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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 13 November 2011 by John Richards

Some other bulbs from southern Greece. Entry 196.

OK, well after nearly 200 contributions, it looks as if I have finally found the way to stimulate some discussion; write something controversial about bulbs! What is it about bulbs? Shame they are not REAL alpines. There you are, more controversy and discussion! The other way to produce some comment, it seems, is to wrote nothing at all. Absence makes the heart grow fonder! (I know a really funny joke based on that old saw, told to me by my dirty-minded uncle many years ago, but on mature reflection it does not bear repetition in this forum. If you are desperate to know it, email me and I shall decide if you deserve to hear it).

Where was I? Oh yes, thank you all those people who wondered where I was, or what had happened to me, or even if I was unwell, because I had written nothing for six weeks. I was really touched! Someone is out there after all!

Anyway, this has caused me to pen another contribution inside a week, partly to catch up, and partly because I have some material to write about!



So, to continue the theme of the bulbs we saw in the southern Greek Peloponnesos between October 26th and November 3rd, here are some colchicums. We saw all four of the species I expect to see in this region in some quantity. We know several good sites for the large flowered C. bivonae where we have usually seen it at its best in late September. It was a great surprise on the Scottish website to see that someone had seen it flowering in the Stemnitsa region a month later than that; I have never seen flowers after mid October. Two more earlier species are C. lingulatum and C. sfikasianum. We saw well-developed leaves of the former, characteristically narrow and lying on the ground near Kardamili this year, and just north of Monemvasia we saw similar but less prostrate leaves in a site where I have seen the latter species at the beginning of October. I don't expect to see flowers of either as late as we were.

By far the commonest species, as always, was C. cupanii with its neat flowers, dark anthers, and twinned, often quite broad leaves. We saw this nearly every time we stopped. Here are photographs taken between Molai and Richia, and a close-up from Stavros in the deep Mani.



The species with the most substantial flowers that flowers this late is C. parlatoris. This is often misnamed as C. boissieri, but that stoloniferous species is a subalpine and is not found in mediterranean vegetation. However, subalpines are not always C. boissieri either; C. parlatoris occurs at the top of the Langada road pass over the Taygetos at nearly 1000 m altitude. In flower C. boissieri tends to have very pink, rather cup-shaped flowers which are faintly tesselated; they are less pink and looser in shape in the nevertheless attractive C. parlatoris. Colchicums are often more easily determined in leaf than in flower (if leaves are absent); the flowers can be exceptionally variable, and thus overlap a good deal between species.

We found a good site for C. parlatoris by the little village of Ageranos, south of Gytheion. We had seen odd flowers there before, but this year it was in full flower.

Note the anthers are yellow by the way. I should have said that before.

The other two colchicums that are found in flower this late and this far south are C. pusillum and C. psaridis.Both tend to be rather small and insubstantial in flower, and can be impossible to identify if no leaves are present. In my experience, C. pusillum, which we first experienced in Crete (entry 130), is in the Peloponnesos a plant of very low altitudes, usually by the sea, often in dry rather scruffy places. Here it is next to the beach at Kardamili. You can see on the right-hand individual that there are several (4-6) linear leaves appearing.

C. psaridis however is rather more choosy in its congeners, occuring in cooler places in native vegetation, often with crocuses for company. Here it is at the summit of the pass to Lagia in the southern Peloponnesos where it grows with Crocus niveus and C. boryi at about 700 m altitudeLike C. cupanii it has two leaves, but they tend to be narrower and hairy, the anthers are yellow and it is said to be stoloniferous.

Scillas, and a Muscari

Scilla (Prospero) autumnalis is abundant and ubiquitous in the southern Peloponnesos at this time of year, covering vast swathes of ground in a mauve mist, sheer quantities making up for the minute, short-lived flowers and insubstantial stems. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that in the deep Mani, south of Areopolis, and also south of Monemvasia in the eastern Peninsula, it is replaced by a distinctive subspecies with short wide acute leaves and rather more showy flowers, subsp. latifolia. This seems to be quite a localised endemic.


Scillas, and a Muscari

One day, we drove north to the Kardamili area, to explore the gorge that runs below Agia Sophia to the east of here, partly to see how far north the Mani crocuses occur. This turns out to be an interesting site with quite a lot of colour at this time of year and appetising seeds (lots of Stachys candida for instance). We are in the zone of the west Taygetos endemics here, so Lithodora zahnii was really abundant (but no, no seed at all!). I guess Thalictrum orientale had died down for the year, but I was truly staggered to find, amongst the little autumn scillas, three beautiful spikes of the spring flowering local endemic S. messeniaca. Serendipity!


Very close to this we found a small population of the little autumn-flowering Muscari, M. parviflorum. Despite a number of autumn visits to Greece I had never seen this before. It is not uncommon and I think I may never have been late enough to find it in flower before. It is a tiny, flimsy, leafless thing at flowering, but with a distinct charm.

On to the Amaryllidaceae, to a daffodil and a snowdrop; spring in autumn! I had shown a picture of the Narcissus (N. serotinus, more correctly N. miniatus now I believe, but this is a name that will take some shifting). As I had said previously, it was a wonderful year for this species which we saw flowering in drifts everywhere we went. Perhaps the greatest single show was, as I initimated in 'The Greek Mainland', the walk to the southern cape of the Mani, Cape Tenaro, where there were, quite literally, millions, flowering with Colchicum pusillum and Scilla a. latifolia. Here are more photographs, from north of Monemvasia and Cape Tenaro respectively.

By the way, the scent of the narcissus is remarkable, especially in an enclosed space (with such an abundance, we admit to picking a few!).

For Galanthus reginae-olgae, we drove to my favourite locality (as it seems to flower earliest here, even in early October). This is the car-park for the main trail to the Taygetos Katafyglion (mountain hut), west of Palaeopanagia, at about 750 m altitude. There are mature woods of the Eastern Plane here, and as so often, the snowdrop grows in quite deep shade in pure leaf-litter, often close to water. There is a drinking fountain at the car-park and it was noticeable that many plants were clustered around here. This is NOT a plant to bake in summer!

The last picture this week is of the snowdrop growing at Krioneri with a cyclamen of the C. hederifolium persuasion. Now, I think that according to modern classification the latter, with its noticeably thick-textured leaves, is C. crassifolium. Now, here IS a controversial taxon (not of my making!), and in the next issue I shall concentrate on two difficult (and very lovely) autumn genera, Cyclamen and Sternbergia.

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