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The Dolomites in mid-June 2023 – Day 5: The Passo delle Erbe

July 27, 2023
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After a successful trip to the Gardena Pass, we decided to explore the bus network further, and to travel north and west to the Passo delle Erbe, one of our favourite walks from 2022.  We fancied lunch at the rifugio Munt de Fornella, in the shadow of Sas de Putia (2875m).

Road bikes

By now it was Thursday.  The coming Saturday was Dolomite Bike day, when all the roads in the area are closed for amateurs to ride along the route of the great cycle race, the Maratona, which would take place the following weekend.  Already Corvara was full of cyclists, and great strings of them were flying up the main street, not to mention the nearby passes.  Crossing the road to get to the bus station was distinctly interesting.  Even little kids were racing around on bikes.

Tragopogon pratensis

On our way up the hill, I just had to revisit the meadow behind the buildings, which had been full of Tragopogon flowers the previous day.

The first leg of our bus trip took us north down the valley from Corvara, through La Villa and Badia, and past Pederoa to the junction where the road to St Martino in Badia and Antermoia joined.  Here we alighted, and caught a second bus a short while later up that side road.

St Martino in Badia

It is a long climb from the bottom of the valley (1100m) up to the pass above Antermoia (2000m).  Past the castle at St Martino (now home to a museum), past the church, and on up the hill.  The road winds this way and that; the bus leaves little room for passing, or indeed oncoming traffic.  Even motorcyclists had to back up.  Glimpses into the churchyards we passed (here Antermoia) intrigued me – the graves were decorated with ornate metal crosses.

Platanthera bifolia

All the way up the wooded ascent, patches of Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera bifolia) clothed the banks. There must have been thousands of them.

Gentiana acaulis

Eventually we reached the pass; we were glad we were on the bus and not driving.  The path to Munt de Fornella sets off southwards, climbing gently through open woodland.

The first plant we saw of note was Gentiana acaulis, still in flower in the shade here.

Homogyne alpina

On these grassy, semi-shaded banks we found large colonies of Alpine Coltsfoot (Homogyne alpina).

To the left of the track, there is a wonderful view of Sas de Putia and the snow capped mountains to the north-east.  On the right, meadows full of flowers run away to the trees, and then down to the valley, with misty blue mountains beyond.

Helianthemum oelandicum

By the path, we found a very pale colour form of Helianthemum oelandicum.

Soon we came over the crest of the ridge, and the meadows were laid out before us, with Sas de Putia and its screes looming behind.

Sadly, Highland cattle were grazing the meadow to the left of the path, where we saw massed orchids last year, in particular hundreds of Small White Orchids (Pseudorchis albida).  We can only hope that this is part of a rotation, and the plants will be left to flower in future years.

Primula farinosa

As we approached the Munt de Fornella, we could see that the meadows to our right were a sheet of lilac Primula farinosa, dotted with the white flowers of Pinguicula alpina.

Gentiana bavarica

There were also sheets of navy blue spring gentians.  I tried to capture the basal leaves, but amongst grass it is difficult to get a clear enough view.  I can’t find any definite evidence of basal rosettes, so I think these were probably Gentiana bavarica rather than G. verna, but it is hard to be sure.

The meadows stretching away to the west were a sea of colour.

Dryas octopetala

We followed the path to the west.  Dryas octopetala covered some of the large limestone boulders lying in the meadow.

Primula farinosa

After a couple of hundred yards, I walked up the bank to our left.  Beyond lay a little valley draining the screes.  Primulas, Pinguicula alpina, and spring gentians carpeted the turf on the floor of this valley.

Gentiana bavarica

Again it was difficult to be sure which species the gentians were.  However, where I can see some detail of some of the plants, there is no sign of a basal rosette, so again these are probably G. bavarica.  As well as royal blue, I found purple and pale forms.

By the time I reappeared over the ridge, Helen had settled on a rock in the middle of a sea of buttercups.  Her padded trousers don’t just keep her nice and warm – they make rocks more comfortable.

Younger, fitter walkers can do a circuit of the mountain, which is supposed to be 11km and to take under 4 hours.  Although it must be a lovely walk, we won’t be doing that anytime soon.

Munt de Fornella

We returned to the restaurant for lunch.  Helen chose pasta in a tomato sauce, and I had, surprise surprise, ham, eggs and potatoes.

After lunch we set off past the Highland cattle to explore the path leading eastwards.  We were surprised and interested to note that the trumpet gentians within the electric fence were untouched, apparently unpalatable.

Pinguicula alpina

Beside the path the meadow was full of Primula farinosa and Pinguicula alpina.  There was also a gentian which does appear to have a basal rosette and I think was Gentiana verna.

Geum montanum

Also in this meadow, flowers lingered on Geum montanum – that was something we didn’t see in 2022.

Viola biflora

The path leads into a wooded area full of huge limestone boulders. In crevices on, and under, these boulders, Viola biflora seemed very happy.  It was particularly interesting to note the round leaves, which I would never have identified as belonging to a Viola.

Gentiana verna

As I followed the path through the wood, I found a group of deep indigo blue gentians.  This time they are definitely Gentiana verna.

Chrysosplenium alternifolium

More typical woodland plants followed: Geranium sylvaticum and Oxalis acetosella.  But I was surprised to find the golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium alternifolium) – I haven’t seen it in the Dolomites before.

Sorbus chamaemespilus

Above these, there was a well established thicket of shrubs.  These included the honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea) we saw the previous day, and a bush which I eventually identified as Sorbus chamaemespilus.  We saw that on the Gardena Pass as well, but I failed to get a good photo there.

At this point I decided to turn back.  The path was descending, and had become a bit of a scramble.  Helen, following me, would hate it.  I would have loved to carry on to where the path left the woods again, where the screes run down to the meadows around Utia de Goma; it was not far, but this time, it was not to be.

We walked back down to the pass, past sheets of buttercups glowing in the afternoon sun.

Aster bellidiastrum

Further down, the white parasols of Aster bellidiastrum waved in the breeze.

We had a little time to kill before the bus was due, so we used our newly gained knowledge to order cold drinks at a restaurant nearby – Hollunderschorle – Elderflower cordial and sparkling water.  We had seen a lovely display of flowers, but there was a tinge of disappointment that the cattle were grazing the meadow we saw so many orchids in last year.

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