Tuesday 26 March 2019

Greater Pasque Flower

The Greater Pasque Flower Pulsatilla grandis is one of Slovenia's rarest plants and certainly one of the most endangered. It inhabits dry steppe-like grassland in parts of central, east and southeastern Europe. In Slovenia it reaches its natural southwestern limit of distribution. But its range in Slovenia is very restricted. The plant used to be more widespread in the past, but several sites were lost due to habitat degradation. Nowadays it can only be found at two sites, both in the north-east, in the Štajerska region. The relatively small patches of grassland on which these flowers grow are fenced to prevent damage from incautious walkers, but sadly theft is also a major threat. Therefore one of the two sites, the one with the larger number of plants, is guarded by volunteers, during the flowering season. Last weekend we finally decided to pay a tribute to this plant and to combine the botanical trip with some birding. First we visited the "guarded site" in the hilly region east of Celje, where most of the plants were already in seed, except for 2 or 3 nice flowers. Later we ascended on mount Boč (978 m) which represents the classical site of the Greater Pasque Flower in Slovenia. Here we found several specimen in good flower, although we were quite saddened by the very low number of plants present on site. Mount Boč is a popular hiking destination and hundreds of people visit it every weekend. Here, illegal picking and digging of plants is still a major problem, although there are some fences, info boards and "warning" signs.
Greater Pasque Flower Pulsatilla grandis
Greater Pasque Flower Pulsatilla grandis - seed heads.
Some rather sad scenes from the very few remaining Pasque Flowers on mount Boč.

Mount Boč is mostly covered by beech forest and during our descend we enjoyed in a variety of early spring ground flora. Certainly we were very excited to find a shaded valley, covered by hundreds of Henbane Bells Scopolia carniolica. This unique species is surely one of Slovenia's most interesting plants. It was first discovered in the mountains of Idrija in the 18th century by G.A. Scopoli - the "Linnaeus of the Austrian Empire". Linnaeus himself described the plant as Hyoscyamus scopolia, in honour of his friend Scopoli. Later the plant was re-classified into a new genus, Scopolia, and was given the species name carniolica = of Carniola. The whole plant is very poisonous (atropine) and it is said that even its impollinators, which are mostly bumblebees, get intoxicated when drinking its nectar.
Henbane Bell Scopolia carniolica
Dog's-tooth Violet Erythronium dens-canis

After leaving Boč we headed to one of Štajerska's best birding spots - the Medvedce reservoir. Here we observed several waterbirds among which the most interesting were: Goosander Mergus merganser, Garganey Anas querquedula, Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, Ruff Philomachus pugnax, Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus, Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava, while in the sky there were about 30 Swallows Hirundo rustica. A flock of 4 Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria in the fields by the reservoir was rather interesting as was the appearence of an adult White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla that landed in the reservoir, spreading panic among the waterbirds. Finally we also observed two Muskrats Ondatra zibethicus which are said to be rather common in the waters of Štajerska.

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca
Garganey Anas querquedula
Ruff Philomachus pugnax with Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus hiding in the background.
Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus