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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 23 November 2013 by John Richards

AGS Tour to the southern Peloponnese 2. Entry 258.

Autumn snowdrops

To continue my tale of the recent AGS Tour to the southern Peloponnese (returned on November 8th, so still quite fresh in our minds), I imagine that if you had asked most of the participants at the start of the tour which plant that would most like to see, most would have plumped for Galanthus reginae-olgae.  Most of the autumn-flowering populations of this sought-after plant occur under plane trees on the eastern side of the Taygetos mountains. Although it can be found at quite low altitudes, for instance in the Neokaria and Parori gorges just above Mistras, as is evidenced by leaves in spring, it flowers very late here, probably in December or January. I have only seen it in flower in November much higher up, in wooded stream defiles below the Langada Pass road, and at Krionero. Krionero is the car-park at the end of a reasonable road (or at least we, or rather Gianni the driver, managed to get a smallish bus up it) from where you start walking to the Katafyglion, mountain hut. Without staying a night at the Katafyglion, it is very hard work indeed to climb to the summit of the Taygetos in a single day.

Krionero stands at nearly 900 m altitude, and so is cool enough to encourage the snowdrop to flower reasonably early. It is a beautiful place, with good view of the high peaks, and is high enough for Greek Firs, Abies cephalonica and Pinus nigra ssp. pallasiana to appear amongst the Eastern Planes.


Autumn snowdrops

As predicted the snowdrop was in flower, although in much smaller quantity than I had seen it on previous occasions. Here is the best group, by the side of the road.

The long narrow outer tepals are rather characteristic. It usually flowers before any leaves are evident.

As in most snowdrops the inners have a green crescent-shaped mark, but this is usually rather thicker than in G. nivalis. However, Trevor Jones became very excited when he discovered an individual with yellow marks on the inners, although the ovary was green, in the same way that 'Blonde Inge' of German origin is. Is this the first time that a 'yellow snowdrop' has been discovered in G. reginae-olgae?

To increase the interest further, we discovered another group with almost unmarked inners, although it would be going too far to call them 'Poculiforms'.


Moving on to cyclamen, we saw a good deal of C. hederifolium of course. Unlike C. graecum it always occurs in shade, often in quite dense and often prickly copses. It can be very variable, as evidenced by this population in the village of Lambokambos.


Notice that the flower stalks are quite long and slender, and with the flower bud borne at an acute angle. In the population above it was not yet in leaf, but the leaves often appear with the flowers. Here is a good leaf form at Krionero.

It wqas often very floriferous, more so than C. graecum. This is from Lambokambos again.

With the recent revision of the genus, we were of course looking for the hexaploid C. crassifolium, which is well-known in the Mani south of Gytheion, where it may completely replace C. hederifolium. Although this new species is easy enough to identify in spring, for the thick circular leaves are relatively huge, sometimes 30 cm in diameter, it is less easy when it flowers, not least because it differs by always flowering before the leaves appear. By looking at populations I know from spring are C. crassifolium, it was possible to discern some other characters which may be useful at flowering. One is a matter of habitat; C. crassifolium is typical of hotter drier sites than C. hederifolium. Also, it is scented, has shorter thicker flowering stems, and the bud angle is less acute. We also found it at Kalives near Monemvasia on the eastern peninsula.

Cyclamen graecum was very common in sunny dry places of course, and was mostly already in leaf. As always, it presented a welter of wonderful leaf patterns. Here are two that impressed me in particular, the first from the islet of Marathonisi where Paris and Helen spent their first night together, and the second from the walk from Stavri to Tigana in the southern Mani.

Autumn colour in southern Greece

Amongst the lesser celebrated elements of the Pelponnesian autumn is the autumn colour. I suppose the two stand-out candidates are Acer monspessulanum, and Cotinus coggygria. Here first is a picture of Veronica Clegg admiring some bushes of Cotinus beside the road that led to Lambokambos.

Autumn colour in southern Greece

The flowering heather beside her is Erica manipuliflora, which can make a great show at this time of year.

Back to the Cotinus. This is  common in the Peloponnese and can make a great show. Like the last picture, this is taken near Achlydokambos. Here is is growing with Arbutus andrachne.

Here is the arbutus in fruit. We only saw it in one locality.

Unlike the more ubiquitous A. unedo, A. andrachne has the most wonderful bark, quite as good as Acer griseum, and reminiscent of Rhododendron thomsonii.

In the next photo, Cotinus is growing with Pistacia terebinthus, which can also colour well in autumn.

Of course, we saw plenty of the two Pistacias, which were often fruiting well. P. terebinthus has a terminal leaflet to the pinnate leaf (paripinnate), but P. lentiscus lacks this (imparipinnate). Both species are hugely variable, ranging from congested dwarf shrublets in garrigue, to fair-sized trees in mature maquis. Here is P. terebinthus.

And here, P. lentiscus.

I mentioned Acer monspessulanum, which can colour spectacularly.

The last photo was taken in the village of Lambokambos again, as indeed is the next and last one. It was said that the display of crocuses at Lambokambos had been drastically reduced after one of the villagers had obtained a free-range Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. This may indeed explain why many of the crocus-rich areas in the village are now fenced (although easily viewed),  but whether this measure safeguards the crocuses or the village crops is less clear. The pot-bellied pig has long-since gone to her Maker (or more likely to her owner's pot), but has been replaced by a more conventional member of the clan, equally free-range. She is seen here entertaining our seed-distribution manager (now doubtless waist-deep in seeds, well done Diane!), David Hughes, and the author's wife.

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