A litany of praise

on the descent from Kriovrisi, at the back of Olympus

A slide show litany might be a way to overcome or avoid altogether the difficulties I’m having writing this piece, which is to follow on from my embarrassment at getting lost and being stuck in a little red car when I had thought I was one of the elect, not one of the crowd. Thought I could strike out into unknown territory, off the map, beat my own track.

The descent from Kriovrisi was the most exciting part of the road at the back of Olympus. I walked up and down one day, and down and up the next. The new, widened road curves through a ridge with folds and takes you from upland pasture dotted with trees and shrubs down to the plain. To one side of the road there are in places steep drops, and it seems that a lot of rubble has been thrown down over the slopes; on the other side there are some little rocky crags with scrub oak. A little higher on the ridge you can just see where the old track was – or tracks – flat stony ground covered with thyme. It’s a topographical curiosity and without re-visiting it hard to describe. It might be useful to goats and sheep but they have better grazing on the downs above, and I didn’t see that many animals in the area; arable farming is more important there. You don’t see the relentless grazing of poverty that you find in parts of the Peloponnese and on other Greek mountains. So the descent from Kriovrisi is a new working of a historic landscape, which is not primarily agricultural, nor is it ‘wild’, it’s linear, shaped by transport, it’s a landscape of edges, of no interest to anybody because you just pass through it. I would like to analyse and describe it better, but I would need to go there again, and I would need to be able to speak Greek.

Sometimes in places like that do old people go walking just to see who might pass by? The road itself might be the source of interest.

Earlier in the day – actually I’m not sure if it was the first day or the second day – I met man an old man with a stick walking slowly down the road just outside one of the villages as I was scrambling up a rocky bank to see what I could see, and we waved to each other. Ten minutes later I had got back to the car and he was coming back from his walk, and he reached his big hand in through the car window, a heavy, worker’s hand and we shook hands warmly – I think in these days of almost no physical contact you remember those things clearly, I can still feel the warmth of his hand, and how small mine felt in his – and he talked, and I said my few words. Sometimes to be an object of curiosity is such a good thing! And to feel that my eccentric scrambling about was of interest to him. How much I could have learnt from a meeting like that! I say old man but he might not been that old of course. How old am I? He could be weakened by work injury illness poverty. I imagine now the kind of conversation we might have had in order for me to find out. What shortcuts, what gestures, what essential nouns and verbs without grammatical accompaniments might help understanding, and what patience.)

These are the villages: Kallipefki, Karya, Sikaminia, Kriovrisi. I’d like to walk that road one day, and go into the villages which the road just skirts; their centres are all set apart. The road goes in a loop around and above Kriovrisi, you look down on the rooftops almost hidden among trees, big elders were full of fat blossoms. I glimpsed a little neglected football pitch bright yellow with flowers.

The front of Olympus is all limestone, here at the back and especially on the descent from Kriovrisi there is flaky, shiny, schistose stuff, so no gorges and no cliffs. I know that my experience is very limited, but I saw many plants on one side that I didn’t see on the other, and vice versa. Up to then all the hills and mountains I’d visited in Greece had been of limestone and marble, so this was a new world.

A slide show to give some idea of the richness to be seen in less than half a mile on the descent from Kriovrisi. Here are no exciting endemics or rare alpines, just a profusion of common roadside plants, though some were in their thousands and others just in one small patch.

What follows is not really blog-like, I mean it’s too long and rambling, but I needed to set it down. Repetition, gong round in circles, is of course part of the ‘narrative’. I will shortly be returning to sensible Garden Notes, although at first I’m afraid the major topic will be humiliation and disappointment.

after dipping into John Stilgoe’s Landscape and Images ….. I had thought myself to be the ‘elect walker’ who would be blessed by revelation, by my sympathetic understanding of my surroundings. So what was I doing in the car? The little red car… of course it took me there, it led me on – yes, it led me on, it deceived me, promising an easy approach to enlightenment while actually preventing me from seeing and causing me to get lost.

