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The Dolomites in mid-June 2023 – Day 7: Vallon Revisited

July 29, 2023
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After the damp day we spent searching for Lady’s Slipper Orchids, the next morning dawned bright and crystal clear.

Dolomites Bike Day

It was Dolomites bike day, so the roads were all closed and bicycles were streaming up the high street.  We couldn’t go anywhere by bus.

Cable Car

But we could go back up the cable car to Vallon.  We had magnificent views as the gondola climbed up out of Corvara, and up through the woods.

Mountain Panorama

At the top of the gondola ride, the morning air was still and crystal clear, and the sun was shining.  The rain had washed all the haze out of the sky.  It made a spectacular panorama.  So here we have, from left to right:

  • Looking north, Mount Sassongher
  • Up the valley NNW to Sasso delle Dieci above Santa Croce
  • North west to include Sasso delle Dieci, the Pralongia plateau, Piz Lavarella and Piz Conturines
  • Then across the Pralongia plateau to Piz Lavarella and Piz Conturines on their own
  • West to Mount Lagazuoi, and the cloud-capped Tofana di Roses
  • Slightly further round with Setsas nearer to
  • The great peaks Monte Pelmo and Civetta to the south west, together and then separately
  • And of course south across Sas da Mezdi and Porta Vescovo to the Marmolada glacier.

This is the whole set put together as a panorama – I’m not sure how well that will work with the limited image sizes here.  If you click on the image you might see it a little larger.

Passo Campolongo

Looking down, it was just possible to make out the bicycles streaming over the Campolongo Pass.


When I got to the top of the chairlift I followed a faint path to the right.  I wanted to get round to the grassy slope which descends to the bottom of the corrie.  Helen agreed to meet me at the circle of seats which overlooks the bowl.

Gentiana tergoluensis

Immediately, I started to encounter spring gentians which weren’t there a week earlier.  These are Gentiana tergoluensis, with congested rosettes of spiky, upward-pointing leaves.  One of the most beautiful plants the Dolomites have to offer.

Saxifraga androsacea

Amongst the gentians, I came across a few plants of the tiny Saxifraga androsacea.

Soon I reached a gentle grassy slope which would be easy to descend.

Noccaea rotundifolia

As I turned, and started to descend the sunny slope / scree, I encountered the first of many cushions of Noccaea rotundifolia (formerly Thlaspi).  I saw both pale and mid-pink forms.

Soldanella alpina

The dainty purple bells of Soldanella alpina were the highlight here, flowering as they appeared through the snow in classic fashion.

Further down the slope, I found a distinct gully in the grass which clearly channelled much of the snowmelt.  Now, it formed the channel for a torrent of Soldanella flowers.  I was delighted with some of these pictures.

And this is what it takes to get pictures like that, taking extreme care where you kneel, and rest your elbows and arms.

Saxifraga oppositifolia

On the rocky side of the slope there were many, mainly small, plants of Saxifraga oppositifolia.

This was a plant I was keen to see.  In 2022, it had more or less gone over by the time we arrived, so it was great to find plants in good condition.

I had wondered if I would need to take a cable car even higher up, to Mount Lagazuoi or the heights about the Pordoi Pass to see it out.  I am sure I would have found better plants up there, but the ones I found here slaked that desire.

Ranunculus hybridus and Gagea fragifera

Towards the floor of the corrie, I started to find plants I had seen the previous week – first Ranunculus hybridus with its curious leaves.

In the damp turf on the floor of the corrie I discovered the Gagea I had seen the previous week lower down.  Once I would have called this Gagea fistulosa, but I think it is now correctly Gagea fragifera.

Gentiana bavarica

I think these rather sad yellow leaves are Gentiana bavarica.  It would be another week or two before they recovered from the blanket of snow and produced flowers.

Anemone baldensis

In the rocks on the far side of the corrie, I found flowers just opening on Anemone baldensis.

Draba dubia

Also here were the white flowers of Draba dubia.

Soldanella minima

Everywhere in the rocks around the sides of the corrie, the tiny white bells of Soldanella minima were dancing in the breeze.

I could identify most of these confidently as Soldanella minima.  But some plants seemed to owe something to the flared bells of S. alpina – see the left-hand group in the picture below.

Soldanella x. ganderi

This plant bears a strong resemblance to one I photographed last year which was identified as Soldanella x. ganderi, the hybrid between S. alpina and S. minima.

Soldanella pusilla

Finally, I found a large patch of plants, which, after my trip to Porto Vescovo on Day 9, I can identify reasonably confidently as Soldanella pusilla.  Despite the fact that that is supposed to prefer acidic soils.

Draba aizoides

The yellow flowers of Draba aizoides shone in the sun on a snowy slope.

Picking my way through the snow on the sheltered side of the corrie, I found my way back up to where Helen was waiting.  It was warm and peaceful in the sun, and we sat / lay on the wooden chairs for quite a while, watching the light change and the shadows shift on the cliffs in front of us.

