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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 28 April 2010 by John Richards

North Peloponnese and Parnassos in mid April, Entry 146.

Back to Greece

As I hope to be leading a post-conference Tour to Greece at the end of  April 2011, we thought it would be a good idea to visit some of the places a year ahead. Roads change (and how they have changed!), hotels need to be visited, restaurants must be sampled, and, of course, plant sites explored. In particular, we had never been to the northern Peloponnese mountains in spring, so there was much to discover there.

It was not a classic spring this year. Repeated visits have shown that the spring display varies very much between years, depending on the rainfall (and subsequent seed-set) the spring before, the winter rainfall, and, especially in the mountains, how much snow fell (more is better!). This year we found that the annuals were colourful and the countryside lush and green, but there were very few orchids (apart from the ubiquitous Orchis quadripunctata and Ophrys lutea), and the bulbs high on Parnassos in particular were poor. Parnassos was very early and dry with little to see for the most part, while Chelmos was snowy and late, but correspondingly more rewarding.

I hope to set up a  page within the AGS site which shows in more detail what people might hope to see on the Tour next spring, but for the time being, I shall concentrate on some plants and taxonomic problems which we found fascinating.

Firstly is a plant I never expected to see, at a river crossing not very far from Nemea, the rare endemic and mostly spring-flowering Biarum spruneri. Note that the erect spathe exceeds the spadix.

Back to Greece

That day we were proceeding across country from the east coast of the Peloponnese to the north coast, via the lake Stymfalia. We had been to Stymfalia in the summer before and saw Diosphaera asperuloides flowering on the cliff there, but were delighted this time with the spring display of Asperula arcadiensis. This was one of the plants of the holiday and we saw it in many places, always on cliffs of conglomerate.

There were several orchids above Stymfalia, notably good specimens of the sword-leaved helleborine, Cephalanthera longifolia.

Nemea itself was a great surprise; one of the best of all the classical sites, although relatively little visited, and very good for orchids! We saw nine species there. Here is a view of the main site, followed by Ophrys argolica and the local O. delphinensis.

We loved the area around Killini, particularly the Feneos region. You get fantastic views of the mountain and it is very unspoilt. Here is the lovely old monastery above Feneos lake, followed by a view of the mounatin from the monastery, and Dactylorhiza romana near the lake shore.

Another great area proved to be north of Chelmos, where the crossing of the Styx at Kastraki has become much more accessible. I had no idea that this was such a great area for Cyclamen peloponnesiacum which is abundant, often growing with primroses.

Many of the Styx rarities could be seen on the gravels, including Diosphaera, Linum aroanicum, Teucrium aroanium, Crepis incana and Globularia stygia. Few were yet in flower, but many showed bud and might well flower during our visit a fortnight later. Astragalus depressus and A. monspessulanus were flowering already.

The walk through the woods was interesting too. There were good colonies of Orchis (Aceras) anthropophorum and other orchids.

One of the advantages of visiting Chelmos and Parnassos, those two giants which face one another across the gulf of Corinth, on the same trip was that closely related taxa which occur on each could be compared. For instance, here is Corydalis blanda, first in its subspecies oxelmanii (Chelmos) and then in its subspecies parnassica.

Not a huge amount of difference, but parnassica tends to be the better plant. Low down on Chelmos and Killini we saw C. cava too, a poor thing. Much better were forms of C. solida. This was particularly good on Parnassos this year, where we saw some memorable plants.

Now for some crocuses. As expected, we found lovely forms of C. sieberi var. sublimis on Chelmos. Very few quite approached 'tricolor' of gardens in intensity or contrast, but many were much more robust in compensation.

By way of comparison, here is a good form of C. sieberi var. atticus (often included within sublimis) from Parnassos, growing with C. veluchensis, which does not occur on Chelmos..

Famously, C. sieberi and C. veluchensis hybridise on Parnassos, which certainly increases the variability of C. sieberi. Some of the hybrids are very vigorous, and even, dare one say, blowsy?

Crocus olivieri also occurs on both mountains, as a much rarer plant, but we did find one good population on Chelmos. Here it is, together with C. sieberi sublimis.

On Chelmos we found one white individual. We looked hard for signs that this might be a hybrid between the last two, but concluded that it was probably just an albino C. sieberi.

Frits on Parnassos

The last topic I want to raise today is the question of the identity of a population of Fritillaria on Parnassos. I have known this flourishing population for more than 30 years, but have rarely visited at flowering time, and not since Georgia Kamari's revisions of the genus.

I have thought for some time that there were two species here, the dwarfer, short-belled, alternate-leaved (and with wider basal leaves) F. graeca, and the taller, longer-belled, opposite-leaved F. mutabilis, which also tends to have darker flowers and thicker-textured petals. Here follow pictures of which I consider typical F. graeca and then typical F. mutabilis.

So what do we make of the following pictures, which plainly seem to represent two distinct taxa growing together, but in which the larger putative F. mutabilis clearly has alternate leaves, and what is apparently 'normal' F. graeca has opposite leaves? Do they hybridise? Are they really good species?

Lots of good things left out here, daphnes, irises, campanulas, violas, orchids and much more. I shall finish with the magical Tholos, well away from the Delphi masses!

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