And because I later skimmed over the landscape of the back of Olympus I didn’t see enough, I saw much which I didn’t understand. I only have those fragments, chiefly the rough hand extended in friendship through the window of the car. Instead of seeking him out, through my awkward lack of Greek I had got back into the car and he then approached me. So later I understood that I needed to return and walk all that road, and be able to go into the villages and look for people, and be able to understand them. Foolish to pride myself on my discoveries, my private places separate from the worlds of my guides up to that point, Flohe, Richards and Gibbon, if I then did not take the time and have the language to be able to go into the villages which I hurried through in the little red car looking at forest, meadows, wide open pasture, small craggy hills, arable plain, damp ditches and the roadsides swarming with flowers.

But it must be said, these little hire cars are like none that I’ve ever had before: easy, responsive, reliable, air-conditioned. And it occurs to me that Klaas Kamstra (see his excellent site of photos of Greek mountain flowers, link below) sometimes includes his camper van in his mountain photos – it’s his place, it’s home and it takes him to wild lonely places. It has the decent clearance you need for dirt roads. Modern cars, usually all that are offered by hire companies, hug the road and so collide with rocks.

March 2. When I got up this morning I seemed to have found way through the tangle. A thread! Follow it backwards…..

The old man with the rough hand whom I met on the border between village and open countryside; he was close enough to the village for the daily walk of an old man with a stick. (He might not been that old of course. How old am I? He could be weakened by work injury illness poverty. I imagine now the kind of conversation we might have had for me to find out. What shortcuts, what gestures, what essential nouns without grammatical accompaniments might help understanding, and what patience.)

Trespassing

On my walk from Cornwall to Scotland in 1972 I came through Cold Ashton where we lived in the 1950’s and next door to our old house I met Mr Lewis outside his house. He greeted the long haired stranger with a big rucksack warmly, the native accepting the wanderer. So friendly and sufficient was this encounter, and on that walk so unusual, for I was timid and anti-social, that I didn’t tell him who I was, there seemed no need. Often though on that walk I felt like a trespasser, unentitled on land often owned by the titled, even on public footpaths. I would find a hidden spot near sunset to camp, and be off again early in the morning. Liberation came in the north, on democratic canal towpaths, where you could walk for miles without stiles or fences and everybody said hello, and on the Pennine Way too. But was it also slightly disappointing to become normal, losing the doubtful romance of the vagrant, the deviant? It adds to the passion of John Clare’s poetry, that feeling of being excluded even in his own parish, excluded by the enclosure of the commons, and seeing the surveyors marking out in the fields the route of the railway line to Scotland.

John Stilgoe (in Landscape and Images, 2005,) makes the distinction between what he calls landschaft and landscape. Landschaft is village and outlying fields and woods and commons, it’s what makes up the whole lived territory of a community, a familiar word, with a centre. By landscape he means for example the view from the train, the way in the 19th century people began to see the country in a linear way as they sped through it, and on the line between stations the villages are reduced to a glimpse of a church spire and a huddle of houses; you see a range of hills, not the hill.

Patterns of Settlement

On my linear progression at the back of Mount Olympus I avoided the villages, partly through embarrassment at my truly feeble grasp of Greek, but partly also because there were so many flowers to see. And time is always short. Now of course I’m more curious. And those villages are not like the empty ones in the Peloponnese: the mountain has blessed the surrounding valleys and plains with decent alluvial soil, there is still farming. (In parts of the Peloponnese and Crete all agricultural production is down to goats and bees, which are able to thrive on the phrygana, the name they have there for the eroded, rocky hillsides, like maquis in French.) The old man’s hand spoke of farming.

