eat our lunch, enjoying the view.
All around there are crocuses (Crocus vernus) struggling to stand upright due to the recent heavy snow. On closer inspection we that see there are hundreds of them, some open and some still pushing their way through the knotted grass. How lovely they look, they're so crisp and fresh. Then Pete finds one Green Hellebore (Helleborus bocconei) pushing its way through the matted grass.
Travelling onwards we see many more crocus and then on a sharp bend in the road I shout 'stop, there's something yellow on that bank'. Peter stopped and went to have a look. It's a huge clump of primroses (Primula vulgaris), beauties, then we note there are quite a few around in this area. Continuing on the route we stop again to admire more hellebores, a bank covered in them and much closer than before, which we can now identify as Stinking Hellebores (Helleborus foetidus).
So although we have not seen many flowers we've had a lovely day out doing what we have done for many years. My husband bought me a wild flower book in 1971 in which he wrote 'To my wife for her enjoyment', and to this day it travels with us on all our flower excursions.
It's a beautiful morning and the weather forecast for the mountains is good, so let's go and see what's about. We have in previous years been lucky enough to see plenty of things at this time (see walks Nov 2016 and 2017).
As we get to the top of our drive we are amazed to see that the Sibillini's are covered with snow, not expected!! What should we do? Let's go anyway and see how far we can get. Halfway there we see that we may be lucky enough to be able to go on the zigzag walk.
As usual we collect panini from the little store in Pian di Pieca. Angela, the lady there aks 'Are you going up to the mountains?' 'Yes’ we reply. She shudders at the very thought of it - we just laugh!!
Travelling onwards and upwards we can see that the snow is getting deeper and when we reach Piani di Ragnolo the whole area is a wonderful snowy landscape.
The road here becomes a little tricky, but we have 4 x 4. Then all at once our journey comes to an abrupt end in a drift: the road has not been cleared all the way around. Oh well, we'll get out and have a walk here. Along the way we see there are many wild rose bushes covered with red berries which look lovely against the snowy background. We see several faded Eryngiums and a few thistles poking their heads through the snow.
We want to get to the zigzag so now have to return all the way around and up through Sarnano, eventually reaching the walk. It's very cold so boots on and wrapped up warm we head off. The beginning of the walk is sheltered from the weather by the beech trees and we can see a few cyclamen tucked under the roots of the trees and rocky areas and also a couple of Daphne. There are plenty of leaves of Hepatica and snow drops with the promise of spring to come.
By half way we are tiring so we found a great spot to sit and eat our delicious panini, enjoying the splendid view across to Ascoli Piceno and the distant coast all bathed in warm sunshine. Along the way we've seen many succulents and ferns tucked into the crevices on the sides of the pathway
Heading back down later we are so happy to have made the journey.
Our 'escape' after lockdown, May 2020
It’s May, and after many weeks in lock-down, the restrictions have been lifted sufficiently for us to travel. First we visit the sea, and walk along the beach with crashing waves breaking on the shore. The air is so fresh, it’s a joy to be alive.
A few days later we return to the mountains, and what a day: lots to see everywhere, including some flowers previously not recorded by us. We travel through Pian di Peica, no sandwiches today, we have a picnic. We turn off the SS78 and make our way upwards, passing Santuario di San Liberato monastery, stopping along the way to observe various plants. At one of these stops we find a single plant which we have not seen before. The flowers are not fully open making it difficult to ID. 'What is it ' Pete says, 'Haven't a clue' is my response. Photos are taken but I am sure a return will be necessary.
Onwards we travel, stopping here and there noting all we see. When we reach Pianatelle we stop again and wander over the area heading towards the ridge where we know Peonies grow and are not disappointed, we find a host of them in full flower. This area is steep limestone rock and covered with many different plants, it’s a spectacular sight.
Now its lunch time and we drive to a secluded place we know, beneath beech trees, perfect for a picnic. A little siesta and we continue our journey, now travelling on the SP5 where on previous occasions we have seen many flowers. It’s a little disappointing as the flowering is sparse. The snow has not long gone off this area, so I guess we are too early for most things. We find a few orchids though: Ophrys sphegodes 'Early Spider', Orchis pauciflora 'Sparse flowered' and Platanthera bifolia 'lesser butterfly'.
A week later we return to the same area to take photos of the 'unknown plant'. It is beautiful and definitely a new one for us. It turns out to be Dictamnus albus 'Burning bush' which is considered a rare species in the Marchè Region and in Central Italy. There are two more new flowers which we see close by, two colour variations, which we photographed and have now identified both to be Melittis melissophyllum 'Bastard Balm'.
