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The Dolomites in mid-June 2023 – Day 11: Cinque Torri

August 6, 2023
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The next day we set off early again for Cinque Torri.  We left nothing to chance, by walking up to the bus station, and the bus came on time.

Whilst waiting I noticed this ingenious solution to making planters to position on the steep slope.

Lago di Valparola

The first stage of the bus journey took us through La Villa and up to the Falzarego Pass, with a brief stop at the Valparola Pass.  I couldn’t help looking at the Lago di Valparola and wondering what flowers I might find walking round it.

Falzarego Pass

At Falzarego Pass we had a short wait before catching a bus down the far side of the pass towards Cortina, though we would get off at Cinque Torri.  The skies were stormy (interesting) but it wasn’t raining, albeit bitterly cold (8 degrees C) with a biting north wind.

Knautia arvensis

Walking from the bus stop to the bottom of the chair-lift at Cinque Torri, we spotted a white scabious (Knautia arvensis).

Rhododendron ferrugineum

The slope beneath the lift was a two-tone carpet of Rhododendrons.  I don’t know whether the different colours indicated the presence of Rhododendron hirsutum, or whether it was just age or natural variation.  But all the Rhododendrons I found at the top of the lift were definitely Rhododendron ferrugineum.

My eyes picked out some lower growing clumps of pink on the side of this rocky outcrop.  I was convinced these were Rhodothamnus chamaecistus.  But I hoped we would find more at the top, without having to walk back down to see them.

Cinque Torri

From the top of the cable car (2250m) we had wonderful views of the rocky ridges to the south-east, with Monte Pelmo behind them to the right, and Monte Antelao and Croda Marcora to the left.  Directly to our east rose the rocky outcrops of Cinque Torri.

Mount Averau

Nearer to us loomed Mount Averau.  We had been told to take the path that climbed southwards towards it, then to look for Rhodothamnus on the limestone plateau / pavement that we would cross.  Our first impressions were meadows full of Trollius europaeus, and banks dotted with Dryas octopetala.

Primula farinosa

Bird’s-eye Primoses dotted in the short grass, as they did everywhere we went this year.

Gentiana verna

With the Primula we found spring gentians, in this case unmistakably Gentiana verna.

Pulsatilla alpina subsp. austroalpina

Then I rounded a bank, and saw white cups on long stalks.  Unmistakably the white form of Pulsatilla alpina.  I would have called it Pulsatilla alpina subsp. alpina, but nowadays, the plants in this area are called Pulsatilla alpina subsp. austroalpina.

Pulsatilla alpina subsp. apiifolia

However, not all the plants were white.  Before long, I discovered yellow ones (Pulsatilla alpina subsp. apiifolia), and some creamy individuals which may have been hybrids.

Salix species

We climbed up a slope, away from the grass, up onto a flattish limestone plateau.  In winter, this formed a ski piste.  The rock was close to the surface everywhere, with just a thin covering of turf.  Here we found a large-growing but quite prostrate willow with long round catkins.  I have not established a firm identity for it.  My best guess at the moment is S. hastata or S. hegetschweileri.

Rhodothamnus chamaecistus

Finally, on a rocky outcrop, my eyes caught the bright pink / magenta I was looking for.  This is the very beautiful Rhodothamnus chamaecistus.

Pulsatilla alpina

As we progressed slowly uphill, we came across more and more Pulsatilla alpina.  Some seemed to be white, some seemed to be yellow, some were intermediate.  All had pretty blue-veined backs to the petals.  I don’t know where I should draw the lines.  They were beautiful, beautiful plants whatever I should call them.

Loiseleuria procumbens

We found Creeping Azalea (Loiseleuria procumbens) here.  The flower wasn’t as dense as at Porta Vescovo, but the tiny pink stars extended widely across the turf.

Rhodothamnus chamaecistus

But the real highlight was the Rhodothamnus.  As we found more and more specimens, we realised there was considerable variation in the tone of pink.

I couldn’t stop photographing them.