In Greece, if you don’t go through villages you don’t go past houses. Outside tourist areas that is. Everybody lived in close villages. The countryside is open, so walkers – and goats – can go where they like, and the villages are packed tight. The exact opposite of this is the plantation settlement of Ulster, which is shown clearly by the geometry of the map: straight lines of minor roads march across country with lanes going off at regular intervals to isolated farmhouses. This made it easier to assassinate protestant farmers. Isolated farms in England also made attractive targets for rick burners in the 19th century protesting against the unemployment brought about by mechanisation. Better to huddle together in villages. On the other hand isolated farmhouses well defended by noisy sheepdogs intimidate the stranger and I have sometimes gone to great thorny lengths to skirt them.

plantation landscape, County Antrim

Dogs

The worst dogs though are the ones attached to wandering flocks of sheep: wherever the sheep are is their territory, which is everywhere. Once in Romania five dogs with sheep about half a mile away across open scrubby grazing land came in furious race towards us, the small ones in front – a complete set – the shepherd could have called them off but didn’t. S. was behind me and I backed away, facing them, waving my stick hopefully. I tripped over a low thorny bush and gashed my leg but the dogs held back from the kill. They seemed to be satisfied with their display of wrath and our humiliation. Just outside Delphi I took a shortcut through an olive grove and was hailed by a man sitting outside a pick-up fifty yards or so away by the roadside. He turned out to be speak quite good English, and warned me to stick to the road because of his dogs. I said, curious to know, would they actually bite me? He said yes, they would. Not his land, but his dogs have the right to attack. So I walked on along the road and bugger me this enormous dog spotted me through the trees and followed me closely, angrily, snarling and growling, all the way to the very edge of the town. It only stopped when we came to the first parked coach and I must have drawn courage from being in the almost urban world of 21st century tourism and felt enraged that this creature, about the size of a small car, was still threatening me. I screamed abuse at it and it decided that it had gone far enough. As I came past the coach there was the driver patiently polishing his windscreen, ignoring all the screams and barking. We were just part of the boredom of being a tourist coach driver I suppose. I couldn’t help wondering, how badly would the dog have bitten me if I had been too near the sheep? I mean, would it have torn me to pieces or just taken a wee lump out of my leg? This question seems important and I’ve not yet found an answer. Or in an emergency could I have outrun it? It looked like an ageing overweight arthritic heavyweight boxer, as it trotted it waddled. The only dog ever to bite me was a cunning collie. I passed by a farmyard on a public lane and out it came barking, and it followed me in a creeping collie way as I hurried guiltily by, turning round often to keep an eye on it, and then just when I though I was safely past it nipped in and bit me on the bum. Painful, but only a nip. Collies can be dangerous but they’re not killers.

Walking and Driving, Piss Stops

To and fro one day, with KEOAX as my disappointing destination, I stopped on the way back on the curving ascent to Kriovrisi in the evening as clouds gathered and the mountains darkened and rain began to fall, and I decided to do it again the next day, only this time in the knowledge that the journey was the destination. But of course I should have walked the whole way. As it was the day became an exciting confusion of almost random stops with little walks in a great variety of landscapes, and with the descent and then once again the ascent, from and towards Kriovrisi, at the centre. So a linear experience of the landscape with the freedom of the open road, but also lots of destinations, the feeling that almost anywhere could be not just a point on the open road but a place in its own right.

I only saw the lizard orchid after I’d started to walk, even though it was only inches away from the tarmac. When you see something like that you find that you like talking to yourself, in an exclamatory kind of way, and that you seem to get a reply. The first lizard orchid I saw – and the only one for many years – was by a road side in Spain when I stopped the car for a pee. (Only last year while visiting my sister in Spain another piss stop took me to a wasp’s nest curiously engineered between dead thistle stalks.) Just outside Grenoble a few years ago we found a beauty about to open right by a popular path which climbs the hill to the fort above the river which guarded the city. And then again by the roadside above the gorges de la Meouge, a tower of frills on full display. Do they love roadsides? How much walking would I need to do away from roads and paths to answer that question? But I’m sure that roadsides are precious, and even though so many in this country have just become a waste of cow parsley, all fine detail smothered, that still makes for an unmissable display for those in cars. And there is much to see on motorway verges, even at 70 miles an hour.

after a dry winter and a dry spring in the Buech, S.E. France, this fabulous lizard orchid defied the dusty drought

