What a trip this was! A numbing confusion of flowers is a fair way to describe it, in the nicest possible way. South-western Australia quite literally bombarded us with diversity from start to finish. To give some idea we saw over sixty species of orchid alone. Beginning in Perths’ King’s Park Botanic Garden we saw one stands of Diuris corymbosa, and the dainty pink Caladenia latifolia among stands of the kangaroo paw Anigozanthus mangelsii, a plant with wonderfully architectural red and green inflorescences. There were even more impressive displays of the latter at Wireless Hill, another interesting slice of native bush within the pleasant city. Here were Caladenia arenicola, C. discoidea and Rattlebeaks along with some fine cycads.
Moving north to Badgingarra the richness of the kwongan heaths became apparent with drifts of Rhodanthe chlorocephala, six more orchid species and the first of a multitude of peas. Fabaceae comprise (a confusing) twenty five percent of the flora and vivid coloured peas were everywhere, from the deadly Gastrolobium (source of 1080 poison), to pink Gompholobium, purple Hovea or orange and pink bicoloured Chorizema. Another northern highlight was the remarkable ‘discs’ of Lechenaultia macrantha that lined a roadside near Pindar, each ringed with dozens of cream and rose flowers. Then there was a riot of colour along one section of heath at Mount Leseuer with the raspberry-scented Hakea neurophylla the star-turn here. But one little gem took some finding, even though we knew they were there. With persistence we found he iconic Queen of Sheba, Thelymitra pulcherrima, a stunning blend of gold and purple shining in the sun.
Moving south we picked up many more orchids, with no less than twenty
three including hammer, bird and various spider orchids. The richness of
the Stirling Range included the silver-leaved Kingia australis that
framed views of the rugged range, with bushes of Darwinia lejostyla all
around dripping with delicate pink bells. Another beautiful pink bell Pimela physodes was found near Fitzgerald River on a day of bad weather,
when we had struggled (successfully) to photograph custard orchids in
the wind and then waiting for the heavy rain to pass for us to enjoy the
incredible stands of Hakea victoria, the leaves rich blend of autumnal
colours. The vivid Banksia coccinea was common in the south (we saw eight species of Banksia is flower) and near
Albany, superb stands of Callistemon glaucus were topped by hundreds of
Nestled beneath these we also saw the Cephalotus
folicularis, a remarkable little carnivorous pitcher plant. I was larger
shown a less accessible colony of these (right next to the sea) by
Karen, a local orchid enthusiast, who also treated us to hammer and
flying duck orchids. This was on a day of contrasts when we also visited
the immense tingle trees, best appreciated form the sturdy walkway
constructed into their canopy. Orchid people were encountered on a
regular basis and readily pointed us in the direction of new species
such as the delicate pansy orchid or the ultimate, Spider Orchids
galore were blended with donkey orchids, sun orchids and china orchids
among such a rich array of heath plants that it was hard to take it all
This continued as we drove north via the curved stone of Wave Rock. It was near here that we found the most incredible Isopogon , the whole bush smothered beneath wonderful whirling turbans of flowers. The botany was wrapped up with a sun orchid double, where we managed to coax a pretty blue-and-white striped Thelymitra campanula to open fully and then found the towering stems of Thelymitra macrophylla near Perth. Each day we had a plant of the day and there was scarcely a lack of choice. Selecting plants for a gallery (see Kwongan--Wandoo-2017)was a real headache. Add to this the universal friendliness of the people, who helped us twice with car problems and were always so amenable whenever we met them.
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.
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