French Alps and some other mountain areas 2015
East from Mont Ventoux
From Mont Ventoux we headed east towards the Alps. Our direction was determined by a choice of campsite at the small town of Aust which is at the southern end of the road up the Col d’Allos. We had not anticipated stopping as we had spent the morning on Mont Ventoux but, as is often the case, Sue spotted something different from the van and as soon as I realised it was a bright red lily the brakes were applied as soon as a stopping place was seen. Fortunately this was only just past the site where the Lilium pomponium, for that was what we had found, was growing. This was a very beautiful turks cap lily (see picture) and a plant we had never seen before. It grew out of the roadside rocks often growing through the wire mesh that had been erected to prevent stones falling onto the road. It could be seen higher up at the top of the rocks and we presume it has seeded down from there.
Growing with it, and found in better condition a little further on was a campanula from the hairbell group (C.rotundifolia), but with very narrow bell shaped flowers. It is shown on the left. This may be C.stenocodon if this is still recognised as a separate species. Dianthus sylvestris was also doing well on these roadside rocks. While driving this road we discovered that we were following the route of a cycle race due to take place the next day.
Col des Champs and Col de la Cayolle
Trollius europaeus, Pulsatilla alpina etc. Col des Champs
The cyclists were going up the Col d’Allos resulting in road closure for part of the day we decided not to go up ourselves instead driving along to the next road north which went via the Col de la Cayolle. We were also able to drive up to the Col des Champs from this road. Both had very flowery meadows with such plants as Pulsatilla alpina, Trollius europaeus and gentians being abundant. Rocks and screes on the Col des Champs had good colonies of Campanula alpestris(left), Gypsophila repens and Primula latifolia (below).
Just before we reached the top of the Col de la Cayolle a particularly fine specimen of Daphne cneorum was noticed (see picture). This was growing close to a fine stand of Dactylorrhiza sambucina and below a slope which in places was blue due to the abundance of Gentiana acaulis. This area was also notable for the range of colours shown by Viola calcarata and some very pale forms of Nigritella rubra some being almost white.
Roadside cliffs and rocks, particularly on the way down the north side of this col were notable for the fine specimens of Saxifraga callosa which distracted ones attention from a road that needed more than the usual care. This plant is shown here and further pictures from these two cols can be seen at the end of this account.
Col de Glieze
The following day, June 12th, started wet so we drove to the town of Gap to do our shopping. This was further than we would usually go but with the advantage of larger supermarkets and also with a potential walk later if the weather improved. This was the case so we drove up the extremely narrow and fortunately little used road to the Col de Glieze The parking area afforded excellent views and we were able to start to ascend the Pic de Glieze after lunch. I say start because the weather became worse again later but we were able to see some of the flowers this small limestone peak has to offer. Unfortunately we would have needed to be much earlier in the year to see the Fritillaria tubiformis in flower and only a single rather miserable bloom was found on the Pulsatilla halleri but Scutellaria alpina, (above left) Cynoglossum viride and Gentiana angustifolia were in much better condition.The colour pink was prominent here not just from Dianths sylvestris and D.deltoides but also from the more striking colour of Silene flos-jovis (formerly a lychnis). The best find however, though only just coming into flower, was a single large clump of Allium narcissiflorum growing in a shaded spot quite close to the start of the ascent. Much higher up more allium leaves were seen (as had also been the case on the Col des Champs) but the species could not be determined.
Cime de Barcelonette
The following day was fine and we first went up the Col d’Allos which was similar to but less flowery than the Col de la Cayolle and did not merit a long stop. This gave us plenty of time to visit the Cime de Barcelonette which, at 2860m, is one of the highest points in the area and affords extensive 360o views. With the good road going almost to the top and only a short climb to the summit there is no excuse for not visiting this point if you are in the area. The bonus is the fine stands of Ranunculus gacialis that surround the viewpoint.
Geum reptans, Vitaliana primuliflora and some particularly dwarf forms of Thlaspi rotundifolium were also present, the last of these, shown here, being difficult to identify as the flowers obscured the leaves but the strong scent gave the game away. Some particularly good forms of Primula marginata were seen but even these were to be surpassed later.
Stopping by a small lake on our way back down the road (something caught our attention) proved to be a particularly good idea. A small outcrop of rocks had a most wonderful natural rock garden (right) with Daphne cneorum, Globularia repens, Potentilla crantzii, Alchemilla alpina and Saxifraga paniculata being especially noticeable. Further down still were some excellent plants of Saponaria ocymoides.
The next day again started poorly and we tried the ski resort of Orcelle (which had little to commend it) going via a geological site the “Demoiselles Coiffee”. These are tall columns of eroded limestone rock which survive by virtue of a granite capstone which prevents rain from reaching the top. Because of poor weather the picture shown here was taken later at another site. The day was notable for our trip to the Col de Var. There were few flowers of note except for Narcissus poeticus and Anemone narcissiflora but our van refused to start and we had to call for assistance (not easy with the poor mobile reception) so it was extremely embarrassing when the van restarted immediately for the mechanic! He was mystified but our garage in Exmouth explained to us what had happened and it did not happen again.
The 15th June saw us head for the Col d’Agnel which we have been to before but on this occasion it proved to be exceptionally good. As we approached the top we could see the scree slopes were well covered with mats of Saxifraga oppositifolia (above) in a range of colours. Exploring the top is not easy here because of the steep rocky sides and scree slopes but it was rewarding. White flowers were in evidence with Pritzelago alpina and a white flowered form of Petrocallis pyrenaica alongside the more usual pinkish ones (see picture).
