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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 08 November 2017 by John Richards

Colchicum and other bulbs from the Parga district, Greece.


Continuing my report of our trip to Parga, October 15-29th, I turn to the genus Cyclamen. In all our autumn trips to Greece, I have never seen C. hederifolium in the abundance that it grows around Parga. When we arrived, many populations were only just starting to flower in the delayed autumn season, but the rain in the second week brought them on strongly. They even appear in the town on waste plots and scraps of woodland, and the 'field' next to our hotel was full of them. Unusually, it even grew in open ground away from shade (this is one of the wetter parts of Greece). They were superb in many areas, but some of the finest forms grew on the little wooded road that ran down to Karavostasi, north of Parga.

Cyclamen hederifolium

We only saw one white plant, all fortnight, but here is a pale one from Karavostasi.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Not far from Paramythia we found a small churchyard with an unbelievable display of cyclamen.

Finally, at Acheron springs, something I had never seen before, a cyclamen growing epiphytically 3 m up a willow tree! Presumably ants had carried the seed all the way up the trunk.

Cyclamen hederifolium


We saw five distinct colchicum during the holiday, but getting a definitive name for several proved difficult. There was no such problem with C. bivonae which we saw twice in the first week, going over on both occasions. Probably it is quite common, flowering in late September. I showed many pictures of better plants last autumn and will pass on to C. cupanii. Colchicum cupanii proved to be locally frequent, easily identified by the paired leaves and dark anthers. It was commoner south of Parga than to the north, and around the north side of the Rodia lagoon, Arta, we saw huge populations. Many were clearly referable to subsp. glossocentrum, with big flowers and large broad leaves, but these seemed to merge into less distinctive types.

Colchicum cupanii ssp. glossocentrum Colchicum cupanii subsp. glossocentrum

Amongst several other places, the hills above Glyki held populations more characteristic of subsp. cupanii.

Colchicum cupanii subsp. cupanii

On the first day out, in the woodland at Acheron springs, we found two colchicums growing intermixed. Both lacked any sign of leaves at flowering. One had tepals all the same length and long pink stigmas which equalled the tepals and has a stigmatic surface decurrent onto the style. We also found this on the road to Karavostasi. I think it must be Colchicum graecum.

Colchicum graecum

The other species had tepals of unqual length, and much shorter, whitish stigmas with a punctate receptive area. I believe this to be C. haynaldii. At least, it does answer the description in these important features.

Colchicum haynaldii

Here are the two together, C. graecum on the left and C. haynaldii on the right. Note the difference in stigmas.

The final colchicum is even more controversial. On the roadside below the small village of Livadari, east of Parga, we found a good deal of a small colchicum with narrow leaves at flowering and small, yellow anthers. It has a distinctive 'frail' look, unlike the robust C. cupanii (which also has paired leaves). Were I in the southern Pelponnesos, I would have no hesitation of calling this plant C. psaridis, but it is not known north of there. C. psaridis has spreading, narrow, horizontal corms, almost stoloniferous, and if I had had the correct equipment I would have excavated a plant. As it is this plant must remain as 'aff. psaridis', and if it proves correct would be a huge extension of known range. I don't think it can be C. cupanii.


We only saw sternbergias three times. As previously mentioned, there was a large population of S. sicula by the church above Samonida ('Souli'), but it had effectively finished flowering at nearly 1000m asl.. By far the most impressive population was below the 'Balcon' ledge above the Vikos gorge beyond Monodendron. Here there was a lovely population of Sternbergia angustifolia, with narrow, erect pale-striped leaves and much larger flowers than S. sicula, more like S. lutea. Unusually, this population grew in pristine woodland on steep limestone rocky slopes.

Sternbergia Sternbergia angustifolia Sternbergia angustifolia

Amongst the 'also-rans' I had already mentioned Allium callimischon which grew with Crocus boryi at Acheron Springs and with C. hadriaticus at Samonida. I thought these were rather good forms of this somewhat underwhelming plant; better than most in the Peloponnesos and equal to the better ones on Crete.

Allium callimischon

Another staple of the Peloponnesian autumn is Prospero (Scilla) autumnalis. Like the allium, this was found with other good plants at Samonida and Milokokia. It appears to be much less common than it is further south.

Otherwise, good plants in flower were not common. Perhaps the best was Campanula versicolor, a lovely plant I grow well from seed collected high on Parnassos in a much dwarfer form. Here it hung from wet limestone cliffs by the Acheron springs at low altitude.



Campanula versicolor

Typical plants of the Greek autumn are Bellis sylvestris, the petrorhagias, P. prolifera and P. graminifolia, Calamintha nepeta (very common, this) and the less frequent C. grandiflora. Erica manipuliflora was in full flower and Arbutus unedo coming into flower in the few acidic areas. In the hills, the fall colour could be spectacular, chiefly from Acer monspessulanum and Cotinus coggygria. Here is a view of Aristi, in the Zagoria.

In general, the natural history was excellent. In the last half of October we recorded 29 butterflies, including spectacularities such as Swallowtail and Plain Tiger. There was a major passage of Pale Clouded Yellow and Eastern Bath White. Here is the latter, about to alight on Heliotropium hirsutissimum.

I need hardly say that the birding was really excellent, and I obtained good pictures of Spoonbill, both pelicans, Greater Flamingo, Pygmy Cormorant etc. If this sounds like deja vu re autumn 2016, so it is and I won't bore you again. I was pleased with this Water Rail though, and the very scarce Greater Spotted Eagle is a wintering speciality at Sagiada, tight against the Albanian border.

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