ags logo

The Dolomites in mid-June 2023 – Day 4: The Gardena Pass

July 26, 2023
Content Sidebar

After Helen’s legs complained on the Pralongia Plateau, we were nervous about walking the next day.  But it was a beautiful morning, with soft hazy sunshine, and the Gardena Pass was an easy bus ride away.

From there, we knew that we could walk as far or as little as we wanted, along a reasonably level path, and then retrace our steps.  And Helen would be in charge of how far we wanted to go.

Caltha palustris

Almost immediately we left the roadside, we came across a large patch of Kingcups (Caltha palustris), where the path crossed a stream running down the hillside.  For once I managed to catch Helen taking photos.

Nigritella nigra subsp rhellicani

So far this year, we had not seen Vanilla orchids, so we were pleased to notice small plants of both black (Nigritella nigra subsp rhellicani) and red (Nigritella miniata) Vanilla orchids with buds just opening.

Trollius europaeus

Again we walked through spectacular displays of Trollius.  It is clearly one of the dominant species in these meadows earlier in the season.

Pulmonaria australis

We discovered a few plants of Pulmonaria here – something we didn’t see in 2022.  I think this is probably P. australis, but have no confirmation of that.

Aster bellidiastrum

In 2022, we struggled to find plants of Aster bellidiastrum which were still in good condition.  This year, they were everywhere.

Biscutella laevigata

This is a familiar plant from last year, but we enjoyed seeing its bright primrose-yellow flowers blowing in the breeze.

In the shade, Clematis alpina scrambled in the branches, and Viola biflora peeked out from clefts in the rocks.

Gentiana clusii

We were excited to find this gentian.  The lack of green bosses in the throat of the flower, and the inward-curved claws of the calyx suggest that it is Gentiana clusii rather than G. acaulis.  But our excitement arose because of the wonderful white markings in the throat of the flower.

Many familiar flowers from our last visit followed:

  • Pedicularis verticillata
  • Pedicularis elongata, with the flowers just opening
  • Horminum pyrenaicum
  • Thalictrum aquilegifolium
  • The intricate buds of Centaurea nervosa subsp nervosa
  • Golden Crepis aurea

Helianthemum oelandicum

The little rock roses were in beautiful condition.

Dryas octopetala

Below us, a large patch of Dryas octopetala sunbathed on a limestone outcrop.

Primula farinosa and friends

In a wet flush, we found not the bog community familiar from 2023 (Dactylorhiza majalis, Pinguicula vulgaris, Pyrola rotundifolia, and Parnassia palustris), but one from earlier in the season, which we were just starting to recognise.  The turf sparkled with lilac Bird’s-Eye Primroses (Primula farinosa), occasional blue Gentiana verna, white Pinguicula alpina and the purple of Bartsia alpina.

Valeriana montana

Large clumps of Valeriana montana appeared beside the path.

Onobrychis montana

Last year, Onobrychis montana was one of the stars of the show, masquerading as orchids everywhere we went.  This year it was only just coming out.

Lathyrus laevigatus

Normally when we see Lathyrus laevigatus, the older, lower flowers have turned bright orange, which catches the attention (final picture).  This first plant was a little unusual in that the flowers remained a creamy colour.

Plantago media

Plantago media, the Hoary Plantain, is a favourite from our trip in 2022.

Pulsatilla alpina subsp apiifolia

Between these familiar flowers from 2022, the primrose cups of Pulsatilla alpina subsp apiifolia fluttered in the breeze.

Here they make a magnificent view with Trollius europaeus, against the mountains on the south side of the pass.

Daphne striata

We found Daphne striata all along the path, in pale and darker pink forms.

Gentiana acaulis

We might have been on limestone meadows, but we found plants of G. acaulis, as well as G. clusii.  There are lots of green spots in the throat of the flower.  Like the G. clusii we found earlier, these had beautiful white markings in the throat of the trumpet.

Gentiana verna

We saw clumps of spring gentians here as well.  I think these are G. verna, but they could be G. bavarica – you can’t see the basal leaves well enough to be sure on these photos.

Rhododendron ferrugineum

Eventually we entered a more wooded stretch, where Rhododendron ferrugineum was in full flower.  We decided this would be a good time to turn and retrace our tracks.

Sesleriella leucocephala

On top of the limestone boulders, the flowerheads of this little grass bobbed in the breeze.