We noted 72 different plants and listed are some of the more unusual spots:
Dictamnus albus Burning bush
Melittis melissophyllum Bastard balm
Dianthus carthusianorum Carthusian pink
Pentaglottis sempervirens Large blue alkanet,
Narcissus poeticus Narcissus
Galeopsis tetrahit Red hemp nettle
Petasites hybridus Butter bur
Paris quadrifolia Herb Paris
Neotinea ustulata Burnt orchid
Orchis tridentata Tooth orchid
Platanthera bifolia Lesser butterfly orchid
Cephalanthera damasonium Large white Helleborine
Cephalanthera longifolia Sword leaved Helleborine
Ophrys sphegodes Early spider orchid
Anacamptis morioGreen winged orchid
Orchis pauciflora Sparse flowered orchid
Phyteuma orbiculare Rampion
Lotus corniculatus Dovesfoot trefoil
Dracunculus vulgaris Dragon's teeth
Paeonia officinalis Common peony
Text: Jan Thompson. Photos: Pete and Jan Thompson
April 2020: a walk in the time of Corona Virus
With the strange circumstances we all find ourselves in, due to the corona virus, we are unable to visit the mountains.
We are lucky to have fields surrounding our property which, as mentioned in May 2019, has not been farmed for over 12 years. We walked around them recently to see what flowers we could find.
The ground slopes downwards towards a small stream where we find Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea), Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula) and Field Buttercup (Ranunculus acris).
The hedgerows are abundant with Spina - blackberry - which provided plenty of fruits in the autumn to make lots of jam. We also have Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) and Sloe (Prunus spinosa) in flower, from which I make Elderflower Cordial and Sloe Gin using the berries.
During the years that we have been here many of the wild flowers have established themselves in the garden, where they are very welcome ...
A big success for us this year is that we have several well-established Sicilian snapdragon (Antirrhinum siculum) plants. We visited Sicily last year and on the seashore amongst a rocky outcrop we found some plants had become detached from their footings due to the tides, which we bought home along with a few seeds. These are now growing in the same type of limestone rock in our garden.
Tassel hyacinth Leopoldia comosa
Grape hyacinth Muscari neglectum
Star of David Ornithogalum umbellatum
Hollow leaved asphodel Asphodelus fistulosus
Common daisy Bellis perennis
Bugle Ajuga reptans
Hounds tongue Cynoglossum creticum
White campion Silene alba
Common fumitory Fumaria officinalis
Birdseye Veronica persica
Lady orchid Orchis purpurea (we counted over 100)
Three cornered garlic Allium triquetrum
White garlic Allium neapolitanum
Sicilian snapdragon Antirrhinum siculum
White clover Trifolium repens
Elderflower Sambucus nigra
Hoary cress Cardaria draba
Ground ivy Glechoma hederacea
Field buttercup Ranunculus acris
Sloe Prunus spinosa
Grass vetchling Lathyrus nissolia
Creeping woodsorrel Oxalis corniculata
Hop trefoil Trifolium campestre
Chicory Cichorium intybus
Windflower Anemone blanda
Addendum - April 2020
Further to our previous listing we have now found many Lizard orchids, Himantoglossum hircinum growing amongst the Orchis purpurea, a Bee orchid, Ophrys bertolonii and Tooth orchid, Neotinea tridentata, (which unfortunately has had its flower head eaten by snails or sheep).
Many other plants are also now in flower:
Gladioli Gladiolus italicus
Forking larkspur Consolida regalis .
Goats-beard Tragopogon pratensis
Forget-me-not Myosotis sicula.
Field madder Sherardia arvensis
Narrow leaved birdsfoot trefoil Lotus tenuis
Italian sanfoin Hedysarum coronarium
Ox-eye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare
By Janice Thompson
Photographs by Pete Thompson
Almost everything in the garden has dried up, we haven't had rain for about six weeks. We have watered precious plants but others have to fend for themselves – hopefully they will pull through.
A trip to the mountains is therefore a relief from the oppressive heat which has lasted for months, on and off. The first things we saw en route were large patches of yellow Linaria vulgare (toadflax), such a splendid splash of colour.
We travelled via Sarnarno, and after collecting our lunch we went to the zig-zag walk, which on our first impressions looks as if it maybe a challenge as it appears to be quite overgrown.
Cyclamen were along the banks, hidden in the undergrowth, managing to push their way through to make themselves seen. On the outer sides of the pathway there are many patches of Prasium rayjus clinging on in the cracks between the stonework, and on the opposing side we see many Eryngium amethystinum and Echinops ritro dotted amongst the dead and drying grasses.
Travelling along the pathway we have to tread very carefully because it is littered with Colchicum lusitanum, amazingly managing to push their way up through the very hard rocky ground. There are also many Sempervivum tectorum, obviously suffering from the lack of rain, they are literally just hanging on, a few are managing to flower.
Further on, the pathway is difficult in places, but we are able to reach the summit where we stop and rest, and take in the wonderful views. From here you can see the hillside outline of what has become known to us as 'The Pharaoh' because of its outline, behind which lies Ascoli Piceno. Scanning from there, the coast line and much of Marche is laid out before us.
On descending I notice a green praying mantis clinging on to the grasses; it looks as if it could be a pregnant female due to its large abdomen.
On returning to the car parking area we explore the ground and find other interesting species. Epilobium dodonaei, Scrophularia scopolii, Cyanus triumfetti, Centaurea scabiosa, Dianthus sylvestris.