But when I go back I will explore further, going away from the roadside and from the rocky ridges where the old paths can still be seen beneath the flowers, to try to find out how all those plants arrived there, especially the ones by the new road, which look as if they’ve been at home there for ever, but clearly haven’t. Are they like the famous ragwort whose seeds were blown by passing trains a little further along the railway line from Oxford to London every year? Just above the descent, on the open rolling downs, most of the flowers I saw were different ones. And down below, different again. And then on the way up to KEOAX the real mountain flowers are found by the roadside, where they seem to take refuge from the heavily grazed, almost barren hillsides, and they are different too. What might seem like a steady, linear progression, with slowly changing views of the same broad mass of mountains, with one arable plain giving way to another, is revealed as a succession of radically different places. Only in one spot, the white poppy! Only one small rough limestone hillside rising up from the fields, on the edge of Karya, covered with a simple design of white yarrow and yellow mullein.

A Place to Stay

Like local walks my thoughts make links and wander between places in my memory, all in the same narrow parish.

I said I was following the thread backwards … but it soon becomes a tangle.

It surprises me how few people stay in one place in the mountains, make that their place just for a few days and explore the surrounding valleys and peaks. In the Alps there will often be at the end of the road a place to stay, a simple guest house or a refuge at the intersection between wheeled traffic and walking, at a threshold. It’s rare that anybody else stays for more than one night. Stilgoe speaks about ‘defined, imaginable space’, the kind which was lost to the speedy traveller on 19th century railways and of course later to motorists.

‘Today’s children’ – he was writing in the 1980’s – ‘can hardly conceive of a medieval landschaft isolated from the rest of the world by feared wilderness, fully realised by every inhabitant, and space is defined by the road, and linearity shapes their vision of what space ought to be. In their strassenromantik (i.e. the romance of the road) of exploring and wandering, and in the fantasy and science fiction they so frequently read, the road and the quest are dominant metaphors. Thoreau and Henry Beston are suspect; they stay too much at home. Hobbits, apprentice magicians, and neophyte priests, on the other hand, are respected for searching into space, for following roads however dangerous and indistinct…. ‘ From Landschaft and Linearity: Two Archetypes of Landscape, in Landscape and Images by John R. Stilgoe.

I think he overstates the divide. Hobbits after all are famous for staying at home, just that they become much more interesting when they undertake an adventure. And exploration and wandering can take place within the parish, as he himself describes in accounts based on his own childhood of the landscape shaping adventures of boys in muddy creeks and tangled woods.

Footpaths Long or Local

But the walker is now encouraged, in places almost compelled to stick to the straight and narrow of the long distance footpath. Not so much the quest as the pilgrimage has become the dominant metaphor for the serious walker. OS maps highlight and name long distance footpaths; their stiles are generally well maintained by landowners who are paid to do so and frequent signposts make it hard to get lost. The little inconsequential paths linking woods with fields with villages with outlying farms, not really going anywhere, often forming loops and leading you back where you started, paths which remain centred on one place and have no proper linear ambition, paths like a friendly conversation rather than a thesis for a doctorate, they tend to become lost, unless used by the local dog walkers in which case there will be, even in fully rural settings, notices about dog poo. These paths are more indistinct on the map, and often get blocked by farmers, and who can blame them when hardly anybody uses them, or they become choked with brambles and nettles.

I suppose I’m like a hobbit myself, a hobbit easily tempted by the prospect of an adventure, who wishes he’d stayed home when he encounters a fierce dog. And on my to and fro, to and fro at the back of Mount Olympus I wanted to have it both ways, to enjoy relaxed, old fashioned motoring, which is a joy in rural Greece – and in the Highlands of Scotland on those single track roads which demand courtesy – and to stop and realise the detail of Stilgoe’s ‘defined, imaginable space’, to do the imagining and defining for myself even. If only I was better at identifying and naming the plants – and knew more about geology, and had a better eye for the birds, and could speak Greek….

Speed

Even the devotees are in a hurry. Flohe, page 246, on the lower slopes of Smolikas in northern Greece: … we could spend hours on end in this location alone, but we climb on, as we have planned to spend only one day on Mount Smolikas and we want to look for Lilium albanicum … and on page 247, not much further on …. the flora here is very colourful …. we would certainly be able to find several other species further up, but it is getting late. I spent too long in that beautiful woodland glade admiring the Albanian lily. Therefore we decide to head back.

Or from the village of Athanasios Diakos in the Vardousia massif he recommends a track about 1km north of the village, on which you can drive in a 4 wheel drive vehicle up to the Stavros pass…. this means that you can cover a long distance in a short time and quickly reach a botanically very exciting area.

But he discovers also the joy of not being able to cover long distances at the wheel on Mount Giona where great blocks of fallen stone defeat the 4 by 4 and continuing on foot he finds, a rare botanical treasure, a bell flower that I had dreamed longingly for many years of finding: Campanula aizoon …. right in the middle of the path in front of me, so I could choose the finest specimens to photograph without any exertion or effort. New roads and abandoned roads both create fertile seed beds, the one beside it, the other in the middle of it.

Names and Places

John Richards, in Mountain Flower Walks, the Greek Mainland, is also in a hurry. He has only been able to visit Falakro once, but his extraordinary knowledge and powers of observation enable him to see and identify many plants, but to be aware of what he has not seen. We failed to find Viola delphinantha, Haberlea rhodopensis, Dryas octopetala or Fritillaria drenovskyi. We expect that the former two species mostly occur on limestone or marble cliff faces in the forest zone; we may have been too late to discover the fritillary and too early for the Dryas in one of only three Greek stations. I found the haberlea just where he said it would be. And I felt myself fortunate (and maybe clever?) to have picked a moment at the very end of May when I found the last of the fritillaries and the first of the dryas.

But it’s strange that he suggests that the reason the mountain is so little visited outside the skiing season is that it lacks scenic features. True, the flowery slopes all above the big carpark would be dull for the lover of the picturesque and the sublime, but a shortish walk up to the top on the south side leads to a great complex of cliffs and cwms and precipitous ridges above the forest: this is where the dryas grows, right on the edge.

In his introduction Richards discusses book v. internet. He admits that the internet helps to find good places to look for plants, but although the internet can be a good source of information it can also be misleading. Indeed it can be very misleading. But you can access some of his writings n the internet and when I do I trust what I read because it’s him. Books can also be misleading. Web-based info is incomplete and ‘can be produced in several different languages.’ You might as well say, people talk in several different languages. ! Several? – Many. But English is way out in front.

He goes on to say, even today, not everyone uses the internet, and you can’t put a computer in your pocket in the field (well you can, it is called a blackberry, but not many hill walkers own one, or would risk one in the field!) As was frequently asserted when this series was discussed by the Alpine Garden Society, ‘there is nothing like a book’. Well, I love a book myself but some age faster than others and this one was published in 2008. I would love it if there were a website to which I could add my little tips and discoveries. I could say, for example, that the road up to Pangeo in 2019 was fast becoming deeply rutted and rubble strewn, and that beyond the little bowl between two rounded peaks near the top it becomes impassable; no longer can you drive up to the radio mast. I could say where to find the host of haberleas on the damp shady rocks above Pyrgoi. And next time, if there is one, that I go back to Falakro I’ll walk further and find the famous chionotrypa, the snow hole which Constantin Goulamis described as long ago as 1968. How could I have missed it! One always goes so slowly…

. a cavity about 25 metres deep and 60 metres wide in the form of a volcano’s crater. The bottom of this cavity is covered by snow which is said nevder to melt… Below the highest peak and Chionotrypa yawns an enormous chasm of limestone rock. The rim of this chasm is about 2000 metres above sea level and towers about 900 m over the bottom of the chasm. It has the shape of a horseshoe and is about two miles long. Both along this rim and on the rocks which protrude from the walls of the chasm grows a flora of great richness. From Wild Flowers of Greece by Constantine Goulandris with illustrations by Niki Goulandris.

He then lists twenty nine plants. To the lover of alpine plants it reads like my granddaughter’s christmas list, ambitious, glorious, and it includes Viola delphinantha, which John Richards was looking for.