We had great views of the mountains on the south side of the pass, and of Mt. Sassolungo, back over the top of the pass.  Some of our fellow walkers completed a circuit of this mountain; a wonderful walk, but too much for us.

Change of Plan

It was still early as we walked back to the pass, and we still had plenty of energy.  It occurred to us that we could take the chairlift up to 2300m at the foot of the screes.  Then we could explore along the path about a kilometre to the Rifugio Jimmi’s Hut and back, along the foot of the screes.  This turned out to be an excellent idea.  The path was easy and level, and the plants were spectacular.

We had amazing views from the top of the chairlift, both west towards Sassolungo, and back east across Corvara towards Mt Lagazuoi and Tofana di Roses.

Papaver rhaeticum

In this photo you can just see the yellow specks of Papaver rhaeticum, which dotted the loose scree.

Nearby an island of turf in the scree hovered temptingly out of reach, displaying glorious clumps of trumpet gentians, along with Dryas octopetala and Biscutella laevigata.

Sparse turf gently stabilised much of the scree, embroidered with a tapestry of flowers including:

  • Biscutella laevigata
  • Daphne striata
  • Dryas octopetala
  • Erica carnea
  • Gentiana clusii
  • Gentiana verna
  • Globularia cordifolia
  • Lotus corniculatus
  • Primula farinosa
  • Ranunculus hybridus
  • Salix reticulata

Linaria alpina

In areas where the rocks were looser, we saw the yellow Papaver rhaeticum and the lovely orange and purple flowers of Linaria alpina.

Globularia cordifolia

The Globularia formed attractive clumps with its powder blue pompoms.

Pinguicula leptoceras

But the Globularia also formed an important part of the plant tapestry.  Here, its stems mingle with plants of Pinguicula leptoceras, a butterwort I had never seen before, with striking white markings on the lip of the plant.

Gentiana clusii

The plants of Gentiana clusii we saw up here were bigger and more floriferous than any we saw anywhere else.  And most had the striking white markings we had noted lower down.

Dryas octopetala

The dominant plant here was Dryas octopetala, spreading in carpets over rocks and up the scree.

Polygala chamaebuxus

In the middle of this clump of heather (Erica carnea ?) we found the yellow and white flowers of Polygala chamaebuxus.

Daphne striata

Large and beautiful plants of Daphne striata provided a pink / magenta accent to the carpet of flowers.

Primula farinosa

Lilac tones came from Primula farinosa.

Primula halleri

Primula halleri is larger than P. farinosa, and looks quite distinct with its long tubes.

Polygala alpestris

We saw several nice clumps of this pretty milkwort.  With the large leaves along the flowering stems, I think this is Polygala alpestris.

Trollius europaeus

I should note that Trollius europaeus, which we had found everywhere, was also here.

Valeriana saxatilis

As well as the common plants there were some more unusual ones; this is Valeriana saxatilis growing by the side of the path.

Allium victorialis

We were surprised to encounter Allium victorialis.  Last year we saw this at just one location on the Pordoi Pass.  We didn’t see flowers last year, so weren’t surprised that it was only in bud.

Lonicera caerulea

This curious shrub is a honeysuckle, Lonicera caerulea.

Arenaria ciliata ?

It always seems virtually impossible to identify the little sandworts and Minuartia species.  This one had a much more compact habit than most of those we saw, and I wondered whether it was Arenaria ciliata.

Gentiana clusii

Fabulous plants of Gentiana clusii adorned the bank all along the path.

We came to a halt when this gentle, easy path descended towards Jimmi’s Hut.  Fabulous views across to the Sella Massif on the south side of the pass.

As we returned I succumbed to temptation, and climbed a few yards up the scree to photograph the wonderful profusion of flowers.

Dryas octopetala

Of particular note were the carpets of Dryas octopetala

Gentiana clusii

And the stunning trumpets of Gentiana clusii.

Pulsatilla alpina subsp apiifolia

As we approached the top of the chairlift, there was a green bank with rather coarser grass, covered with Trollius europaeus and Pulsatilla alpina subsp. apiifolia.

After our difficulties on Pralongia the previous day, we were pleased to finish the day feeling fit and mobile.  And what a day it was !  The decision to add on a little excursion up the chair lift was well rewarded.

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