We then drive to a walk on the high grassland meadows which we call 'the green walk'. Here are many Eryngium amethystinum and Dianthus monspessulana together with several species of butterfly. There were also a few fungi about. We manage to identify and get photos of Silver Washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia), Queen of Spain fritillary (Issoria lathonia) and Piedmont ringlet (Erebia meolans), even though they are so difficult to photograph as they move so fast.
Text and photographs by Jan Thompson
We are dismayed to see that a beautiful little house which had been refurbished and finished only one year before the earthquake (2016), which last time we passed had been reinforced, was now just a pile of bricks and rubble.
More sadness as we continue through what was once a small community of houses, now just the footings are left, all the rest removed. Hopefully they are preparing to rebuild. There are many such sights along our journey, some houses completely demolished, so very sad.
Further on we turn towards Acquacanina on the SP5, an area where we have seen many rarities in the past, we are not disappointed and record a really good count for the day, some listed below. We saw many more orchids on this visit than previously at the same time of year, maybe due to the wet conditions earlier in the year, being favourable. Fragrant orchids being the winner by far, there were thousands of them everywhere.
Pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis
Vanilla orchid Nigritella nigra
White helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium
Fragrant orchid Gymnadenia conopsea
Common rockrose Helianthemum nummularium
Purple Vipers grass Scorzonera purpurea (a first for us)
Alpine rockrose Helianthemum apenninum
Alpine gentian Gentiana nivalis
Meadow Clary Salvia pratense
White campion Silene alba
Red clover Trifolium pratense
White clover Trifolium repens
Asphodel Asphodelus albus
Yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor
Yellow wort Blackstonia perfoliata
White corn flower Cyanus triumfettii alba
Meadow sweet Filipendula ulmaria
Lousewort Pedicularis comosa
Tufted vetch Vicia cracca
Vipers bugloss Echium vulgare
Purple vipers bugloss Echium plantagineum,
Wood vetch Vicia sylvatica
Scabious Knautia arvensis
Hop trefoil Trifolium campestre
Black medick Medicago lupulina
Blue flax Linum alpinum
White flax Linum suffruticosum
Carthusian Pink Dianthus carthusianorum
Woodland pink Dianthus sylvestris
Globe daisy Globularia meridionalis
Geranium Geranium sylvaticum
Kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria
Sticky pink flax Linum viscosum
Common milkwort Polygala vulgaris
Shrubby milkwort Polygala chamaebuxus
Small white teasel Dipsacus pilosus
Not quite the Sibillinis
Due to the months of unseasonable snow we have not been on our usual walks to the mountains. All the flowers up there must be ruined.
Therefore I decided to take you on a tour of our garden/land which is half way down one side of a valley, 200m above sea level, where, beginning in February we have a Himantoglossum Robertianum, just outside the gate.
Now in flower we have five different orchids Orchis purpurea, Himantoglossum hircinum, Ophrys scolopax, Ophrys Bertolonii and Neotinea tridentate.
15 years ago, when we moved here the land was farmed but for the last 12 years it has remained fallow. Over this time the amount of wild flowers has increased tremendously. Currently we have drifts of Leucanthemum vulgare interspersed with Onobrychis. Another area has drifts of Asphodelus fistulosus.
There are also many Sambucus nigra trees, this time of the year the flowers are a real treat, I make elderflower cordial and also fry the flowers to make crispy 'pancakes'. You can find the recipes at the end of this article.
On a walk about yesterday I noted Leopoldia comosa, Muscari neglectum, Ornithogalum umbellatum, Asphodelus fistulosus, Tragopogon porrifolius, Tragopogon pratensis, Bellis perennis, Legousia hybrida, Linaria purpurea, Cichorium intybus, Parentucellia viscosa, Ajuga, Cynoglossum creticum, Echium plantagineum, Brisa maxima, Gladiolus italica, Cynodon dactylon, Verbascum sinuatum, Trifolium campestre, Pisum sativum, Reseda lutea, Clematis flammula, Silene latifolia, Scabiosa columbaria, Urospermum dalechampii, Leucanthemum vulgare, Onobrychis to mention just a few.
Recipe for Elderflower cordial
15 heads of elderflower
500g caster sugar
4 tablespoons quality runny honey
2 unwaxed lemons
In a bowl, mix all ingredients for the batter. Heat about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil in a pan over medium heat. Holding the flowers by their stems, dip each flower into the batter, then drop them into the pan with the hot oil, flower side down. Fry until lightly golden.
The bottom side should be golden brown, the batter facing up should at least be solid. Remove from the oil and place them briefly on a paper towel.
Enjoy dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Usually, the fritters are accompanied by a fruit compote like rhubarb or other seasonal fruit. They also taste gorgeous with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Janice Thompson, 12 May 2019
Boxing Day Walk
26 December and the weather is perfect, wall to wall blue sky, so we decide to go to the mountains. From home we have noticed that the mountains which last week were covered in snow appear to be clearing so we are optimistic of how far we may get.
The main road from Sarnano up to Sassotetto is cleared all the way so we are able to access the zigzag walk. There is a little space cleared enough to park two cars, then an avalanche. Kitted out with our 'ten league' boots and warm clothing we traverse the tricky first section to begin our walk. All is well for a while as we crunch our way quite easily through the snow along the trackway, then we hit a couple of difficult areas where the snow has fallen from the slopes above onto the path. Pete fights his way through fallen branches and makes steps in the thick snow for me to follow, not easy I might add.
