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The Dolomites in mid-June 2023 – Day 10: Pordoi Pass

August 4, 2023
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The next day we hoped to visit a site new to us at Cinque Torri.  In particular we wanted to find Rhodothamnus chamaecistus.

We examined the bus timetables carefully.  If we had an early breakfast, we could catch a bus just after 8am which get us there, and allow us plenty of time before we had to return.

Best Laid Plans

However, the main bus stop at the bottom end of the town was in the middle of huge roadworks, and had been replaced by a temporary stop halfway up the hill.

We waited patiently for the bus, but when it came it sailed past us, and then stopped, blocking the road, in the middle of the roadworks.  So we missed it, and exchanged a few choice words about the bus driver.

Disappointed, we had to make a new plan, and visit one of the other places we hoped to visit before the end of the holiday.  In the end, we chose to get the bus to the Pordoi pass west of Arabba, at around 2200m.  Last year, we saw lots of exciting plants there, but they were only just opening.  In this late season we knew we wouldn’t find many of them.

Fortunately, the bus from the bus station through Arabba and up the 30-40 hairpins to the top of the Pordoi pass worked fine.

The Pordoi Pass

Because of the hasty replan, our enthusiasm was somewhat diminished as we set off on the path along the hillside to the German ossuary.

We were soon seeing flowers.  First some cheery dandelions as we passed the buildings, then a meadow full of Primula farinosa above us, and a large mat of Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepis comosa).

Aster alpinus

One of the properties we passed had a garden on a raised bank above the path.  On top of the retaining wall, Aster alpinus was beginning to flower.

Veronica fruticans

Next to the Aster we found a lovely clump of the beautiful Veronica fruticans. Last year we found this in good numbers higher up at Porta Vescovo, but it wasn’t out when we were there the previous day.

Soon we were making our way down the familiar path towards the blocky building in the distance. That is the German ossuary and War Memorial.  It was built in 1959 to commemorate German casualties from the two world wars.

The beauty of the Pordoi valley and the sheets of flowers beside the track raised our spirits.

Oxytropis campestris

One of the first things I photographed was this creamy yellow vetch.  It always makes a neat clump.

Hedysarum hedysaroides

I remember from last year that Alpine Sainfoin (Hedysarum hedysaroides) was plentiful here.

Onobrychis montana

Here is the more familiar Mountain Sainfoin (Onobrychis montana) for comparison.

Geum rivale

Water Avens (Geum rivale) filled the ditches where streams crossed the track.

Ranunculus acris (?)

The buttercups in the meadow made spectacular clumps.

Suddenly I spotted an adder crossing the road.  That made Helen shriek !

As last year, we had wonderful views down the valley, even on a rather gloomy day.

Below us, we could watch confrontation on the switchback below.  Buses and vans struggled to pass cyclists laboriously creeping up the pass, while scuds of motorbikes whizzed downhill the other way.

Tragopogon pratensis

The big yellow Compositae always catch my eye.  There were plenty here, but identification is always a problem.  I think the second of these is Goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis), but I’m not convinced the first picture is the same plant.

Thymus species

A trail of thyme lined one side of the tarmac.

Gymnadenia conopsea

On either side of us, the meadows had a magenta tinge, as massed spikes of Fragrant Orchids prepared to flower.  One white specimen was fully out and very striking.

Many of the specimens here had very dense spikes, and quite wide lips.  They may have been Gymnadenia densiflora, particularly since the meadow was generally quite damp.

Centaurea nervosa subsp. nervosa

The lovely buds of knapweed (probably Centaurea nervosa subsp. nervosa) dotted areas of the grassland.

Dactylorhiza majalis

Where streams and rivulets ran down the bank we saw Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza majalis), and Lousewort (Pedicularis verticillata), masquerading as Marsh Orchids.

Lilium martagon

The distinctive stems of Lilium martagon caught the eye, but no flowers were yet open.

Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa

Near the ossuary, more purple spikes caught my attention.  These weren’t Marsh orchids.  They had some similarities with Early Purple Orchids, but neither the flowers not the leaves seemed quite right.  A friend helped me identify them as Orchis signifera, which is now treated as a synonym for Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa, a subspecies of O. mascula which occurs in central and eastern Europe.

Allium victorialis

Again growing in ditches and other wet places, Allium victorialis was nearly in bloom.

We stopped beside the War Memorial to have a drink and eat our cereal bars, and to have a rest.

I wanted to walk up the hillside to see if I could find some of the plants we saw there last year.  Helen decided to wait for me near the War Memorial.  I don’t know how she managed it.  A cascade was streaming down the slope nearby, and when the wind was in that direction, the sound of running water was very prominent.

Geum x. sudeticum

I found my first objective quite quickly – a large clump of Geum x. sudeticum, the attractive natural hybrid between G. montanum and G. rivale, both of which we saw here.

Pinguicula alpina

The white flowers of Pinguicula alpina lined the side of a nearby rivulet.

Primula farinosa

This damp grass was also home to fine plants of Bird’s-eye Primrose (Primula farinosa).

Dactylorhiza viridis

Frog orchids were dotted about in what seemed quite long grass for them.

Silene acaulis

Surprisingly, I found large clumps of Silene acaulis in lovely condition here in quite a rough meadow.  I expect to see it higher up on scree, and did not realise it also grew down here among the thick grass.  Certainly, I don’t recall seeing it last year.

Cirsium spinosissimum

The eye-catching Cirsium spinosissimum grew here, but I also found dead flowerheads from last year of a stemless thistle, probably Carlina acaulis.  The third photo here puzzled me for ages, before I realised it was probably Arnica montana in bud.

Daphne striata

Large bushes of Daphne striata peered out from among the grass; often it was the scent I first noticed.

From this higher vantage point, the new reservoir below the ossuary was quite spectacular.

Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa

Tramping through the thick grass, I found more spikes of the Early Purple orchid, just starting to brown.

Limestone boulders and outcrops

I was searching for limestone boulders lying in the meadow, or outcrops where the underlying rock broke through the carpet of rocks.

On top of these I found many interesting plants, including:

  • Aster alpinus, here growing wild
  • Surprisingly, Ranunculus acris
  • Frog orchids (Dactylorhiza viridis)
  • Veronica alpina
  • Primula auricula
  • Minuartia species
  • Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum).

Sadly, I didn’t find the tiny orchid Chamorchis alpina.  But it was only just coming last year, and I suspect that this year we were just too early for it.

Around the sides of the boulders there were buds on the big mats of Potentilla nitida, and the hanging stems of Paederota bonarota.  On one boulder I even found Clematis alpina, growing out in the open.

Platanthera bifolia

On my way back down to Helen, I discovered a lovely clump of Lesser Butterfly orchids (Platanthera bifolia).

Gymnadenia densiflora

In damper areas there were many more Fragrant orchids.  I am convinced this tall dark specimen was Gymnadenia densiflora, the Marsh Fragrant orchid.

Gentiana verna

As Helen and I walked back past the War Memorial, we realised that the carefully manicured turf around the building was home to sheets of Gentiana verna, and in particular to an attractive purple form.  I took these from over the wall – I wasn’t sure whether I was allowed to walk there.

It wasn’t very warm, and Helen in particular had got cold whilst sitting waiting, so we walked swiftly back to the pass.  We were glad to have time for a coffee in one of the restaurants whilst waiting for the bus.

Helen also found time to explore the trolls at the gift shop.

Rhododendron ferrugineum

As we descended down the hairpins from the pass, there were great carpets of magenta Rhododendron ferrugineum, which I tried in vain to photograph.

Sedum species (cultivated)

Back at Corvara bus station, I noticed a flat green roof garden with a really spectacular Sedum on it.  Does anyone know what species this is ?

Corvara Sunset

The sunset that evening on our way back from dinner was spectacular, and promised better things for the next day, and another attempt to get to Cinque Torri.

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 has recently achieved his Gold Medal at shows.

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