I have recently paid two short visits to the Caucasus, the first to Georgia, in the south Caucasus, between 21 and 28 March and the second to the north and west Caucasus Republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Abkhazia, between 29 March and 6 April. Many of the snowdrops I had gone to see had already finished flowering but the woods and mountains were full of other spring flowers. Thanks to Dima Zubov, Olga Bondareva and Ruslan Mihustin for correcting some of my tentative identifications. I am to field botanists as Fawlty Towers’ Basil was to hoteliers.

Scilla siberica (or S. caucasica, if you prefer – Dima Zubov tells me that this name is no longer considered valid) is not quite ubiquitous in mid-montane forest in the Caucasus, but is so frequently present that, after a while, one’s brain starts to filter it out. But it is a lovely thing, especially when seen in large drifts.

Scilla sibirica, north of Tblisi, Georgia, 25/3/16.
Scilla siberica, north of Tblisi, Georgia, 25/3/16.
Scilla siberica and Corydalis sp., north of Tblisi, 26/3/16.
Scilla siberica, Anemone blanda and Corydalis angustifolia, north of Tblisi, 26/3/16.
Scilla siberica, Ingushetia, 1/4/16.
Scilla siberica, Ingushetia, 1/4/16. The snowdrop leaves are G. angustifolius.

Equally widespread, and flowering virtually wherever I went, was Thlapsi macrophyllum, better known under its synonym Pachyphragma macrophylla.

Thlapsi macrophyllum, Lagodekhi National Park, Georgia, 22/3/16.
Thlapsi macrophyllum, Lagodekhi National Park, Georgia, 22/3/16.
Thlapsi macrophyllum, Kabardino-Balkaria, 30/3/16.
Thlapsi macrophyllum, Kabardino-Balkaria, 30/3/16.

Primula vulgaris occurs over a vast range from the shores of the North Atlantic, to North-West Africa to eastern Turkey and the Caucasus. It is, unsurprisingly, very variable.

PrimVulg001
Primula vulgaris, pale yellow form, Abkhazia, 4/4/16.
Primula vulgaris, in a very pale yellow form, with a darker eye, Abkhazia, 5/4/16.
Primula vulgaris, in a very pale yellow form, with a darker eye, Abkhazia, 4/4/16.
Primula vulgaris subsp. rubra (syn. subsp. sibthorpii), near Zedazeni Monastery, Georgia, 26/3/16.
Primula vulgaris subsp. rubra (syn. subsp. sibthorpii), near Zedazeni Monastery, Georgia, 26/3/16.
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Primula vulgaris subsp. rubra (syn. subsp. sibthorpii), Bakuriani, Georgia, 23/3/16.

A fourth common component of the woodland spring flora in the Caucasus is the genus Corydalis. This large genus is taxonomically difficult and has been extensively revised in recent years. I’m hopelessly out of my depth attempting to identify species in the field, particularly without a reference book to hand. I am grateful to Olga Bondareva and Ruslan Mishustin, who corrected some of my more ham-fisted attempts at tentative identifications, on Facebook. Remaining mistakes are of course mine!

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Corydalis caucasica, in various colour forms, flowering with Scilla siberica, Kabardino-Balkaria, 29/3/16.
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Corydalis caucasica, interesting colour form, Kabardino-Balkaria, 30/3/16.
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Corydalis caucasica, Kabardino-Balkaria, 30/3/16.
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Corydalis caucasica, interesting colour form, Kabardino-Balkaria, 30/3/16.
Corydalis sp. Ingushetia, 2/4/16.
Corydalis caucasica, Ingushetia, 2/4/16.
CorydalisSp002
Corydalis caucasica forma alba Ingushetia, 2/4/16.
Corydalis cava subsp. marschalliana, Kabardino-Balkaria, 30/3/16.
Corydalis cava subsp. marschalliana, Kabardino-Balkaria, 30/3/16.
Corydalis caucasica forma alba (syn. C. malkensis), north of Tbilisi, Georgia, 25/3/16.
Corydalis angustifolia, north of Tbilisi, Georgia, 25/3/16.
SpringWoodland003
Corydalis angustifolia, flowering with Scilla siberica and Anemone blanda north of Tbilisi, Georgia, 25/3/16.

The final plant that was virtually ubiquitous wherever I went, was Dentaria quinquefolia, barely emerging in some places, finished flowering in others.