These conquered, we continue onwards. Here and there we recognise Hepatica nobilis and Saxifraga rotundifolia (Round-leaved saxifrage) leaves waiting to send up their flowers, together with other plants, not identified, but with a promise of things to come. Along the path also are Asplenium ceterach (Rustyback spleenwort ferns) protruding from the rocks and scree.
Several little pieces of Daphne laureola (Spurge Laurel) are seen here and there, then a lovely big specimen almost in flower: what a lovely plant. Along the way we see several daisies, struggling to be seen, as they are emerging from the snow crushed grass pushing their little heads up into the sunlight.
We stop to admire the beech trees (Fagus) which look magnificent in this surrounding, when Pete spots a bird, a marsh tit (Poecile palustris), then there are several flying overhead twittering away.
Completing the walk, we get back into the car and head off to find somewhere for our picnic, travelling onwards and upwards until the snowy road becomes the end of an avalanche and curtails our travel. 'We'll picnic here then'. We are alongside a beautiful specimen of an ash tree covered in tight black buds waiting to unfurl and note its wonderful champagne coloured trunks which shine in the winter sunshine.
What could be better? OK not many flowers but it is December and the middle of winter; we are lucky to have seen anything at all. Was it worth the journey? But of course it was.
Not really a flower walk, August 2018
This wasn't a walk, just a 'Let’s take a picnic to the mountains', but when you see something so unusual I have to share it.
We were driving our usual route to Sassotetto when Pete suddenly stopped the car, having spotted lots of Colchicum autumnale on the hedgerow banks. Out we get to look at them, then we also see Cyclamen hederifolium, and even though we have seen them many times before, it’s always a joy each year when they come back again.
Whilst Pete is taking photos I investigate the bank. I see blue and yellow in the undergrowth. 'What’s this?' I exclaimed, 'Never seen this before'. It appears to be a plant with blue and yellow flowers. We take photos, look in available books: not in. Unfortunately, we do not have a good camera with us today, only our iPhone, but we capture the images you see here. When we get home, out come more books, trawl the internet for ideas: nothing.
So I posted the photo on the MGS forum hoping someone will be able to help: nothing. I then posted the photo on Plant Idents, a Facebook page, and hey presto back came the answer: Melampyrum nemorosum. It is a parasitic, herbaceous flowering plant in the broomrape family, Orobanchaceae. What looked like blue flowers are new leaves which are blue, turning green as they mature. How unusual is that?
We also saw Trifolium nigrescens. Solidago virgaurea, Epilobium dodonaei and when we reach Piani di Ragnolo and the surrounding areas, we find the entire area covered with Eryngium.
This has been an exceptional year for us, with many new species discovered.
Sharing our walk
We get a call from Jan, another MGS member, who would like to know where we see the wild flowers she reads about. 'Would you like us to show you?' we say, only too keen to go again. 'That would be nice' she says.
So early on 27 July we head towards the area in Aquacanina which we highlighted in our last walk on the Sibillini mountains.
To begin with the area is blue with Eryringum but then disappointment: the farmers have cut the fields leaving only the grass verges. Then there is a sigh of relief when we arrive at our intended area, still pristine and uncut. The orchids seen earlier in the month have all gone but now there is a fresh carpet of flowers.Jan is in her element, as we wander across the hillside like kids, trying to identify what we see, taking photographs of the ones we 'just can't remember the name of'.
Having explored this area, we move back to the large layby where a couple of weeks ago we saw masses of monkshood in flower. I am keen to see if the foxglove spikes I saw here previously would now be in flower, and yes, excitedly I make my way towards them. Some plants do tend to grow in difficult areas and these were some of them, much clambering is required to get to them. We identify them as Digitalis laevigata and Digitalis lutea subsp Australis, both firsts for all of us.
After this it is lunchtime, so we head towards Pintura where there is a bar where we consume our panini washed down with a small beverage.
'Where to now?'. I suggest the Zig-Zag walk, which we find very overgrown. Slowly we navigate the track explaining to Jan what we've seen here on previous visits, she exulting in the magnificent views.
The edges of the track are fragile in places and in a few areas it has been badly damaged by falling rocks, probably due to earthquakes. Here plants literally cling on, some encased in mossy turfs as with the maidenhair spleenwort ferns, others like sedums and Umbilicus repestris tuck themselves in tightly between the rocky outcrops. On route today we find Sedum acre, Campanula latifolia, Onobrychis viciifolia, Cephalaria leucantha and many ferns, mostly Asplenium trichomanes. It is far too hot to complete the walk today so we return to the carpark area, where we tell Jan of the massive avalanche some five years ago when snow, rocks and trees crashed down the mountainside creating a wide swathe through the forest, taking with them the picnic table.
As we drive away we reflect upon what a good day we have had, and so many plants; a total of 56.
