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The Dolomites in mid-June 2023 – Day 1: Boe and Vallon

July 19, 2023
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This year, our flight and transfer were uneventful, and Helen and I were full of excitement making plans for our first day.  We wanted to explore further the area we visited on the first day last year, up the gondola and chairlift from Corvara to the limestone cliffs at Vallon (2500m).

A very different season

When we exited the gondola at Piz Boe Alpine Lounge it was immediately obvious that this was a very different season from last year.  A carpet of pink/lilac Primula farinosa lured me off piste, and away from the chair lift up to the heights at Vallon.  As the day unfolded, it became clear that for most plants the season was running 2-3 weeks later than 2022.  Though a few things bucked the trend and were in the same state we saw then in the previous year.  But in the main, the plants we saw this year would usually be out in late May.

Primula farinosa

The Birds-eye Primrose.  Last year we only saw two small patches of this, going over, in small damp hollows where snow had lingered late.  This year we were to find sheets of them in slightly damper areas everywhere we went.

Crocus vernus albiflorus

Almost instantly, I found myself kneeling on distinctly damp, post-snowmelt turf, photographing crocuses.  We knew that these flowered early in spring in the area; we had been reminded of their presence by an illuminated bedhead in our room at the hotel (I think that photo was taken in the meadows around Santa Croce, much earlier in spring).  The crocuses flower so immediately after the snow that we didn’t see any in 2022, so this was a new find for us.

Soldanella alpina

In the same damp brown grass as the crocuses, we found Soldanella alpina blooming.  We hadn’t even realised these grew so low down, having only seen them up at Vallon the previous year.

Gagea fragifera

Another plant we found here was a little yellow Gagea, perhaps G. fragifera.

Trollius europaeus

Trollius europaeus was another plant which had gone over last year; this year it was flowering by the thousand.  Again, we saw it everywhere we went.

Gentiana acaulis

The trumpet gentians were in flower – this is definitely G. acaulis from the green spots or bosses in the throat of the flower.

Gentiana verna

Silene acaulis and spring gentians added to the spectacle.  Last year we only found a few spent trumpet flowers, and the Silene and spring gentians were all higher up, at Vallon.  I think in this case the spring gentians were Gentiana verna, but it is hard to get good photos of the basal leaves of all the plants, even when you know that’s what you need to identify them.

Gentiana verna purple form

We were particularly excited to find this lovely purple form of Gentiana verna.  Subsequently, we found plants in similar shades in a couple of other locations, but they were always isolated specimens.  Definitely plant of the day.

Primula elatior

As I walked slowly up the slope, following the bank where the snow had most recently lain, I found a solitary clump of Oxlip, Primula elatior.

Pinguicula alpina

Then, to my delight, I found the white flowers of Pinguicula alpina, the Alpine Butterwort, mingling with the lilac Birds-eye Primroses.  This is a plant we looked for last year, but never found in flower, though some of the butterwort leaves we found were promising.  This year, we found it more or less wherever we found Primula farinosa, sometimes in quite dry turf and in cracks between rocks, although more often where there was some hint of dampness.


Although we were strongly tempted to carry on exploring this area, we felt we ought to take the chairlift past the Lech de Boa, up to 2500m at Vallon, to see what was there.  What we found was not the rocky landscape bejewelled with cushions of Silene that we saw in 2022, but snow.

Rifugio Franz Kostner

We intended to follow the path across to the Rifugio Franz Kostner (seen in the distance) and beyond.  Then on our return we wanted to explore the bottom and back of the corrie below those towering cliffs.

Soldanella alpina

Very little was in flower up here, except that wherever a trace of damp lurked beneath the brown turf, rivers of blue and purple bells flowed between the rocks.  Springing into life as soon as the snow melts, these are Soldanella alpina.

Soldanella minima

On slightly drier, rockier slopes, there were carpets of even smaller, white bells – the delightful Soldanella minima, sometimes with a hint of lilac, and always with lilac stripes within the bell.

Soldanella pusilla ?

So what of this tiny, lilac flowered plant, growing alongside Soldanella minima and the same size as that.  Is it a lilac form of Soldanella minima ?  It looks similar to the plants we found at Vallon last year; we decided those were the hybrid between Soldanella alpina and Soldanella minima, Soldanella x ganderi.  On the other hand, I have now seen Soldanella pusilla in full flower on acidic rocks later in the holiday.  As a result, I think it is probably that, and it just ignored the alkalinity.

More snow

Our path across to the rifugio crossed a deeper patch of snow.  Although a path had been cut through it, the snow remaining was slippery and tricky to negotiate without suitable equipment.  The routes down into the bottom of the corrie were also blocked by lingering drifts.

Views from Rifugio Franz Kostner

Eventually we reached the rifugio.  Despite the sunshine, it was cold, and we were glad of a cup of coffee while we admired the view.

  • The Marmolada glacier glistened with white snow, a huge change from last year.
  • Monte Pelmo and Monte Civetta
  • Mount Lagazuoi, and behind it the snow capped peak of Tofana di Roses
  • The Porta Vescovo ridge with Marmolada behind. The rocky peak is Bech da Mesdi.

Changing Plans

With so little in flower we felt there was little point continuing south-westwards from the rifugio.  Instead, we retraced our steps towards the top of the chair lift.  The paths down towards the centre of the corrie were blocked with snow; we didn’t feel like tackling them, though the climbers on the cliffs (first picture) had obviously done so successfully.

