Massif Central and Mont Ventoux in June 2015
View on Col de la Croix Morand
Region des Volcans
As we were heading for Mont Ventoux this year it seemed to make sense to travel via the Massif Central as there are usually plenty of flowers to see. The first interesting spot we visited was the Gorge de la Sioule. The flowers here were not spectacular but included Echium vulgare, Campanula patula and Valeriana officinalis and there were some good patches of Sempervivum arachnoideum though these were not yet in bloom. We were headed for the Col de la Croix Morand from where a short walk leads up to the Puy de Tasch. There are excellent views from here (see above) and the hillside is well covered with Narcissus pseudonarcissus (right), on this occasion past its best. This is typical of this area and many hillsides on the local peaks (Puys) are similarly furnished. Narcissi were once cultivated in this area and sent to the flower markets of Paris but they were probably originally native. Pulsatilla alpina was also present in good numbers as was Trifolium alpinum but I was hoping that this year we would be early enough to find some flowers on the Androsace halleri that grows here. Two small pink flowers were scant reward for the effort of getting there but at least this very small colony still exists and we have yet to find it elsewhere.
Damp spots near the col had good colonies of Dactylorhiza praetermissa which we saw again the following day in mixed colonies with D.majalis. Micranthes stellaris formerly Saxifraga stellaris was growing next to the orchids and is shown on the left while S.granulata the meadow saxifrage was on the opposite side of the road. This is a common roadside plant in the area and we were to see it on other occasions.
That evening we found a campsite overlooking a lake near Chambon. The site was very quiet so it was easy to wander around and this turned out to be a rewarding experience as Orchis mascula, Paris quadrifolia (right) and Lysimachia nummularifolia (creeping jenny) were found around the perimeter.
The following day was quite a long drive to Severac le Chateau. I have already mentioned the orchids seen en route but many other roadside flowers were seen, notably Geranium sylvaticum, Aquilegia vulgaris, Ranunculus aconitifolius and Centaurea montana. These were amongst the taller vegetation by the road. Where the grass was shorter it was Viola tricolor that was particularly noticeable but we also found plants of Genista tinctoria and Chamaespartium saggitale. In a field near Besse a large patch of yellow “daisies” proved to be a Doronicum probably D.austriacum. This field is shown above and pictures of some of the other flowers mentioned are at the end of this section.
In the afternoon we crossed the Monts d’Aubrac which at a casual glance could have been a Pennine moorland however the flowers told a different story. Many of the fields were full of Narcissus poeticus (as shown here) which often grew with Phyteuma betonicifolia and Saxifraga granulata while the roadside verges sported the pink heads of Armeria plantaginea. At one place, however, we found a now familiar plant, Pulsatilla rubra. From a distance the flowers look black but closer to, most show the underlying dark red colour the name suggests. According to some authorities the plants in the Massif Central may be ssp.serotina which has been given species status by some so if you see P.serotina in the seed exchanges (as I have) it may be this plant. Once again we found the colonies past their best with relatively few flowers left but this has enabled us to collect seed on previous occasions and the plant is well established in our garden. There is a picture of this plant at the end of this section.
More plants from the Region des Volcans
The scenery and plants changed abruptly the following day as we passed through the Gorge du Tarn and up onto the Causse Mejean. This is limestone country with flat tops (the Causses) and vertical cliffs, the latter often the home of Dianthus gratianopolitanus (arvernensis according to some). Roadsides here are even more colourful than those seen further north with the shallow soils supporting a wide range of flowers. Orchids are frequent, on this occasion Orchis militaris, O.anthropophorum, Platanthera chlorantha and Himantoglossum hircinum were amongst those seen. Other notable plants were Linum suffruticosum salsoloides, Aster alpinus, Onosma echioides, Anthericum liliago, Salvia pratensis, Hippocrepis comosa, Ajuga genevensis and Jurinea humile. The onosma is shown here, the linum was also photographed at l'Hom and is shown there and other pictures will be found at the end of this section.
We were heading for a small place called L’Hom which seems to be just the name of a farm but there may be a few other houses there. This we knew to be where a geological trail is laid out and where the limestone stacks are adorned with Saxifraga cebennensis. This plant can be seen in the Gorge du Tarn but the plants here are certainly better. The picture here does not do them justice. Linum suffruticosum salsoloides seen here is pictured below.