Salix species

As we climbed higher we found even smaller willow species.  I am not sure whether these are Salix retusa or Salix serpyllifolia, or indeed even whether the two plants shown are the same.

Salix reticulata

But I am confident that this was S. reticulata.

Pulsatilla alpina

Here the white and cream cups of Pulsatilla alpina danced above the turf in depressions on the hillside.

Dryas octopetala

In drier, rockier places, Dryas octopetala replaced the Pulsatilla with a lower carpet of smaller white cups.

Dactylorhiza viridis

Amongst the Dryas, we found one solitary Frog orchid (Dactylorhiza viridis), some very pink forms of Homogyne alpina, and good plants of Silene acaulis.

Crocus vernus albiflorus

A few last pockets of snow lay here, surrounded by Crocus and Soldanella.

Soldanella alpina

Most of the Soldanella were S. alpina, but we found small numbers of S. pusilla and S. minima among them.

Pulsatilla vernalis

And among the Soldanella, we found one solitary flower of Pulsatilla vernalis.

Dryas octopetala

The path continued upwards a long way, but we were uncomfortable about following it, aware that we both struggled with descents.  Before we returned, I wanted to cross to the far side of the piste.  There, I could see a gully and a rocky ridge I wanted to explore.

Rhodothamnus chamaecistus

Among the rocks on the far side of the gully I found more plants of Rhodothamnus chamaecistus in excellent condition, ranging from pale pink, through lilac, to quite dark shades.

Pinguicula alpina

Eventually, I had to tear myself away.  Crossing back over the piste, I found scattered plants of Pinguicula alpina.

Silene acaulis

One plant of Silene acaulis was in exceptional condition, and very densely flowered.

Trollius europaeus

As we returned slowly, we passed back through the meadow of Trollius europaeus.

Mount Lagazuoi and Falzarego

From here, we had excellent views of Mount Lagazuoi, and the area east of the Falzarego Pass which we explored last year.  Including the ruins of the German hospital which we never quite reached.

To the east, clouds still wreathed the mountains.  We had not yet explored the area around the Cinque Torri, and decided to stop for lunch in the rocks around it, where we might find shelter from the biting north wind.

In the distance, climbers hung from the limestone towers of the Cinque Torri like a Christmas tree.

Daphne striata

We found a little shelter among the rocks for lunch.  The flowers also seemed to like it out of the wind.  There were Silene acaulis cushions and some good compact forms of Daphne striata.

Rhododendron ferrugineum

Red Rhododendrons covered the hillside, but all were Rhododendron ferrugineum.

Rhodothamnus chamaecistus

Among the rocks there were scattered plants of Rhodothamnus.

Anemone baldensis

We had seen odd flowers of Anemone baldensis higher up, among the Pulsatilla alpina, but the ones here were more numerous, and in better condition.

Valeriana montana and Valeriana saxatilis

Valeriana montana and Valeriana saxatilis grew right next to each other.

Clematis alpina

Clematis alpina climbed over what I think was probably the same species of willow that I saw higher up, but much less compact in a less harsh environment.

Cracks between the rocks nurtured Saxifraga sedoides, Viola biflora, Globularia cordifolia, and many other familiar plants.


However, it was still bitterly cold.  We had found the plant we came to look for (Rhodothamnus chamaecistus), with the unexpected bonus of white Pulsatilla alpina.  The paths in the rocks around the Cinque Torri were steep, and a bit of a scramble, even with steps, and the cold had sapped our enthusiasm to explore.  So we decided to return to the rifugio at the top of the chair-lift for a hot drink, and to get out of the wind.

On our way back, we saw a pale blue form of Gentiana verna just opening, and watched a bird I didn’t recognise.  This turned out to be an Alpine Accentor.

The mountains on all sides were spectacular, and there were lots of interesting plants to see.  This is definitely a place I would like to revisit, preferably on a warm sunny day.


Returning from dinner that night, we once again had a fine sunset, promising better weather for the following day.

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