However, a path between us and the chair lift beckoned, leading down to the right towards the Boe cable car station.  [You can see it in the third photo].  This was tempting, because other walkers in our group had reported Pulsatilla vernalis a few days earlier.  They found it on the last part of the path which came up from the Campolungo Pass, around the top of the Pinnacles, and across to the cable car station.  We decided to explore what was in flower on these rocky slopes as we descended.

In retrospect, this was a mistake.  Helen has limited flexibility in one ankle after a skiing accident many years ago.  Consequently, she struggles on rocky descents; this path proved more of a scramble than we realised.  In the end, we made our way down safely and successfully.  But it took a lot longer, and required more care and attention than we were expecting.  And we didn’t find the Pulsatilla.

Soldanella alpina

A torrent of Soldanella flowers followed the line of the path, the bells swinging in the breeze.

Soldanella minima

Cracks in the rocks trickled with the tiny white bells of Soldanella minima.

Soldanella pusilla ?

And there were large patches of the tiny lilac Soldanella flowers which puzzled me earlier.

Noccaea rotundifolia

As we descended over the edge of the ridge, we started to find more plants with buds opening: Hornungia alpina (formerly Hutchinsia) and the lovely pink Noccaea rotundifolia (formerly Thlaspi).

Ranunculus hybridus

We came across a buttercup with most unusual leaves – definitely something we hadn’t seen before.  The leaves are distinctive, and help identify the plant as Ranunculus hybridus, a rather uninspiring name.

Pulsatilla alpina subsp. apiifolia

One of the plants we didn’t see in good condition in 2022 was Pulsatilla alpina subsp. apiifolia, so we were excited to find small plants with new fresh flowers.  This is another (sub)species which seems determined to ignore the orthodoxy about alkalinity and grow on limestone, despite the botanists saying that it prefers acidic soils – we saw it growing on high meadows everywhere this year, in far greater numbers than the white form.

Gentiana acaulis

A little lower down we found flowers of Gentiana acaulis, with green bosses in the throat of the flower.  Another species which is supposed to prefer acidic soils.  Here there was also a single plant of Primula minima, looking a bit gnawed, and a fine specimen of Draba aizoides.

Anemone baldensis

One plant which we did see in drifts higher up last year was the Monte Baldo anemone, Anemone baldensis.

Pinguicula alpina

The little white flowers of Pinguicula alpina started to appear among the rocks as we descended.

Silene acaulis

Finally, we descended to a height where the buds were opening on the cushions of Silene acaulis.

Hornungia alpina

The plants of Hornungia / Hutchinsia alpina we found now were in full flower, here sharing a crevice with Arabis alpina. Under other rocks, the yellow flowers of Viola biflora glowed in the dark.


Dryas octopetala

Along with the Silene, the mats of Dryas octopetala had a few flowers on now.  And more and more as we descended.

Primula halleri

We stopped for a rest, a swig of water, and a cereal bar.  Exploring during our break, I found plants of Primula halleri in the little grassy dells.  Another new species this year.

Gentiana clusii

The gentians here had lovely white markings in the throat, and no green spots / bosses in the throat.  On the basis of the green spots, and the claw-shaped calyx, I have put these down as Gentiana clusii, which you are supposed to find on limestone rocks.  But in practice the situation was not as clear-cut as this; some plants had a textured, lumpy zone around the neck of the throat without actual green spots.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea

We were surprised to find that the low-growing shrubs producing green shoots after release from snow-cover were Cowberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea.

Primula auricula

Single rosettes of Primula auricula decorated some of the rocks, often growing with yellow Anthyllis vulneraria and deep blue trumpet gentians.

Potentilla nitida

Other plants held promise for later in the season; we found vast mats of Potentilla nitida here.  But only the lovely silver leaves, no flowers yet.

Crocus vernus albiflorus

By now our path had joined with the one from the Pinnacles, and I made a fruitless detour along that in search of the elusive Pulsatilla vernalis.  A sheltered depression where snow had lingered late yielded a few more crocuses.

In search of Pulsatilla vernalis

Whilst searching in vain, I encountered more interesting plants:

  • Globularia cordifolia
  • Polygala chamaebuxus
  • Primula elatior

Lech de Boa

Disappointed, I made my way back to Helen, and we made our way down the final section of the path, across the ski piste, past the glacial lake Lech de Boa, which always reminds me of the Gates of Moria in the Lord of the Rings, though I have never managed to photograph the tentacles.

Tussilago farfara

In the bare earth, gravel and mud of the piste, I found clumps of Coltsfoot in flower, something else which was long gone last year.

After that it was only a short distance to the Boe gondola station.  What a start to our holiday!  We made our way down the gondola back to Corvara, tired but content, with Mount Sassongher towering over us.

Image of Jon Evans Jon Evans

Jon lives and gardens on the north side of the Hogsback on the border between Hampshire and Surrey, on a heavy clay soil. He is a long standing member of the AGS and has been treasurer of the local group in Woking for many years. He is interested in bulbs of all sorts, particularly those from South Africa, and is progressing slowly towards his Gold Medal at shows, at the rate of roughly one first per year.

However, he is best known within the AGS as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. For about 10 years he was responsible for organising the artistic and photographic section of the AGS shows around the country, and also for organising the show photography. During this period, he set up and ran the AGS Digital Image Library. He still visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors, and is actively involved in other plant photography, both in gardens both public and private, and on outings to view and photograph wild flowers in the UK.

If you have any comments or queries for Jon, you can contact him direct at