Notably:Digitalis laervigata, Digitalis lutea subsp. Australis, Linum suffruticosum subsp. salsoloides, Saxifraga granulata, Euphrasia picta, Trifolium montanum, Melilotus officinalis, Salvia pratensis, Echium vulgare, Convolvulus arvensis, Globularia meridionalis, Linaria arvensis, linaria vulgaris, Marrubium vulgare, Heracleum sphondylium, Arnica montana, Doronium pardalianchesi, Campanula micrantha, Campanula latifolia, Campanula trachelium, Carlina acaulis, Eryringum amethystinum, Echinops, Scrophularia nodosa, Origarum vulgare and Teucrium chamaedrys.
It’s still June, another walk
It’s my birthday and Pete asks me what we should do. “To the mountains to make the most of this good weather.” “OK” he agrees “but as a surprise, somewhere different.”
So, although it’s a late start, we set off, call in our favourite panini shop at Pian di Peica, then veer off on a different route, towards Fiastra. The first part of the journey is a bit disappointing; not much to see along the way but a few flowers until we see a huge patch of Campanula glomerata. We skirt around lake Fiastra, travelling towards Visso, and begin to see a more flowers, stopping many times to identify plants:
Polygala nicaeensis, Onobrychis viciifolia, Stellaria holostea, Knautia arvensis, Trifolium montanum, Melilotus officinalis, Salvia pratensis, Echium vulgare, Tanacetum parthenium, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, Neotinea ustulata (syn. Orchis ustulata), Gymnadenia conopsea, Briza minor, Rhinanthus minor, Hypericum perforatum, Blackstonia perfoliata, Thymus vulgaris, Globularia meridionalis, Cruciata glabra (syn. Galium vernum), Cuscuta epithymum, Galium mollugo, Trifolium stellatum, Gymnadenia nigra (syn. Nigritella nigra).
Around 12.30 we decide it’s lunchtime and find a secluded shady area to settle down for a 'birthday picnic'. Now’s the time to get the books out and see exactly what plants we have seen and to make a list. After a short siesta we prepare to venture onwards. As Pete is putting the stuff back in the car he calls me to come quickly. On the other side of the road he has found a very small hedgehog, looking very dehydrated. We pour water over it and it rallies and starts to drink water from the roadway. After about 15 minutes he seems to be refreshed so Pete picks him up and takes him well away from the road. Before letting him go, he offers him a snail which is eaten with gusto. Our good deed for the day, and hopefully we have saved his life.
We travel on a little further as far as Cupi seeing plenty of Levisticum officinale and Carduus nutans and lots of Sedum acre along the edges of the road.
The journey home is soon interrupted by a stupendous area of flowers. We are both in awe of the number of flowers on either side of this minor road, especially orchids. We hastily exit the car and climb the bank exclaiming 'Have you seen this one?' 'How about this one?' 'What's this?' My mind is racing trying to remember all their names. Of special note were a 'white pyramidal' orchid, thousands of white perennial cornflowers and several Bee orchids.
So what have we identified? Anacamptis pyramidalis in their thousands, a few Neotinea ustulata and Gymnadenia conopsea. Linum catharticum, Linum suffruticosum and Linum perenne all growing together along the banks. Lonicera canadensis, Conopodium majus, Leucanthemum vulgare, and thousands of white Centaurea montana and quite a lot of Ophrys – yet to be identified.
Later on and further down the roadway we see Gentiana lutea, Clematis vitalba, Ononis spinosa, Lonicera periclymenum, Digitalis lutea and Lilium martagon.
We eventually get home late, tired but still in awe of the number of flowers we’ve seen. As we refresh ourselves with a welcome cup of tea, out come all the books – we must record this whilst it’s still fresh in our minds, with a promise to return quite soon. What a birthday present!
How wrong can one be – at the end of our account of our walk in April we had written 'It had turned out to be a splendid day out. A return visit will not be long in its planning.'
What a year for rain. We had been wanting to visit the mountains for some weeks, but the weather forecasts were dismal: rain, rain and yet more rain. Not ideal weather for walking or inspiring for flower spotting, so we were delighted when at last there appeared to be a good forecast. From the top of our driveway you can see the mountains and, on inspection, it did indeed appear that there were no clouds about.
We set off and en route collected panini for lunch from our favourite shop at Pian di Peica where they make your panino to order, and then travelled up the SP57. We commented on the lack of colour in the hedgerows along the way but as we got higher, stopping here and there, we did see quite a variety of flowers, some known immediately, others to be identified or confirmed later.
Among them were: Polygala nicaeensis, Orchis anthropophora, Orchis mascula, Onobrychis viciifolia, Centaurea montanus, Dactylorhiza maculata, Saxifraga granulata, Neotinea tridentata, Lilium martagon, Silene italica, Myosotis sylvatica, Stellaria holostea, Lathyrus latifolius, Euphrasia officinalis subsp. kerneri (syn. Euphrasia picta), Rosa sempervirens, Knautia arvensis, Trifolium montanum, Melilotus officinalis, Salvia pratensis, Echium vulgare, Tanacetum parthenium and Dactylorhiza fuchsia.
