Alpine Flowers from the Vanoise National Park

As a final drop of photos from my August trip to France: this time some of the alpine flowers from the Vanoise National Park, mostly from high up in the French Alps above Courchevel. Supporting the profusion of butterflies & insects and the nibbling of the local marmots, there is an even greater profusion of wild-flowers, especially on the upper pastures. Most of these examples are alpine plants taken on a hike up to the Lacs Merlet, though the Helleborine and Willow Gentian were photographed on the wild-flower trail at Lac de la Rosière just outside Courchevel.

Still Finding New Plants

In the chaos of my flower beds it is still proving possible to find some new wild flowers. I’m also not so knowledgeable on plants, so I don’t always spot them until quite late when they flower.

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) is in flower in July, and now I know what it is I’m seeing plenty of it in other places too. It has pretty purple spike of flowers and soft leaves. As the name suggests, in days before elastoplasts and savlon, the leaves were made into a salve and applied to wounds as an apparently quite effective herbal remedy.

The other plant, which I might easily have taken to be cleavers and pulled out as a weed, is Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis). It has similar looking circles of leaves as cleavers, but the leaves are more pointed and the flowers on closer inspection are pale lilac colour rather than white. This one is growing in my veg plot where my peas should be if they had germinated properly, so it’s still a weed, but at least it’s a more unusual one and also not as fast growing as its sticky relative which gets tangled everywhere in my flower beds.

Full Grown Weeds

A nice thing about plants is that, if you don’t mind a few weeds (and I don’t) you can just leave them there and let them grow. Identifying grown plants with flowers is much easier and now after a wait I can add three extra species to the list. Not being that expert at plants, I finally registered and used Plantsnap App to help with identification - I have to say it saves a lot of time looking through my field guide!

Canadian Fleabane is one that I found last year, however then it was just a small impoverished thing growing in cracks in the paving - seeing the full grown plant I didn’t realise it was the same species. Field Pennycress is a new find, coming through the paving just feet from my front door,. The paved front yard is covered in plants and definitely a Pathclear-free zone. According to Wikipedia the Pennycress is a potential biofuel crop, so I suppose like the Fleabane if it gets to grow without the constraint of being stuck between paving slabs and trampled on by everyone, then it must grow to a more impressive height than my specimen!

The Common Ragwort and Spear Thistle have been growing up for weeks, me resisting the urge to pull them out, and are now 3-4 feet tall. It’s taken a good while for them to flower, but now they have and they can stay a little longer. Both plants are common around the village, and I’m hoping can attract some different insects into the garden. Some of the soldier beetles I saw walking up Alderton Hill last weekend isn’t too much to ask, is it?

La Fête du Muguet

Giving a bouquet of Muguet or Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) on 1st May is a tradition in France. Mine in the garden are only just ready in time, recent cold weather having slowed things right down. Other flowers looking good right now are the Welsh Poppies (Meconopsis cambrica), Apple blosson (Malus pumila) and the only new species for a little while, Field Wood-rush (Luzula campestris, #471),, This is a Spring-flowering grass and common weed in lawns, which is also sometimes called Good Friday Grass. Insects are few, but when the sun shines butterflies soon appear (Holly Blue, Orange Tip and a Red Admiral today) and the first returning swift was overhead yesterday.

Lords & Ladies

I do like these plants; the red berries in the Autumn last for ages (they are poisonous, which helps) and the flowers are quite exotic-looking, They have an unpleasant smell to attract insects, more for pollination than for nutrition. Lords & Ladies goes by a whole host of country names such as snakeshead, adder's root, devils & angels, cows & bulls, cuckoo-pint, soldiers diddies, priest's pintle, Adam & Eve, bobbins, wake robin, friar's cowl, sonsie-give-us-your-hand and Jack-in-the-pulpit to name a few; many of them referring to the flowers’ likeness to genitalia Not surprisingly the plant also has a whole lot of folklore associated with it. While the berries are poisonous, the large, starch-rich roots used to be eaten as porridge - but they have to be prepared correctly to neutralise the toxins, so probably not something you will want to try at home.

Wild Geraniums

Two members of the geranium family growing like weeds in the garden. Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum, #22) grows in the cracks between paving slabs and rocks all around the garden, but this is first time I noticed the closely related Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum, #466) with its smaller flowers and shiny, rounded leaves growing in overgrown gravel down by the shed. Quite a pretty little flower.

Three New Weeds

I found this trio of new weeds around the garden this week.

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta, #454), popping up between the paving slabs is an unassuming little weed with small white flowers and leaves shaped like watercress. The leaves are edible, adding - as per the name - a bitter taste to your salad.

Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis, #453) also goes by the names of Lady’s Smock or Milkmaid. One of the main food-plants of the Orange-tip Butterfly, it is often plentiful in Spring in damp meadows, but not so widespread in my rather dry garden. It’s closely related to the bittercress, both being members of the cabbage family, and is also edible. After flowering in spring it produces seeds then dies back until the next year.

Ivy-leaved Speedwell (Veronica hederifolia, #455) is c common garden weed, originating from Eurasia and by now spread widely as an introduced species. It has a blue form and a white form, the latter being the one in my garden.

Small Things growing in Dark Dank Corners

Part of the bio-blitz, especially in this season, is about checking some of the hidden corners of the garden for things that I might have missed before. Procumbent Pearlwort (#366) was lurking in a damp corner of the front yard, hidden by bamboo and one of my pond/basins. A tiny Wall Rue Spleenwort (#375) growing between the bricks by the dustbins, is only my second species of fern in the garden. A solitary Dwarf Bell toadstool (#376) emerging among the mosses in a neglected planter is my first new species of fungus this Autumn; hopefully there will be a few more in the next month or so. All three are quite small and insignificant, but they are part of the ecology of the garden.

September Flowers

Two new flowers this week, a quite late-flowering Great Mullein (#341) in one of the shadier spots in my garden, and a host of Michaelmas Daisies (#342), which grow like weeds everywhere. It would be good if these can entice out some pollinating insects, as the numbers of these have dropped right off due to late lack of flowers in the garden and summer coming to an end.

Hedgerow Riches at Greystones Farm

My first Guide duty at Greystones Farm, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserve for a month or so, and it was a beautiful Cotswold morning. The hedges are yawning with berries, including wild hops - not something you come across too often.  Lovely colours, and lots of food for wintering birds later in the Autumn.  Some bird passage was in evidence, with a fly-over Meadow Pipit and a flock of Pied Wagtails, with one White Wagtail, feeding around the cattle.

Poisons in the Garden

These two common plants that crop up as garden weeds are both very poisonous. 

The red berries of Lords & Ladies add some nice late-summer colour in shady areas of the garden, but there's a good reason why they don't get eaten by the birds - they're very poisonous.  Thankfully they are so unpleasant tasting that nobody would ever get to eat enough of them to have a dangerous dose.  

The white flowers, one of many different kinds of similar-looking umbellifer is called Fool's Parsley, as it looks superficially like parsley or chervil, but can be distinguished by the small spurs that hang down under the flowers and seed heads.  Like many other umbelliferae, such as hemlock, it's pretty poisonous; though apparently it was also used in the past as a medicine for children's stomach aches - hopefully only in small doses!