A few white cushions looked different and proved to be Androsace helvetica (see picture). Many years ago we had found one small androsace here but its identity was uncertain so it was good to find something better this time. The south facing slope, the Italian side, was yellow with carpets of Vitaliana primuliflora and smaller plants of a draba probably D.aizoides.
There were also a few plants of Silene acaulis and a verna type gentian, apparently this should be G. rostanii but I was not convinced, were also seen on the screes while Geum reptans and Primula marginata were spotted on some rather inaccessible rocks. The latter was seen in considerable numbers on our way back down and one plant (left) was quite outstanding. It is rare to see Farrer Medal plants in the wild but this was one such occasion.
Much further down we stopped again this time to walk along the river to get a close view of one of the “Demoiselles Coiffee” (the one shown above). It was amazing how the tall column, so easily visible across the valley from the road, disappeared when we entered the forest and we had almost given up when we finally reached it. In the evening we finished off a good day by photographing Salvia pratensis and Melampyrum cristatum in the field opposite the camp site.
The following day we started our northward journey via the Col D’Izoard where the Casse Desserts once again had excellent displays of Viola cenisia and Brassica repandum. The latter, a diminutive and very attractive cabbage, seems to have increased in recent years both here, as shown left, and in other neighbouring regions. Its small size suggests that it might be a short-lived perennial so that numbers could vary greatly from year to year. It seems to be rare in cultivation.
Col de Galibier and Col de Lauteret
We had planned our next stop without knowing about a road closure that totally thwarted our plans so we spent most of the next day on the Col de Galibier and Col de Lauteret which are always rewarding. The meadows on the Col de Lauteret were resplendent with Gentiana punctata and Narcissus poeticus while shorter turf on the south side of the road featured Primula farinosa (see picture) and Pinguicula alpina with as yet non-flowering Dianthus pavonius in drier spots.
Meadows on the north side of the Col de Galibier had good colonies of Campanula thyrsoides, a biennial with very pale yellow flowers in dense spikes (see below). In the rocks and scree at the top many of the plants seen before in similar habitats were present but we also saw Androsace carnea brigantiaca and Saxifraga biflora (see picture).
Col de l'Iseron
We were now going to be moving on steadily each day with stops when it seemed appropriate. The first such stop was on the Col de la Madelaine but we found that the Saxifraga diapensioides was not flowering here so we quickly moved on to the top of the Col de l’Iseron. In spite of there still being enough snow in places for skiing we again found such plants as Ranunculus glacialis and Geum reptans, the latter looking very good, but Lloydia serotina and Saxifraga androsacea (see picture) were added to our list. As we drove down the north side of the pass we spotted some very good stands of Soldanella alpina. This plant and G.reptans are shown below.
Geum reptans on rocks above the Col de l'Iseron
The ski resort of Tignes is served by an excellent road and at this time of year parking was free as no cable cars or chair lifts were running. Most of the people there were construction workers. After lunch we went to look at the slopes above the resort following a wide rough track which was also in use by various 4wd vehicles. We had not been very optimistic about our prospects but there were many good meadow flowers with Daphne mezereon, Gentiana verna (right) and Callianthemum coriandrifolium (picture below) being particularly noteworthy. One other unexpected find on some rock outcrops was Artemisia genipi which was just starting to flower.
From this time on we had very mixed weather starting with the morning of the 19th June. The road up Val Thorans was clearly taking us too high for the conditions and, as the fog (low cloud) got worse we abandoned and headed for the Chartreuse region. This area has spectacular limestone scenery and on a previous visit we had seen Gentiana angustifolia but on this occasion it was mainly good for orchids both by the road and on our walk at the Col de Coq. The walk was mainly in forest where Neottia nidus-avis (right) was frequent but the more open areas had other orchids, rockroses and other common plants of limestone grassland but many were already past their best. They are also grazed here as a management policy, a fact we were able to confirm when we met a local guide who was on a reconnaissance for a walk the following day.
The flora in the Chartreuse region is very similar to that of the Jura, the next area we stopped in. A walk to a view point here above Planch d’Hottone had a similar flora but Dianthus carthusianorum, Campanula glomerata and Phyteuma orbiculare were prominent in grassy areas while one small rock face was adorned with our old friend Erinus alpinus. This is shown here while a picture of D.carthusianorum can be seen below. The views would have been excellent in better visibility and it seemed to be a popular walk.
On our visit to Mont d’Or we found only plants we had seen before such as Pulsatilla alpina and Trollius europaeus but one colony of Pyrola rotundifolia (left) in forests not far away was very impressive.
In the Vosges the Ballon d’Alsace and Grand Ballon both had some good flowers, particularly orchids but the latter was better as Lilium martagon, Allium victorialis and particularly good patches of Viola lutea (right) were also present. When travelling back from the Alps we usually find it worthwhile to stop in either the Jura or the Vosges to give some respite from continuous travelling. Further north there is much less of interest to be seen though French roadsides are generally more flowery than ours.
More plants from the Col des Champs and Col de la Cayolle
Pulsatilla alpina on the Col des Champs
Gentiana acaulis on Col de la Cayolle
The plants of Nigritella rubra with very pale flowers. They seem to open pure white.