Following our successful first book Flora of the Silk Road our next publication will be similarly styled and titled Under a Blue Sky. It will be a photographic compilation of six hundred of the finest wild flowers that grow in the world’s five Mediterranean climate regions, five lands that are synonymous with blue skies and yet are divided between five continents. It will reveal a breadth of flora that has never been amassed and celebrated in one volume before.
The book offers a unique first hand insight into five spectacular floral regions, both in terms of the flowers themselves and where they grow, celebrating those plants in an artistic light and portraying them in a range of styles to best capture the essence of each flower. This photographic record features many of the most beautiful species there are; from orchids and ancient trees to snowdrops and cacti. It will reveal both the multitude of different solutions and the common characters that arise under identical climates in far-flung locations. The primary objective is to unite these floras and offer a different dimension to our perception of the places they live in.
They are diverse regions. From the cradle of democratic Western civilization on the one hand to tough frontier lands hemmed in by deserts, mountain chains and oceans on the other. The latter have drawn explorers, adventurers and settlers for hundreds of years. We travel from the vibrant human melting pot of the Mediterranean Basin, a region divided by languages, yet united by the humble olive and the walnut. Passing from Morocco along the rugged Atlas, we cross to Andalucia and Italy, then onto the amazing botanical richness of Greece, southern Anatolia and Jordan. The cultural history of the Mediterranean will feature to give important context. In California and Chile the journey is through flowering deserts, snow capped peaks and towering forests of redwood and monkey puzzle trees, beside a coast lapped by the Pacific Ocean. Plant hunters were sent to collect these exotic giant trees for burgeoning European estates and their stories will add a further layer to our own. Southern Australia provides an ancient isolated land and ancient cultural highlights and the western Cape of South Africa has a mind-boggling diversity that defies understanding with further tales of plant hunting travails in the shadow of the iconic Table Mountain.
There is science too. Identification is precise and accurate and within the text straightforward botanical language is employed from which it is possible to chart the distributions of many dazzling species, their near relatives and evolutionary doppelgangers in each isolated region.
Having revelled in the wonderful lilies of north-east Turkey last year (see entry 9/7/2015) it was time to discover what Greece had to offer, another area whose flora I enjoy so much. Though the two areas are different in many respects, with for example similar floral components, they differ widely in others. For a start the lilies were much harder to find! Greece lacks the continuous mountain belt that Turkey has (the Kackar) and instead most lilies are scattered across more isolated massifs and in small woodland populations. Nonetheless I found them, beginning with orangey Lilium chalcedonicum (which a lily beetle was busy demolishing), and then some unusually late pure white Lilium candidum.
As I travelled there were other gems too, including the frequent tall spikes of Himantoglossum caprinum and in damp areas abundant Dactylorhiza saccifera and meadowsweet. Woodland edges had the lovely fawn bells of Digitalis grandiflora and its cousin D. viridiflorus grew commonly on flowery slopes above the treeline near wonderful populations of rich-yellow Lilium carniolicum. This area was a real highlight and pinks, violets, campanulas and many other flowers coloured the high turf with superb views all around. Searching for some species was time consuming, but nestled among pinewoods were the purple flowers of Lilium martagon ssp cataniae below alpine slopes thronging with Gymnadenia conopsea and rocky outcrops coloured with Hypericum olympicum.
The final piece of the puzzle was Lilium rhodopeaum and although I found it I had rotten photographic luck here. I rumbled along bad tracks through the lush, fern-filled beechwoods in the Rhodope Mountains for hours, searching high and low. I did eventually find one (past its best) alongside a clump that had just been eaten by a herd of cattle whose bells I could still hear! Timing is everything.
Our Lilies of the Black Sea was a great success this year with all six taxa of lilies seen in superb condition amid masses of other wild flowers. Our tour began in the charming town of Amasya with many traditional wooden building strung along the Iris River and ancient Pontic tombs carved into the solid limestone cliffs above the town. An afternoon in the orchid–rich slopes north of Amasya followed and among the orchids seen was the remarkable Himantoglossum affine alongside Ophrys apifera, Cephalanthera rubra and Dactylorhiza osmanica.
The lilies got off to a wonderful start the next day with a superb population of white Lilium akkusianum, the perfect spikes of sweet-scented trumpets thriving amid dense stands of bracken. This is a special endemic that occurs in quite a small area centred near Erbaa. The lilies are strung out across a series of passes and mountain areas of the Pontic Alps and to the east we found first some splendid soft-yellow Lilium monodelphum var. armenum on a flowery slope with an abundance of lilac Campanula sibirica and sumptuous dark forms of Anacamptis pyramidalis that looked like delicious sour-cherry ice creams. Hidden among the clearing were also Orchis purpurea ssp. caucasica and Paris incompleta. This floral feast was just the entree to an astonishing population of Lilium ciliatum which numbered in their hundreds, accompanied by Aconitum orientale, golden Lathyrus aureus and immense Heracleum platytaenium. The dark-centred flowers looked like so many alien eyes looking down at us from the slopes the bright orange stamens adding a sinister highlight. This outstanding display was without doubt a trip highlight.
