Sunday, 30 September 2012

Vanoise National Park

Baffled motorists
in front of Notre Dame de I'Iseran
Being my first visit to the Alps, my time in the Vanoise National Park this June was botanically rather overwhelming. I took  hundreds of pictures of plants that I can no more than assign to genera. I see little point in posting pictures about which I know so little, instead I'm mostly going to post those of species that also occur in the British Isles.

Our trip began in, what felt to my Welsh constitution, unbearable heat in Lyon. Our few days in the city unsurprisingly produced little in the way of plants. I saw two species I had not previously encountered; Impatiens parviflora and Senecio paludosus.

The former is a problematic invasive in Europe whose spread from botanic gardens is detailed in this paper. The latter grew abundantly up and down the banks of the Saône . This species is very rare in the British Isles and was long thought to be extinct. One population was rediscovered in Cambridgeshire in 1972 as detailed in this paper. Three subspecies of this taxon exist and a key to distinguish between them is to be found in this paper.

On arriving in our chalet in the on the edge of the pine forests above Peisey-Nancroix I quickly headed out to get a first look at the local flora. One of the first species I encountered was the doubtful British native, Homogyne alpina. This species ha only ever been found in one location in the UK and it is suspected that it may have been planted. On the continent it is quite common and I observed it everywhere in the pine forests of the Vanoise.

Homogyne alpina Peisey Nancroix June 2012

Nowhere near as frequent as the previous species was the elusive orchid Pseudorchis albida. I have unsuccessfully searched for this species at a number of sites where it has been recorded both in Ireland and Wales. On my previous searches for this species I had been hunched over searching for a tiny greenish plant but it was nowhere near as small and inconspicuous as I had expected it to be.

Pseudorchis albida Peisey Nancroix June 2012

Next a couple of species of northern pine forests. Lycopodium annotinum and Melampyrum sylvaticum  both occur in Scotland and both were frequent in the Vanoise.

Lycopodium annotinum 
Peisey Nancroix June 2012
Melampyrum sylvaticum Peisey Nancroix June 2012

Melampyrum sylvaticum is a species I have been concious of for a while as it described in the books as being very similar to Mpratense and could possibly still be found in new areas. However its small bent flowers make it appear quite different when actually encountered.

Differing somewhat from the generally northern species above is the structurally odd woodland plant Paris quadrifolia. Not a species I had expected to encounter in the Alps I saw it growing in scrubby woodland on the lower slopes of a valley. 

Paris quadrifolia Peisey Nancroix June 2012

Moving now from the woodlands of the lower slopes to the meadows, scree and snow above. A species that I am familiar with from Snowdonia but one that I have only ever seen as a single flower on an inaccessible crag. Gagea serotina, the Snowdon Lily grew abundantly among the short sward of grey-brown Festuca and harsh blue Gentiana near the Col de l'Iseran. 

Gagea serotina
Col de l'Iseran (27/06/12)

Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) chicks
in an old fort above Lac du Mont-Cenis (27/06/12)

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