Tuesday 28 July 2020

In the presence of the Queen

In mid summer when the lowland meadows start to dry out and the blooms begin to fade, it's time to head higher up. The alpine hay meadows above the treeline (roughly above 1500 metres a.s.l.) are in the flowering climax at the moment. The lushest and most species-rich mountain meadows are found on the very steep grassy slopes, on the southern and western parts of the Julian Alps. These meadows are a product of centuries of low-intesity human exploitation, when hay-cutting, along with livestock grazing, were the only possible land uses on such steep (sometimes almost vertical) inclinations. One such mountain is Porezen (1630 m), rising conspicuously above the Cerkno hills, west of Škofja Loka in NW Slovenia. The mountain doesn't belong to the Julian Alps, but the so called "Lower Bohinj mountains" (the southernmost chain of the Julian Alps) rise just to the north of it. In fact most of the flora on Porezen is similar or the same to the one on nearby Črna prst, however it lacks all the typical high-altitude species of rocky habitats. Among botanists Porezen is most famously known as being one of the two main strongholds of the rare and highly endangered Queen of the Alps or Alpine Eryngo Eryngium alpinum. Given the excellent weather during the past weekend, we decided to visit the mountain again, after our last visit in 2015. It was a memorable day indeed! The narration continues in the photos...
A beautiful Scarce Copper Lycaena virgaureae greeted us as we parked the car by the forest's edge near Davča, a diffuse settlement of remote farms scattered around a hilly area of around 25 square kilometres.
Branched Monkshood Aconitum degenii ssp. paniculatum
One of the beautiful beech forest valleys on the path to Porezen...
... to be soon destroyed by the construction of an absurd forest road to extract planted conifers from an inaccessible area, by removing several centenary beech trees. The hands of "progress" (actually profit) are reaching even the remotest and most beautiful corners of the Slovenian countryside.
Paniculate Bellflower Campanula witasekiana just out of the forest on the mountain pasture.
Ascent to Porezen along its southeastern ridge.
Steep & lush south-facing grassy slopes, with Martagon Lilies Lilium martagon still in fine flower.
"Pink Vipergrass" Scorzonera rosea
Julian Starthistle Centaurea haynaldii ssp. julica - an endmic of the Southeastern Alps.
Wood Cudweed Omalotheca sylvatica (Gnaphalium sylvaticum)
Julian Lousewort Pedicularis elongata ssp. julica, another endemic of the Southeastern Alps, with the type locality on nearby Mt. Črna prst.
Almost on top...
The monument on the top of Porezen, commemorating around 180 fallen partisans, during a fierce battle against SS troops in 1945.
The incredibly steep south-facing slopes of Porezen.
An there, among the tall umbellifers, some unexpected blue...
Alpine Eryngo Eryngium alpinum, also known as Queen of the Alps. An extremely rare species in Slovenia, growing virtually only on Mts. Porezen and Črna prst. It is found on the steepest slopes, where the human hand didn't manage to reach. In the past it was heavily collected and sold at markets, hence it disappeared from all but a few of its former localities. It was already rare at the beginning of the 20th century.
At the peak of its blooming, this amazing umbellifer (family Apiaceae) attracts a large variety of pollinators - watch the video below.
Bees & bumblebees feasting on Alpine Eryngo.

Several different species of bumblebee, including White-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lucorum 
(in the last pic above).
The greatest stand was lower down, in a difficult to access gully. The species favours rather moist grasslands in the tall herb communities, frequently occurrying with Alpine Leek Allium victorialis, around the treeline.
Alpine Eryngo Eryngium alpinum in great abundance.
Great Yellow Gentian Gentiana lutea ssp. symphyandra also growing nearby.
Danube Gentian Gentiana pannonica (an unfortunate name) is another characteristic plant with its type locality on Porezen (where it was first found and described by J.A. Scopoli in 1772). Only this plant was in flower, while 3 other specimen were still in buds.
"Large-headed Saw-wort" Serratula tinctoria ssp. macrocephala
Broken-belted Bumblebee Bombus soroeensis (see)
Pleurospermum Pleurospermum austriacum, a distinctive umbellifer of the tall herb community.
Ligusticum seguieri, another typical umbellifer of the tall herb community.
Wolfsbane Aconitum lycoctonum (A. vulparia)
Scheuchzer's Bellflower Campanula scheuchzeri
Rock Hare's-ear Bupleurum petraeum
Host's Saxifrage Saxifraga hostii
Paniculate Saxifrage Saxifraga paniculata
Wood Pink Dianthus sylvestris
Fringed Pink Dianthus monspessulanus & Mountain Leek Allium senescens (A. montanum)
Black Vanilla Orchid Nigritella (Gymnadenia) rhellicani
A fenced area with planted Alpine Eryngo Eryngium alpinum near the hut on top of Porezen. The sign says "don't collect mountain flowers" - a welcome and educative initiative, aimed at protecting this endangered species.
Porezen's mountain ridge.
View south to the Cerkno hills (Cerkljansko hribovje).
Mt. Črna prst (1844 m) - the only other mountain range in Slovenia with Alpine Eryngo.
Still struggling with the ID of this interesting longhorn beetle (Cerambycidae) on some beech logs at the side of the road.