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The Dolomites in mid-June – Day 2: Ru de Pisciadu

October 2, 2022
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Jon Evans continues his account of his holiday in the Dolomites, describing an excursion to seek the elusive Lady’s Slipper Orchid, Cypripedium calceolus.

Morning Rain

Our first day had been a wonderful trip up to the limestone cliffs of Vallon to see all manner of alpine flora (see here if you missed it).  The next day was the staff rest day.  This may seem early in the week, but, if you remember, our flight delay meant that we arrived a day late.  As a result we were able to make our own plans for the day.  The forecast was for heavy showers; the morning certainly lived up to this, and our lunch outside a charming restaurant was interrupted by a sudden deluge.

Nevertheless, after a further wait under shelter at Colfosco for another heavy downpour, we managed a short walk on the Ru de Pisciadu, between Corvara and the Gardena Pass.  This was (a short) part of the walk we had missed due to our flight delay.  Initially it was grey and overcast, but by the time we returned the skies had cleared, and the raindrops were sparkling in the sun.

Trifolium pratense

As we ventured down into the dripping meadow, it was a sea of little bobbles in shades of pink – Red Clover everywhere.  In amongst these were all manner of other flowers: Pedicularis in red and yellow shades, Ox-eye daisies, buttercups, yellow rattle etc, and in the distance the feathery white heads of cotton-grass.

Campanula glomerata

We found small patches with the dark blue trumpets of Campanula glomerata, and other smaller harebell flowers (probably Campanula rotundifolia, but I didn’t take a portrait to allow identification).

Polygonum viviparum

We also found small clumps of the Alpine Bistort, Polygonum viviparum.  This has a little white spike of flowers, superficially resembling an orchid at first sight.  We saw occasional spikes the previous day at Boe, but, not in sufficient concentration to get an effective picture.

This meadow has conifers scattered across it, and sheer limestone cliffs line both sides of the valley.  The effect is very reminiscent of Yosemite National Park in America – a challenge to admirers of Ansel Adams.

Trifolium badium

A little further down the path, near a cable car which ran up the valley towards the pass, we found our first plants of Brown Clover, Trifolium badium.  This doesn’t sound exciting, but the flowers open yellow before turning brown, and the little yellow and brown balls made a surprisingly eye-catching spectacle in the angled afternoon light, glistening with raindrops.

Cirsium rivulare

As we descended the slope, the ground got damper, and the grass got longer.  The dominant flower here was a thistle we identified initially the Melancholy Thistle, Cirsium helenioides.  The bright purple flowers waving on long, leafless stems are very typical, though the plants here mostly had a cluster of buds, rather than a solitary flower.  This made me wonder if this was a different species, perhaps Cirsium rivulare.

Since writing this I searched through my images for a picture of the leaves.  The undersides of the leaves are green, not white and woolly, which makes this the Brook Thistle, Cirsium rivulare.

Silene flos-cuculi

As the ground got damper we started to see Ragged-Robin (Silene flos-cuculi).

Eriophorum angustifolium

These damp meadows, dotted with conifers, continued to evoke Yosemite for me.  Here the grass was full of cotton-grass (Eriophorum angustifolium), suggesting that it would not be wise to venture off the path.

Dactylorhiza majalis

In no time at all, we were seeing the purple spikes of Marsh Orchids among the cotton-grass; we made a squelchy detour to investigate them.  Most were typical Dactylorhiza majalis, but one appeared to be a hybrid, probably with Dactylorhiza fuchsii.

Rhinanthus minor

Once we had passed across the marshy area the path rose onto drier ground, covered with yellow rattle, ox-eye daisies and hawkweed.

Onobrychis montana

At this point, we turned back eastwards along the lower side of the meadow, along the stream.  There was a low ridge here, along the side of the stream, and many typical meadow flowers flourished.  This vetch, Onobrychis montana, or Mountain Sainfoin, was one of my favourite flowers, and I photographed it several times over the coming days.

Campanula patula

Amongst the slightly longer grass on this back we found the beautiful violet bells of Campanula patula, slightly battered by the recent rain.

Meadow Flowers

Meadow flowers clothed this bank; many of these were already familiar from our brief stop at Boe on the way down from Vallon – Geranium sylvaticum, Horminum pyrenaicum (Dragonmouth), and Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepis comosa).

Lathyrus laevigatus

Growing in semi-shade, we found a taller vetch, Lathyrus laevigatus. This was a bit of a puzzle, because our reference books described its flowers as yellow; here they were definitely orange, but many photos on the internet show it thus.

Aconitum lycoctonum subsp. vulparia

Here too we found the tall creamy spikes of Wolfsbane (Aconitum lycoctonum subsp. vulparia).  This is of course poisonous; its common name suggests how villagers might have used it in the past.

Geum rivale

The banks on the stream side of the path held large clumps of Water Avens (Geum rivale).

Growing in semi-shade

The banks of the stream were lightly shaded by overhanging trees, providing a suitable habitat for this little speedwell, Veronica urticifolia. Alongside grew Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris), and a little columbine, Aquilegia atrata.


Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Also under the trees we found the Common-Spotted Orchids which had given rise to the hybrid we had seen earlier, amongst the marsh orchids.

Valeriana montana

It was a bit of a struggle to identify this valerian – it isn’t shown in the Collins Guide to Alpine Flowers of Europe.  Eventually, after searching photographs on the internet, we came to the conclusion that it was probably Valeriana montana.  We were glad to have found a name for it; we saw it in several other locations over the course of our holiday, in more typical open meadow habitats.

Trollius europaeus

These streamside banks also yielded a familiar garden flower – Trollius europaeus, Globeflower.

Crepis praemorsa

Less familiar was this little pink flower, which I eventually discovered to be a Crepis.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea

We had crossed the stream by now, and were walking in more heavily-shaded areas. Here Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) covered the banks.

Oxalis acetosella

In these shady conditions, Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) was thriving, though its beautiful, delicate flowers were over.

Orthilia secunda

Another plant we found here puzzled us for days.  It wasn’t properly out, and didn’t look much like any of the pictures in our books, with these curious right-angled stems.  Finally, I found a photo which brought enlightenment – this is Orthilia secunda (formerly Pyrola), the Nodding Wintergreen.  If I had paid attention to the common name, I might have recognised it more quickly.

Cypripedium calceolus

Finally we found the plant we had set out to see – the one we had been jealous about when the other guests had seen it on Sunday – the Lady’s Slipper Orchid, Cypripedium calceolus.  We were only just in time.  Two days previously it had been in perfect condition, but already some of the flowers were past their best.

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