On reaching the area known as we saw quite a few colourful Orobanche gracilis which are parasitic on legumes, together with Anacamptis pyramidalis, Neotinea ustulata (syn. Orchis ustulata), Gymnadenia conopsea, Filipendula ulmaria, Cruciata glabra (syn. Galium vernum), Campanula rapunculus, Campanula glomerata, Rhinanthus minor, Armeria canescens, Thymus vulgaris, Vicia cracca and Dianthus carthusianorum.
I had been looking forward to seeing the various areas where we know peonies grow, which are usually in full flower in mid-June, but we were disappointed and amazed to note that they had already flowered and set seed. We met a local man foraging for fungi who said that it had been a wet spring so that everything had had an early and short life.
Today was really hot so when lunch time arrived we needed to find a shady place, and we knew of an area of beech trees with plenty of shade. Splendid panini as usual. Lunch over – time for a little siesta I thought, for it’s exhausting work seeking out wild flowers.
I awoke to the buzzing of insects and went to investigate the area beneath the trees where we had seen Daphne laureola in the spring, doing very well here and spreading. This time I found two new plants, Sanicula europaea (Sanicle), which is here in abundance and 'oh what have we here?'… Orchids? Well, not exactly, but of the orchid family - Cephalanthera damasonium (white helleborine)**, not many flowering but there were plenty of seedlings around for the future. I noted that the flowers don't appear to open as in other orchids but have a yellow rim just visible at the base of the flower.
** Edward Step who published a book in 1943 “Wild Flowers in their Natural Haunts”, recalled finding white helleborines in the shadow of beech trees with which it is associated and said “The White Helleborine is a wasp flower, and has no hollow spur for the secretion of honey, for the wasp has no long tongue like the butterflies and some of the bees”.
The field next to our picnic spot was covered in a wonderful mass of Gymnadenia conopsea, (fragrant orchids) among the other wild flowers.
Continuing along the road which runs around the mountain we saw Verbascum thapsus (great mullein) flowering, resplendent against the mountain backdrop, and, on the opposite side of the road, banks of scree with plants clinging on trying to make a home there.
It is the 2 April, Easter Monday. Weeks of prolonged rain followed by snow and several severe frosts which killed leaves on olive trees, oleanders and even several covered plants, had delayed our first flower walk. With blue skies and 18 degrees predicted we set out, but even then our anticipation was low as the Sibillini mountains were still cloaked in snow.
Our pessimism evaporated as we approached the foothills where the verges were carpeted with anemones (Anemone apennina) in their thousands.
Another surprise was that our favourite walk was clear. We call it the zig-zag walk due to the constant changes in direction it takes. Last year it was totally blocked because of an avalanche which had left a deposit of rocks and trees, making it impassable. This year we were greeted by Tussilago farfara, Crocus vernus, Hepatica nobilis, Galanthus nivalis, Primula vulgaris and Scilla verna beneath the beech trees.
Further on, huge rocks and some of the tree trunks were still there but now passable. Crocus vernus and patches of Juncus trifidus had forced their way up through the rocky path and hellebores, both Helleborus foetidus and Helleborus viridis subsp. bocconei grew amongst the trees.
As the path climbs the beech trees give way to spruce and pines, with views to the Adriatic 70 km away. Here we saw Daphne laureola in flower. As we climbed higher the flowers were only promised by familiar leaves pushing up through the dead grass. We passed the remains of Bird’s Nest Orchids which seems to always favour this one spot and climbed on further to the top where hundreds of ladybirds were sunning themselves after their long hibernation and the views were magnificent. We returned to the car marvelling at all these varieties again.
We then drove up past Sassotetto and skirted the snow-covered hills where carpets of crocus grew wherever there was bare ground. It had turned out to be a splendid outing. A return visit will not be long in its planning.
A walk in November 2017
We took a trip to Foce, which is a tiny village at the start of the walk to Lago di Pilato, within the Sibillini national park, to see what flowers were about. We gave up searching for wild flowers, there were very few to be found, instead we enjoyed the fantastic colours that Autumn brings, and share them here with you ...
A walk in October 2017
What a difference a little rain makes!
We took some visiting friends to see the open areas of grassland at Piana di Ragnolo, hoping to share with them , hoping to share with them the abundance of flowers which we usually see, even at this time of the year. We found it difficult to find any wild flowers at all just dried grass, due to the lack of rain this year and the very high temperatures. A few rose-hips along Piani di Ragnolo is all we saw.
We travelled on as far as Pintura above the village of Bolognola and found many seed heads of Carlina vulgaris.
Eventually a few scanty specimens were found - Epilobium dodonaei, Eryngium amethystinum, Linaria vulgaris, Mentha arvensis, Agrimonia eupatoria and a few Cyclamen hederifolium.
This was not exactly a walk as I recently had surgery to my knee. My husband and I decided to take a picnic into the mountains, to a different area to where we usually go: Montecavalli which is just outside Visso.
There were few flowers about due to the hot weather and lack of rain this summer. Amongst the few survivors which were mainly in the shady areas, we saw Scabious, Epilobium dodonaei, Lotus corniculatus, plenty of Eryngium amethystinum.
But the hero of the day was Daucus carota.