Marginalised

When I came home I thought I could post something on the online forum of the Alpine Garden Society only to find that it had been discontinued because, so they told me, there was little demand for it. The names would mean something to them (if not to you…), and of course I would have left out all the other stuff. The other words, like kiosk. My embarrassing competitiveness with the experts, the feeling that the back of Olympus was somehow my discovery. How I got lost. The extraordinary vividness of getting lost, the attempt to overcome rising panic with determined action: leaving the car at the beginning of the steep, rutted, sandy track and setting off on foot, then when I caught sight of a building through the trees leaving the track and trampling through bracken – noticing: bracken again! – all the more forcefully because I knew I was being stupid. And feeling all the more stupid because I couldn’t properly use the high-tech phone in my pocket, and because I was just off the edge of my map – like falling off the flat earth’s edge – and because I couldn’t speak Greek even if there were someone to speak to, and feeling enraged by the esoteric nature of google maps, by its extensive blanks and absences and the little variously coloured tear drops indicating god knows what but no doubt paid for as advertisements. The combination of circumstances seems to act as a powerful catalyst to the memory. Everything remains vivid, so striking a contrast with the usual fog of forgetting. This has given me some insight into post-traumatic stress.

And the AGS magazine doesn’t even print any letters. Most of the articles in the magazine are written by experts. People who know hundreds of different kinds of primula, for example, and are active in hybridization and the selection of new varieties. Though always aware of the risk of mass extinction they are also discovering and naming, even on our tired little old planet, new things. Occasionally an article appears which is written by a more ordinary flower fancier, often an account of an organised tour. I was upset to find in a recent issue a version of an article I could have written better myself, about that very part of Greece which I have just visited. Instead of my solitary discoveries we have trips in a minibus with a brilliant local leader who knows just where to find each desired plant and, if you don’t know, tells you its name. (And everybody speaks latin and you stay in nice hotels and eat lovely food and no day is too long because you don’t waste time searching; you’re taken straight to each generous place.) And with the whole world to cover, from Patagonia (amazing plants to be seen there, I see, like lots of violas which have evolved structures like sempervivums to cope with the high desert conditions, rosettes of thick, hard leaves) to Kazakhstan and Armenia, they would hardly welcome two articles in a row on the mountains of north eastern Greece.

Sometime I feel like a threatened species myself. My habitat is isolated, shrinking. I found a reference in the blessed Oliver’s book to a study he had made of landscape in Greece – you might remember that in Skylarks I quoted him on the freedom a walker has in Greece compared with England – butg when I looked it up online I found that I had to either pay £40 to read it or register with the Cambridge University Press – yes, sorry, this another IT/modern world complaint. Even after I’d gone though the lengthy tedium of registration – I clicked on the verification link, I received an email saying that I’m successfully signed up with Cambridge Core, my account is now ready to use – I found myself still prevented from reading the article. So I sent an email via the ‘help’ feature, a couple of weeks ago, and they haven’t replied. I thought, Cambridge University, that’s my ‘institution’, or it was, a long time ago – you have to have an institution – I thought that would work.

Resources

These are very helpful as guides both to the location and the names of plants:

Wildflowers of mainland Greece by Johannes Flohe is an enthusiastic account of his travels and includes common roadside plants as well as the mountain rarities.

The Travellers’ Nature Guide to Greece, by Bob Gibbons, includes remote forests and wetlands, and features birds, butterflies etc. as well as plants.

Mountain Flower Walks, the Greek Mainland by John Richards, published by the Alpine Garden Society, covers fewer areas but in greater detail. He is an eminent botanist and gardener.

Klaas Kamstra: https://greekmountainflora.info has been visiting Greece for more than twenty years. His site covers most of the mountains of Greece, and some of the lowlands. The photos are excellent, each one with a date, which is most helpful.

Marinj van den Brink: https://photos.v-d-brink.eu/ This is a huge site, but includes tours of Greece. He was in a hurry.

Flowers of Greece and the Balkans by Oleg Polunin is now forty years old and has bad photos but some good drawings. It’s a good guide to identification if you can name all the botanical parts and use it properly, which I don’t, and contains outline guides to some of the more interesting mountain areas.