The same two species were centrepiece of the Zigana Pass where we could enter straight out from the hotel into lush meadows with tall lilies. One specimen of Lilium ciliatum had no fewer than twenty-eight flowers and probably represented a plant that was decades-old. The Lilium monodelphum were also superb and joining them in the meadows were delights such as Aquilegia olympica and the Globe Orchid Traunsteinera sphaerica. On the south side of the pass we found a different set of plants that were no less enjoyable with abundant Digitalis lamarckii, some remarkable dense-flowered scree-dwelling Epipactis helleborine ssp densifolia and a slope with many sweet-scented and architectural Morina persica. We made several attempts to leave one area each time seeing something new and finishing with a wet flush choked with delicate Dactylorhiza iberica. Back on the north side of the pass there were vast displays of Rhododendron luteum with more restrained delights such as Moneses uniflora and Platanthera chlorantha.
A couple of hours to the east and we in the territory of Lilium ponticum, rather wet territory it has to be said. However, even better specimens were seen the following dry day when we found some stunning colour forms from yellow and orange to near purple. It was another truly standout day which continued with a visit to the higher alpine turf of Ovit Mountain. Here there was a fantastic array of alpine flora from intense blue Gentiana verna ssp pontica and reddish-pink Primula elatior ssp meyeri to the outrageous chocolate brown cubes of Fritillaria latifolia and pretty masses of Corydalis conorhiza. A misty afternoon was spent among a sea of Anemone narcissiflora on another higher slope. Bushes of Rhododendron caucasicum were beset with creamy trumpets and there were intense orange Geum coccineum and the bizarre spires of Pedicularis atropurpurea. The day was rounded off with a meadow of magenta Geranium psilostemon.
Please visit our gallery for photos of from the tour.
The world's Mediterranean climate regions hold some fascinating flora with each having evolved unique solutions. April and May was spent looking around northern California, where despite the on-going droughts there were some standout flowers, especially those with 'hot' colours. First among them for me were the dazzling Calochortus, quintessential elements of the Mediterranean-climate bulb flora. Their intricate patterns and floral structures enhanced by rich colours, all held on the slenderest of stems. We were guided around the area at first by our friends Sandy Steinman and Celia Ronis who introduced us to the delights of Point Reyes and Mount Diablo, and the first two globe lilies Calochortus tolmiei and C. pulchellus.
We later visited (the very popular) Yosemite National Park with its' impressive Sequioadendron giganteum, delightful displays of Cornus nuttallii, scarlet Silene laciniata, some lovely lupines and the amazing spikes of saprophytic Sarcodes sanguinea bursting from the ground. Leaving this area were found a big population of diminutive Calochortus minimus, some gorgeous C. venustus and roadside drifts of C. luteus.
Higher reaches of the Mendocino Pass held another stunning plant, yet another powerful 'red', which literally stopped us in our tracks - Fritillaria recurva - a dull epithet for an amazingly coloured beauty that glowed scarlet-red from afar. These were growing with the pretty pink stars of Primula (Dodecatheon) hendersonii and on the scree was a further fiery highlight was Delphinium nudicaule. We've seen the same predominance of reds and oranges in Chile too and both here and California there are pollinating hummingbirds that are strongly drawn to these colours (although other pollinators are often also at work).
Continuing north we reached the truly amazing coastal redwood forests, with some mind-blowing massive trees and the overall ambience within the forest was one of calm awe. Florally there were rich serpentine areas with another lovely globe lily Calochortus howellii with 'furry' flowers, sweet-scented Rhododendron occidentale, the remarkable carnivorous plant Darlingtonia californica and another trip highlight the delightful stands of Cypripedium californicum that crowded water seeps and marshes.
The final flourish was provided by first the vivid orange of Lilium columbianum and then the highly localised endemic Calochortus tiburonensis, which is restricted to just one small peninsula and surrounded by the houses of San Francisco Bay. Annual displays had clearly been muted this year with the lack of rain (although there were still superb shows of Californian poppies), but imagine these added to the beautiful things we did see and it a rich and rewarding place to explore. The southern part is on our radar for a future March visit.
‘Flora of the Silk Road’ is a celebration of the diverse and beautiful plants that grow along the world’s most famous road. Featuring over seven hundred colour photographs, it contains over five hundred species of bulbs, herbs, trees and shrubs and is the culmination of fifteen years travelling in the region. Along with so many fascinating flowers are the landscapes they call home and world-class Silk Road cultural sites.
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