Daucus carota - The wild carrot is a somewhat variable biennial plant that grows between 30 and 60 cm tall and is roughly hairy, with a stiff, solid stem. The leaves are tripinnate, finely divided and lacy, and overall triangular in shape. The leaves are bristly and alternate in a pinnate pattern that separates into thin segments. The flowers are small and dull white, clustered in flat, dense umbels with one red flower at its centre designed to attract insects. As the seeds develop, the umbel curls up at the edges, becomes more congested, and develops a concave surface. The fruits are oval and flattened, with short styles and hooked spines. The fruit is small, dry and bumpy with protective hairs surrounding it. The endosperm of the fruit grows before the embryo. Wild carrot blooms in summer and autumn. It thrives best in sun to partial shade, and is commonly found along roadsides and in unused fields, as shown in the photos below.
In England it has many several common names, such as bird's nest, bishop's lace, and Queen Anne's lace.
July 2017 walk.
Having first bought our lunch at our favourite shop along the way we headed out to Sassotetto in the Sibillini's. On the way up to the top we stopped at our favourite walk, the zig zag, which we have explored many times over the past 13 years, it is a great place for wild flowers. Boots on, note book in pocket, cameras at the ready, secateurs handy, as we often need to clear the pathway, and off we go. It was obvious that there had been an avalanche recently, and after only about 20 metres we were shocked to see a huge bolder blocking part of the way; never mind we get around it and venture forth. Not more than 15 meters further on and 'Oh my goodness, what happened to the path' it was completely obliterated by a pile of felled trees and more rocks. This is just not what we had expected. Part of the path had been excavated by other huge boulders as they descended. It was quite obvious we could not continue, as the path was the only level walking area. The avalanche was almost certainly caused by some recent earthquakes.
Even so we were able to record specimens of note: Digitalis lutea, Cephalaria squamiflora, Epiloblium dodanaei, Campanula rotundifolia and Phagnalon rupestre. We then drove to Sassotetto, passing several Lilium bulbiferum along the way, and there was a splendid array of flowers.
Eryrigium amerthystinum, Sherardia arvensis, Achillea millefolium, Campanula trachelium, Allium aflatunense, Knautia arvensis, Campanula glomerata, Dianthus cathusianorum, Dianthus sylvestris, Anthemis cretica.
Continuing around the mountain we reached an area known as Pintura di Bolgnola, it was now lunch time and after a drink at a local bar, we found a picnic spot and consumed the splendid sandwiches in total isolation. Moving on around the mountain we stopped frequently to identify even more flowers, namely Sedum rupestre, Eryrigium creticum, Sedum reflexum, Gentiana lutea, Galium verum, Pulmonaria apennina, Verbascum longifolium, Achillea collina, Campanula latifolia, Trifolium angustifolium, Aconitum vulparia, Malva moschata, and Dianthus monspessulanus.
This meadow resounded to the sound of Rhinathus seeds shaking in their pouches. Also from here, you could see the sea 45 km away due to the clarity of the air. There was just one more stop, a return to the lily pond, where there were Clematis vitalba, Helichrysum italicum and Scrophularia scorodonia. Having had such a splendid day, we had almost forgotten the disappointment of the zig zag walk. Finally we stopped where we know there are Himantoglossum hircinum adriaticum: most years they had been cut down when they mow the roadside hedges, more recently they have not been mowed so there were many Himantoglossum seedheads, Lathyrus latifolius and Lonicera etrusca.
15 May 2017 Mountain walk
A change of area for our May walk. Some years ago we discovered a clearing on the side of a lane just west of Amandola which was covered in many orchids and various other flowers. Here we had our only siting so far of Limodorum abortivum (Violet Bird’s Nest Orchid), I was hoping that we may be lucky enough to see it again.
This elusive orchid is a tall plant but is, nonetheless, difficult to find because it blends in so well with its surroundings. Limodorum abortivum can disappear for several years during periods of drought and then it reappears when the weather is wetter. This makes it harder to find rather than its rarity. It is usually found in coniferous woodland, scrub, and grassy woodland clearings. It is saprophytic and is dependent throughout its life on mycorrhizal fungi, but because the stem is green and contains chlorophyll, it is unlikely to be parasitic as some people have suggested. It is sometimes pollinated by insects, but Limodorum abortivum is also cleistogamous (pollination takes place inside the flower bud).
When we arrived we saw many Orchis simia (Monkey Orchid) covering the edge of the area. On closer inspection we found an Ophrys fuciflora (Late Spider Orchid), Neottia nidus-avis (Bird’s Nest Orchid), together with various other flower species. We then wandered down the lane discovering many other flowers.
On our return to the car, we stopped dead in our tracks, not more than 5 metres away from the car we saw two Limadorum abortivum side by side which were over 80cms tall. Many photographs were taken.
We then drove a little further down this lane and stopped to see some pink flowers on the side, on closer inspection found them to be Anthyllis vulneraria ssp rubriflora (Pink Kidney Vetch) and there amongst them 6 more Limadore orchids just about to flower. Alongside them was an Orchis anthropophora (Man Orchid) and a (Three-toothed Orchid). A very good afternoon.