The trail has developed since our previous visit and now has a number of explanatory notice boards one of which tells you about the saxifrage but we believe the route has been changed as the Daphne cneorum previously seen here was not found. In compensation we found D.alpina which we had not previously noticed here. Because of wet weather we had to return the next morning for a second look. Helianthemum canum and H.apenninum were not as good as on our previous visit but this is still a very good area with Globularia punctata and Erinus alpinus in addition to most of the plants already mentioned from the Causse. Our camp site for the next two nights was at St Marcellin beside a small river in which some campers were cooling off, but the river bank also had some interesting flowers, notably Cephalanthera rubra and Ononis aragonensis.
More plants from the Causse Mejean
Hippocrepis comosa (horseshoe vetch)
Mont Ventoux is an unusual mountain situated in the Provence region of France. It is isolated from any other mountains and one might suppose that it was a volcano except that the rock is limestone. A road runs up to and over the top and this road is very popular with the organisers of the Tour de France and therefore with amateur cyclists as well. These were tackling the roads in considerable numbers on our first day and included many organised groups. This makes driving difficult but the motorcyclists are even more of a problem however on this occasion not as bad as the manic sports car drivers seen on the next day. The road we used made its way up the north side from the western end near to which we found a convenient camp site. The idea was to get to the top to have as much time as possible there looking at the lower slopes on the way down.
This was not quite how it went, however, as a long gulley from near the top was crossed by the road and made a convenient stop to look at the myriads of bright yellow poppies we had started to notice. These are probably recognised as Papaver rhaeticum (left) but having always found the differences difficult to recognise and rather small I tend to think of them as forms of P.alpinum. Here they were growing in limestone scree and some had flowers with a distinctively orange tint though these were rare and we did not find any with many flowers. There is a picture of one at the end of this section.
Most of the flowers seen here were also abundant further up the mountain but the handsome lousewort, Pedicularis foliosa (right) was very good here. The violets here are remarkably similar to Viola cenisia but may be attributable to Viola valderiana. Other plants found later also had affinities to the same areas of the Alps in which V.cenisia occurs. These included Alyssum montanum and Linaria alpina.
By contrast the very beautiful but well camouflaged Iberis candolleana (left) may be found nowhere else. Robert Rolfe has recently written about this in the Alpine Gardener giving I carnosa ssp.candolleana or pruitii ssp candolleana as newly accepted names; life gets no easier. The white pink tinted flowers sat immediately on top of the leaves often obscuring them which made plants particularly hard to spot especially the small ones no more than an inch or so across. Larger cushions would make wonderful show plants in the small pan classes. The top of the mountain had more of the same, in many cases better specimens being found while a number of other species seemed to only occur on the south facing slope or were much more frequent there.
Another plant that particularly caught the eye was Campanula alpestris (right) with blue bell shaped flowers which always look too large for the plant. This seems to be a difficult and, for me short-lived, plant in cultivation and the real thing is hard to come by as exchange seed is rarely correct. It was first seen at the top of the mountain with better plants on the roadside near to the memorial to the cyclist Tommy Simpson whose story some of you may know.
Another plant near here was a fine dianthus (picture left and again at the end of the section). If you read old reports about Mont Ventoux this is Dianthus subacaulis, one of the plants I had hoped to see when originally deciding to visit the mountain. However, shortly before we were due to go our friend George Fox came to see us bringing some new French floras covering this area. I of course looked up this species only to discover that the authors say these records are erroneous and the species concerned is D.scaber. If so this is a species well worth growing and one I have not come across in cultivation; perhaps it is represented by one or more of the plants currently cultivated as D.subacaulis.
Many of the plants of Globularia cordifolia were past their best but those in more shaded sites had good flower heads. Armeria plantaginea and Phyteuma orbiculare were also present along with a good Arenaria sp. and an unidentified Polygala sp. Androsace villosa, Ranunculus seguieri and Saxifraga exerata (right) were also found on the first visit but better plants were found along the ridge we explored the next day mostly on the north side. This second day was cool and damp so we did not spend as long on the mountain as we might have done. More pictures of some of these plants can be found at the end.
On the way back down on the first day we had one or two stops finding Anthericum liliago, Aquilegia vulgaris and a doronicum, probably Doronicum plantagineum. Hieraceum lanatum and a thalictrum, either T.minus or T.macrocarpum were also seen. The presence of Aphyllanthes monspessulanus (left) even further down the road showed how quickly the flora changes from Mediterranean to Alpine on this mountain.
Further pictures from Mont Ventoux
Papaver rhaeticum in its oramge form
Dianthus scaber appeared in a range of colours on Mont Ventoux as shown here.
A view from Mont Ventoux