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The Dolomites in mid-June 2023 – Day 3: Pralongia Plateau

July 23, 2023
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The next day we decided to visit the Pralongia Plateau (2000m).  In 2022 I found Coral Root orchids (Corallorhiza trifida) there, more or less over.

In addition, we had found meadows full of Pulsatilla alpina seedheads, and just three specimens still out, but looking tatty.  Having seen plants looking fresh at Vallon, we hoped those on Pralongia would still be in good condition.

Tragopogon pratensis

As we walked up the steep main street through Corvara, we realised that a meadow full of yellow daisy flowers ran behind the houses.  The path through to the Col Alt gondola station let us get more closely acquainted with this wonderful display.

Soon we were flying up the mountain in a gondola, with the meadows a golden carpet below us.  When we descended, every flower had closed and the field was green, waiting for the next morning’s display.

The gondola deposits you at the top of (what appears to be) an artificial mound, with wonderful views in all directions.  From here, the meadows, and the mountain bikes, swoop down and away, glowing with yellow.  At least, the meadows do, I’m not sure about the bikes.

These paths are shared with bikes, and it is important to be very bike-aware, particularly because of e-bikes.  Botanising, focused single-mindedly on the ground, is not terribly conducive to this, and the bicyclists seldom seem to have, and use, bells.

Pulsatilla alpina subsp apiifolia

The meadow leading down from the gondola station offers wonderful views of Marmolada.  Last year I took some lovely views of serried ranks of Fragrant Orchids, with the mountain in the background.  This year, the orchids were there, but only just opening.  However, the glacier glistened with fresh snow; the meadow glistened with the primrose yellow saucers of Pulsatilla alpina subsp apiifolia.  A few specimens appeared much paler, almost white.

Taraxacum officinale

As we followed the path downhill, we came to an area dominated by a single species, the Dandelion.  This monoculture made a glorious display.  On our return in the afternoon, there were no flowers but only globes of seed.

Gymnadenia conopsea

At the bottom of the slope, we came to a meadow packed with Fragrant Orchids, which were just opening.  Again I could photograph them with Marmolada as a backdrop.

More orchids

We also found the developing spikes of many other orchids – first Frog orchids (Dactylorhiza viridis) and Round-headed orchids (Traunsteinera globosa), and then Lesser Butterfly orchids (Platanthera bifolia).

Trifolium alpinum

Equally striking were clumps of the alpine clover, (Trifolium alpinum), with its large pink globes of flowers.

Primula farinosa

A slightly damper area yielded a sprinkling of lilac Bird’s-eye Primroses.  In between them, a few lingering flowers on Gentiana verna.

Pinguicula vulgaris

I was delighted to find among the primroses the acid yellow-green rosettes and purple flowers of Pinguicula vulgaris.  This is the commonest of the UK butterworts, and yet the only one I have never seen in flower in the wild there.

Trollius europaeus

As we moved into the shade of a pinewood, a mass of golden goblets lined the path.  There were plants out in the meadows, but they proliferated in the shade.

Oxalis acetosella

In 2022, I found Coral Root orchids among the pine needles in the adjacent woods.  Search as I might, I could find no trace of them this year.  Instead, I found Moneses uniflora still in bud, and the veined white cups of Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella).

Gentiana acaulis

Accompanying the Trollius, I found flowers along the path on a few other plants which had gone over in the open meadows.  These included the beautiful alpine coltsfoot (Homogyne alpina), and Gentiana acaulis.

Ajuga pyramidalis

Flowers were appearing in the curious geometric spires of Ajuga pyramidalis.

Viola biflora

Yellow Viola biflora shone cheerfully in the shade.

Veratrum lobelianum

No sign of flowers yet among the beautiful clumps of Veratrum leaves.


Soon we emerged back out into the sunshine, into meadows foaming with flowers of all colours:

  • yellow hawkweed and buttercups
  • primose Yellow Rattle
  • lemon-yellow Hieracium
  • the orange gold of Arnica
  • sky-blue of forgetmenots
  • white ox-eye daisies, cow parsley, alpine bistort and dandelion seedheads
  • pink clover and Pimpinella
  • lilac Scabious and
  • the magenta of Mountain Sainfoin.

Arnica montana

Here are close-ups of the always untidy golden flowers of Arnica montana, and the lilac Scabious (Knautia arvensis ?).

Hieracium pilosella ?

We saw some lovely large lemon-yellow flowered Hieracium.  Although the (hairy) leaves seemed plausible for Hieracium pilosella, I wasn’t entirely convinced of this ID; the plants were taller and had larger flowers than the plant I am familiar with in the UK.

Gentiana verna

As we climbed the slope towards the Piz Arlara rifugio, blue spring gentians studded the turf.  These included royal blue, purple and paler blue forms.

Anthyllis vulneraria

Carpets of Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) followed the gentians.

Elsewhere, carpets of golden buttercups swirled with the purple of Pedicularis palustris and Dactylorhiza majalis.

Rifugio Piz Arlara

We decided to stop for lunch at the rifugio.  The Rifugio Punta Trieste cable car, which we had originally hoped to descend on, was looking increasingly distant, and Helen’s legs were feeling sore.  Lunch was good though – gnocchi and the skier’s/hiker’s staple – ham, eggs and roast potatoes.

Most importantly, I discovered the German (and Italian) names for my favourite cold drink – elderflower cordial and sparkling water.  This was available everywhere we went, and made a refreshing boost when we were out walking.  In German you have to ask for Hollunderschorle; in Italian it is Sambuco, and then you have to specify the sparkling water.

The views from the terrace of the rifugio were stunning.  Sheets of yellow swept down to where the road climbed laboriously up the Campolongo Pass, and then over to Arabba, and Marmolada looming above it.

Gentiana punctata

As we set off again, we saw occasional plants of yellow Gentiana punctata among the forgetmenots.  When we saw this last year, I wondered if the flowers ever opened, as all the plants we found were closed up.  Now it is clear – they had gone over.

Stellaria nemorum

As we passed through a shady dip, we came across Wood Stitchwort (Stellaria nemorum).  Not something I often see in the UK.

Geum montanum

Among the flowers, and the seedheads of Pulsatilla, there were smaller, darker, more congested heads.  We had realised that these were probably from Geum montanum, rather than Pulsatilla, but it was nice to find one plant with a few tired flowers on, to confirm our suspicions.

Trollius europaeus

Our way now led through acres of Trollius europaeus, mixed sometimes with ranks of Gymnadenia conopsea just opening, sometimes with the purple rods of Dactylorhiza majalis, sometimes with forgetmenots, and sometimes with the lilac of Primula farinosa, and occasional deep blue gentians.

Back to Base

However, Helen’s legs had been causing her more and more difficulty, and at this point she decided that she didn’t want to go any further, but to return to where we were staying in Corvara by the shortest and easiest route.

We decided to retrace our steps a bit to the end of the Braia Fraida chairlift, which takes you back across the plateau, and down a little, to near the Col Alt station.  In front of us a couple got on the 4-seat chair with two dogs on leads.  We were amazed, but the dogs obviously walked there regularly, were used to it and were very good.

Below us we could see meadows full of Pulsatilla alpina (mainly yellow), and Pedicularis palustris with occasional Dactylorhiza majalis.  Chairlifts make great ‘spotting’ platforms, but it is hard to get a good sharp photo.

At the other end of the chair lift, we still had to walk up the steep slope to the top of the Col Alt gondola.  We climbed very slowly, admiring the yellow Pulsatilla flowers on the hillside above 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