These are some of the species we saw including 11 orchids:
Limodorum abortivum, Orchis simia, Ophrys fuciflora, Neottia nidus-avis, Orchis anthropophora, Neotinea tridentata, Orchis mascula, Orchis purpurea, Anacamptis pyramidalis, Himantoglossum adriaticum, Cephalanthera longifolia, Trifolium campestre, Galium verum, Cruciata laevipes, Thymus serpyllum, Salvia pratensis, Asparagus officinalis, Leucanthemum vulgare, Smilax aspera, Lonicera implexa, Vicia villosa, Lotus corniculatus, Lotus pedunculatus, Polygala nicaeensis, Scutellaria galericulata, Trifolium angustifolium, Anthyllis vulneraria ssp rubriflora, Aristolochia rotunda and Hedysarum coronarium.
We went for our first flower walk of the year on the Sibillini mountains today. Surprisingly there was still a lot of snow lying in the sheltered areas and the road from Piani di Ragnolo around to Sassotetto was blocked halfway with 3 metres of snow. Nevertheless, we were able to see some old favourites and a few new ones in this area. We picnicked in weak sunshine but our visit was curtailed by a thunder storm with heavy rain.
The highlights were Ruscus aculeatus, Drimia maritima (with one rare white one), Daphne laureola and a large patch of Eranthis hyemalis, which were not open due to the wet weather.
Today we identified:
Polygala vulgaris: Primula vulgaris: Primula veris; Hepatica nobilis; Viola lutea; Viola tricolor; Helleborus foetidus; Helleborus bocconei; Corydalis cava; Galanthus nivalis; Scilla bifolia; Scilla bifolia var. alba; Scilla verna; Pulmonaria apennina; Ruscus aculeatus; Anemone hortensis; Anemone apennina; Asphodelus albus; Muscari neglectum (syn. M. atlanticum); Daphne laureola; Hippocrepisemerus (syn. Coronilla emerus); Crocus vernus; Prunus domestica; Prunus spinosa; Anemone ranunculoides and Eranthis hyemalis.
Ruscus aculeatus was given its common name, Butcher's broom, because its stiff twigs were bound together and used by butchers in Europe to keep their cutting boards clean. It is a low-growing common evergreen shrub. It is widely distributed from Iran to the Mediterranean and the southern United States. It has flat shoots known as cladodes that give the appearance of stiff, spine-tipped leaves. Small greenish flowers appear in spring, and are borne singly in the centre of the cladodes. The female flowers are followed by a red berry, and the seeds are bird-distributed, but the plant also spreads vegetatively by means of rhizomes. Ruscus aculeatus occurs in woodlands and hedgerows, where it is tolerant of deep shade, and also on coastal cliffs. It is also widely planted in gardens, and has spread as a garden escapee in many areas outside its native range. The plant develops edible shoots that are similar to asparagus in form. Butcher's broom has tough, erect, striated stems with false thorny leaves.
The plant has a long history of medicinal use. Extracts, decoctions, and poultices have been used throughout the ages, but the medicinal use of this plant did not become common until the last century. The increasing popularity of natural and herbal remedies in Europe in the 1970s has reaffirmed its position in modern medicine.
Common English names: Butcher's broom is also known as box holly, knee holly, pettigree, sweet broom, and Jew's myrtle. If there are Italian common names for this plant we would like to hear of them.
Wild flower walk on 1 November 2016
Following a similar route as our September walk, we travelled from Sarnano up to Sassotetto (signposted from Sarnano carpark) and then on to the open areas of grassland at Piani di Ragnolo. Even at this time if the year there were a few gems to be found including the same poppy which we had seen back in September, it was still flowering. It was a very windy day so difficult to photograph our specimens. Our son was with us and took the photos on his mobile phone. We also noticed some daphne growing in a thicket which we must come back to see in the spring.
Wild flower walk – Thursday 29 September 2016
Despite the late start to our walk, we had a fruitful day plant hunting. We ventured from Sarnano up to Sassotetto (signposted from Sarnano carpark) and then on to the open areas of grassland at Piani di Ragnolo.
Our first thought was that there would not be much to see as the grass had all been cut. But no; as we looked towards the edges of the cut areas, the parts where the tractors cannot reach, we found quite few species, including this little campanula.
In all we managed to see and identify 21 species of wild flowers:
Epilobium dodonaei, Eryngium amethystinum, Galium vernum, Campanula scheuchzeri, Carduus chrysacanthus, Carlina acaulis, Trifolium campestre, Bellis perennis, Hypericum richeri, Asperula cynanchica, Scabiosa columbaria,Trifolium pratense, Cephalaria leucantha, Trifolium montanum, Linaria vulgaris, Centaurea scabiousa, Gentianopsis ciliata (a first for us) and surprisingly, Papaver rhodeas.
We also saw Pyracanthua coccinea covered in berries, Sambuca ebulus in berry, and plenty of lovely shiny rosehips.
On the way down from Piani di Ragnolo, there is a little lay-by where we know of a pond with water lilies. We stopped and were rewarded with a beautiful sight of double yellow lilies basking in the sunlight.
A very enjoyable day out and sitll plenty to see.
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