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The Dolomites in mid-June – Day 12: Return to Santa Croce

February 14, 2023
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One last day in the Dolomites.  Most of our companions had already left, and we wanted to have a gentle day before the stresses of the return trip.  Where better than a return to Santa Croce – a stroll across town and a trip up the chair lift, then we could explore the high meadows again without repeating the long descent.

Accompanying us, we had the couple who had joined the party for the first time on the Pordoi the previous day.  We hoped to give them a bit more introduction to the typical flora of these meadows.

Badia Town Centre

On our way across town we saw some interesting plants.  We had seen this Sedum in several places – it looked particularly good on a flat roof near the bus stop in Corvara – but I don’t know which species or cultivar it is.  On an uncultivated verge we passed White Melilot, Melilotus alba.

Bedding plants in vast variety adorned many of the chalet style buildings.

Chair Lift to Santa Croce

Soon we were on the chair lift, gliding effortlessly up the hill past the town church.

What a wonderful way to enjoy these hillsides, with the morning sunshine and the scent of the freshly mown hay.  Lost in the experience, once again I failed to have the camera ready for the wonderful clumps of Saponaria ocymoides we passed over.

Before long we were up by the church, the Rifugio, and the wayside shrines.


The meadows around the Rifugio were full with flowers.  We checked the Small White Orchid we found here on our previous visit.  Then we set off down the path northwards, past banks glowing with yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), yellow kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), and red clover (Trifolium pratense). On a stony bank beside the path we passed a large clump of Acinos alpinus.

Pyrola rotundifolia

The Pyrola we had found on our previous visit were further out, and the swoop of the exserted styles made them easier to identify as Pyrola rotundifolia.

These meadows were a sea of flowers; it was a joy to wander along below the limestone cliffs.

Linum catharticum

Among the gently swelling mounds cloaked in gold (well yellow rattle), I found I think the largest and most prominent plant I have ever seen of the diminutive Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum).

Gentianella germanica

A week after our first visit, there were now large clouds of lilac scabious flowers, blowing in the breeze, above the shorter, stiffer, darker violet flowers of Gentianella germanica.

With no planned route or destination in mind we could just enjoy the beauty of this place.

Pedicularis palustris

As we crossed a little snow-melt stream, the chives (Allium schoenoprasum) were now in full flower.  The purple flowers of Pedicularis palustris adorned another wet seep, along with butterwort leaves (Pinguicula vulgaris).

Nigritella nigra subsp rhellicani

In places the deep chocolate red flowers of Vanilla orchids studded the ground.

Elsewhere it was still a sea of arnica and clover, dotted with the sky-blue trumpets of Campanula barbata.

x Gymnigritella suaveolens

Here I found something we must have missed on our first visit, the deep magenta spike of the hybrid between Gymnadenia and Nigritella which we had seen elsewhere at Pralongia, on the Passo Gardena, and on the Pordoi.  A fourth site for something we thought initially to be a most unusual find.

Gentiana nivalis

We also discovered a lovely new plant we hadn’t encountered before; the tiny deep blue flowers of the later flowering, annual Gentiana nivalis.

I could have spent the whole day here, sitting quietly in the sun, with a cool breeze rippling through this ocean of flowers.


We decided to go a little further, descending into the band of woodland, with Tragopogon seedheads, and Trollius europaeus by the path. Here Wolfsbane (Aconitum lycoctonum subsp vulparia) and Germander (Veronica chamaedrys) were in flower.  Also Selfheal (Prunella grandiflora) some fine buttercups, and Veratrum lobelianum.

We stopped for lunch on a little terrace in the woods, with views out across the valley.  Northwards there was a suggestion of a shower.


At this juncture we decided to retrace our steps, before we descended too far.  The weather was deteriorating a little, and we didn’t want to get soaked the day before our return home.

Back at the Rifugio, we stopped for a coffee and a tiramisu, while the choughs roamed around us, waiting for leftovers.

Back down in Badia, it seemed too early to retire to the hotel.  I decided to revisit the orchids in the wooded slope behind the hotel.  The lane upwards was steeper than I remembered when coming down.  There was Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) underfoot, and Campanula trachelium peeping out between fence palings.  Rosebay Willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium) was enjoying the broken ground along the lane.

The view back across the valley to Santa Croce was spectacular, and I was glad to stop and photograph it.

Epipactis atrorubens

Almost immediately I turned into the wood, the excitement started.  Beside the track I was walking up, was a heap of limestone boulders, moved from the path to allow vehicle access.  Amongst these, my eyes picked out a few tell-tale helleborine spikes.  These were Epipactis atrorubens, the Dark-red Helleborine, in full flower.  Eventually I found a dozen or so.  My disappointment from earlier in the week, when we only found buds, was overturned.

Although it grows in the north of England, I have never seen this in the wild before, so I was delighted.

Eventually I left the helleborines, crossed the little stream and started to follow the footpath through the wood.  This time I found Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia) and the little fragrant orchid, Gymnadenia odoratissima.

Some of the trees were dying or dead, and thick sawdust around their bases suggested that they were being attacked by some boring insect pest.

Goodyera repens

This time, alone, I wanted to do a more thorough survey of the orchids I had found previously, the Creeping Lady’s Tresses.  With careful observation, I counted ten little groups of them, along 200m or so of the track.

To my complete delight, I found just one spike with a single flower open.  This hasn’t quenched my desire to see and photograph this beautiful plant in full flower, but it has at least slaked the note of desperation.

This day had proved an unexpected success, with the x. Gymnigritella, the little Gentiana nivalis, and the two woodland orchids to finish on a high note.  It was time to say farewell to the Haus Valentin.  The next morning we had an early start, and a brief breakfast before climbing on a coach to make our way back to Venice, and the flight home.

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. Jon 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