Sitting in the sun, our ambitions to explore further evaporated, and when we did make a move, it was not towards the Rifugio Franz Kostner, but back up towards the top of the chairlift.

Tussilago farfara

In damp hollows, Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) was still in flower.  On the rocks around it, spikes of Pedicularis rosea were now blooming.  Cushions of Silene acaulis and Minuartia sedoides blended together.

The view from the top of the chair lift was as stunning as the one from lower down, but from a slightly higher perspective.  Here are a few snippets:

  • View across to Rifugio Franz Kostner with the Marmolada glacier behind
  • Monte Pelmo and Monte Civetta
  • Monte Pelmo again
  • Away in the distance, Monte Antelao – at 3263m the second highest peak in the area, after Marmolada.
  • Setsas in the foreground, behind, Lagazuoi with Tofana di Roses peeping over the top of it.

Below us some enterprising young people were preparing to jump off the edge – with paragliders.

Dryas octopetala

After coffee and a snack, I explored northwards from the Piz Boe Alpine Lounge, along a faint track, whilst Helen explored the area around the cable stations.  Dryas octopetala covered the steep rocky hillside.

Rhododendron ferrugineum

Sometimes in spectacular combination with Rhododendron ferrugineum.

Gentiana clusii

In between these mats, there were small plants of Gentiana clusii.

Pinguicula alpina and Primula farinosa

Also Bird’s-eye Primroses and Butterwort.

Silene acaulis

On these rocky, less frequented slopes, Silene acaulis had grown into huge sheets.

Doronicum columnae

In protected pockets under rocks, I found Doronicum columnae starting to flower, along with Viola biflora.

Mount Sassongher

My faint path got steeper, and fainter, and the rocks got looser, and eventually I decided to stop.  Wonderful views across Corvara to Sassongher.

Gentiana acaulis

There were more gentians as I returned, this time Gentiana acaulis with green spots in the throat.

By now I was back in the area around the cable stations.

Gentiana verna

Here I photographed several clumps of spring gentian.  Where I could see the base of the plant, these had basal rosettes of leaves 2-3 time longer than the ones on the flower stems.  I think that makes them Gentiana verna.

But some had wider more shaped leaves with a pointed apex, and could have been Gentiana brachyphylla.  Probably not Gentiana orbicularis as the leaf apex was pointed.

The information I use to try to identify the spring gentians is as follows.  This is based mainly on a PhD Thesis by Marc Hämmerli from 2007.

Species Basal Rosette Basal Leaf Basal leaf Apex Stem leaf Calyx
G bavarica No, single ascending stem ovate to spathulate, up to 5mm wide Obtuse to rounded 2-5 pairs, as basal lvs Very narrow wings
G brachyphylla Yes rhomboid, ovate, 4-6mm wide rounded, obtuse to subacute 1-2 pairs, ovate, apex acute, smaller than basal short (10-12mm), narrow wings
G orbicularis Yes elliptic to ovate, up to 8mm wide rounded No real stem Wider wings than brachyphylla
G terglouensis Yes, crowded, overlapping lvs ovate-lanceolate, incurved tip acute None, no stem 10-14mm, narrow wings
G verna subsp verna Yes elliptic / lanceolate, 8-20mm long ie twice other species acute 1-3 pairs, 2-3 times shorter than basal winged

Ajuga pyramidalis

I met up with Helen again and we wandered southwards, along the service track which eventually turned downhill.  Here we found Pyramidal Bugle (Ajuga pyramidalis), growing out in the open.

Dactylorhiza viridis

Careful examination of a bank beside the path revealed that it was a mass of Frog Orchids – over 50 in a patch about 6ft square.  I have never seen them grow this densely.  Some had red lips, some yellow.  Some had red-stained hoods, some pale green.

Rocky ridges and terraces of limestone stuck through the meadow as we explored.

Gymnadenia conopsea

Fragrant orchids were starting to bloom, along with Globularia cordifolia and the Rock roses (Helianthemum oelandicum).

Thesium alpinum

This tiny white flower was a bit of a puzzle, but I think I have now identified it as Thesium alpinum.  Not really something to get excited about.

Pedicularis verticillata

Some banks were full of Pedicularis verticillata, masquerading as orchids.

Aster bellidiastrum

The white daisies of Aster bellidiastrum waved at us in the breeze.

Myosotis arvensis

There were lots of forget-me-nots among the buttercups.  I think probably Myosotis arvensis rather than Myosotis alpestris.

Finally, some dramatic foliage.  Cirsium spinosissimum and Veratrum lobelianum.

We had lovely views here, across the Porta Vescovo ridge to the snow on Marmolada.  But it was time to return, before the path started downwards.

It was a short walk back from the bottom of the gondola.  Down across the river, with wonderful views of the Gardena pass, all under the watchful eye of Mt Sassongher.

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