The full botanical name of a plant includes the initials of the botanist or sometimes pair of botanists whose definition and naming of it has been internationally accepted; that is a kind of possession. Here are a few of the immortals from the genus onosma, ‘a very difficult genus, particularly in the Balkans’, (Polunin):

O. graeca Boiss., O. arenaria Waldst & Kit., O. erecta Sibth. & Sm., O. leptantha Heldr.

And if that definition is challenged, as they sometimes are these days through DNA analysis, a botanist may lose his tag, he no longer has his marker attached to that plant. I say ‘his’: in all my awed glancing at the literature I have not come across a single female namer of plants.

These resources also help you to identify plants, (and not just to put a name to them – they help you to get to know them.) I’m hopeless at using botanical keys. Imagine if the only way you could recognise an old friend or a distant relative was by measuring the length of the hairs that stick out of his nostrils. (ed. I was about to change ‘his’ to ‘theirs’ when I realised that the nostril hair thing only applies to elderly males.) I can make quite subtle distinctions between plants with which I’m familiar in gardens from the look of them. I couldn’t describe those differences. Even when I pay attention to what I think are the crucial characteristics of flowers of a particular big genus, like thymus or viola which each have dozens of representatives in Greece, even if I check out their hairiness or smoothness, (etc) when I get back to the book I find I’ve ignored some vital detail, or forgotten what I’ve seen, or taken a photo which, though close up and detailed, still disguises the part I need to see. But John Richards will guide you to a particular spot and indicate some of the plants you will find there. Johannes Flohe saw the dracunculus just outside Litochoro; if its a long lived plant I may well have seen the very same one.

Why do I need to name everything? Well, I don’t. I’ve actually more or less given up with a lot of the common things, which tend to be ignored by the experts, leaving me without their help. Roughly speaking, the rare, special plants are easily named. Gentiana verna subsp. balcanica grows on Falakro. It’s the only gentian I saw there. Richards mentions it, Klaas Kamstra took photos of it, Johannes Flohe enthuses about it. But what is that very common violet-blue flower , one of the labiatae, maybe a teucrium, or could it be a stachys or a satureja – I’m not even sure of the genus, let alone the species. It’s lost in the crowd. It is the crowd.

Naming and Owning

But it’s important to me to name most things, not to give up on all the plants I can’t name. Naming is what Adam did in Eden. Naming and classifying have always preoccupied botanists. I don’t like to put a photo in my blog and give it a caption, as some people do, like ‘beautiful flower in the mountains .’ I don’t like to be ignorant. Maybe I’m one of those people that DH Lawrence was referring to when he said that their so-called love of flowers was just a kind of possessiveness. Though he was talking about gardens it applies also to plants in the wild; by naming them we own them. The full botanical name of a plant includes the initials of the botanist or sometimes pair of botanists whose definition and naming of it has been internationally accepted; that is a kind of possession. Here are a few of the immortals from the genus onosma, ‘a very difficult genus, particularly in the Balkans’, (Polunin):

O. graeca Boiss., O. arenaria Waldst & Kit., O. erecta Sibth. & Sm., O. leptantha Heldr.

You might remember Heldr. – Heldreich – from his most famous tag: Jankaea heldreichii

And if that definition is challenged, as they sometimes are these days through DNA analysis, a botanist may lose his tag, he no longer has his marker attached to that plant. I say ‘his’: in all my awed glancing at the literature I have not come across a single female namer of plants.

Thankyou very much if you got this far. I’ll see if I can find a nice photo to end with. We’ll go back to the back of Olympus. The white poppy, by the way, was easy to identify in the end because it’s the only white one I could see in the books.

the plain just outside Karya – ok, there are one or two farms outside the village
Papaver dubium album near Sikaminea

And thankyou to those who helped me see how you see these posts on-line when I was worried about the photos being distorted.

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1 Response to A litany of praise

  1. Judy says:

    I first looked at the photo from the email I received telling me about a new post. When I click to comment, the photo changes – the yellow flowers become elongated – no longer in focus.

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