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Dentaria quinquefolia, Lagodekhi National Park, Georgia, 22/3/16.
CardQuinq
Dentaria quinquefolia, north of Kutaisi, Georgia, 24/3/16.

Cyclamen coum was rather frequent, in a variety of forms which may or may not deserve separate names. In most places it had already finished flowering, so it didn’t catch my eye, or my camera lens, very often.

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Cyclamen coum, near Bakuriani, Georgia, 23/3/16.
CycCoum003
Cyclamen coum, near Bakuriani, Georgia, 23/3/16.
CycCoum
Cyclamen coum, north of Tblisi, Georgia, 26/3/16.
CycCoum
Cyclamen coum, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Cyclamen coum, Abkhazia, 4/4/16.
Cyclamen coum, Abkhazia, 4/4/16.

Helleborus orientalis occurs patchily in the south Caucasus and around the south and east coasts of the Black Sea, penetrating inland some distance. I saw it frequently and, where it occurs, generally on limestone, it is often abundant. It was well on its way to setting seed in many places. Almost everywhere, the flowers are white, cream or greenish and big, compared with other related hellebore species. In Abkhasia, in some but not all places red, pink or purple-flowered forms occur and these are rather special.

Helleborus orientalis, Bakuriani, Georgia, 23/3/16.
Helleborus orientalis, Bakuriani, Georgia, 23/3/16.
Helleborus orientalis, Bakuriani, Georgia, 23/3/16.
Helleborus orientalis, Bakuriani, Georgia, 23/3/16.
Helleborus orientalis, Bakuriani, Georgia, 23/3/16. Note the persistent old leaves. Most hellebore species in this section of the genus are fully deciduous.
Helleborus orientalis, Bakuriani, Georgia, 23/3/16. Note the persistent old leaves. Most hellebore species in this section of the genus are fully deciduous.
Helleborus orientalis subsp. abchasicus, flowering with Galanthus krasnovii, Abkhasia, 4/4/16.
Helleborus orientalis subsp. abchasicus, flowering with Galanthus krasnovii, Abkhasia, 4/4/16.
Helleborus orientalis subsp. abchasicus, Abkhasia, 4/4/16.
Helleborus orientalis subsp. abchasicus, Abkhasia, 4/4/16.

Georgia is stuffed to the brim with species of Paeonia and we saw the foliage emerging in many of the woodlands that we visited. We were surprised to see one population of P. caucasica (formerly I believe now sunk into P. daurica, a concept that has lost most of its utility), already starting to flower, north of Kutaisi.

Paeonia caucasica, north of Kutaisi, Georgia, 24/3/16.
Paeonia caucasica, north of Kutaisi, Georgia, 24/3/16.
Paeonia caucasica, north of Kutaisi, Georgia, 24/3/16.
Paeonia caucasica, north of Kutaisi, Georgia, 24/3/16.

Inspired by this sighting, we later visited a well known site for P. tenuifolia, at Igoeti, not far from Tblisi but, although the spectacular foliage was emerging and buds were swelling, the plants were not yet in flower.

Paeonia tenuifolia, Igoeti, Georgia, 25/3/16.
Paeonia tenuifolia, Igoeti, Georgia, 25/3/16.

At one place in Abkhazia I saw a small colony of another peony species, perhaps P. caucasica again, not quite flowering.

Paeonia sp. Abkhazia, 4/4/16.
Paeonia sp. Abkhazia, 4/4/16.

Many tree species were also blooming, in numerous sites. Unfortunately I seem to have taken rather few photographs of them. I am sadly prone to ‘tree blindness’, a defect I plan to remedy, soon.

Cornus mas, north of Tblisi, 25/3/16. The fruits are used to make a tasty jam.
Cornus mas, north of Tblisi, 25/3/16. The fruits are used to make a tasty jam.
Pyrus salicifolia, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Pyrus salicifolia, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Crataegus sp., David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Crataegus sp., David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Malus sp? Ingushetia, 2/4/16, with defensive tower in the background.
Malus sp? Ingushetia, 2/4/16, with defensive tower in the background.

In a few woodlands in Georgia Anemone blanda was flowering. In the north Caucasus, the commonest Anemone species seemed to be A. ranunculoides. In most places, the latter species was not yet flowering or just coming into flower.

Anemone blanda, north of Tblisi, Georgia, 26/3/16.
Anemone blanda, north of Tblisi, Georgia, 26/3/16.
Anemone blanda, with Corydalis caucasica forma. alba and Scilla siberica, north of Tblisi, Georgia, 26/3/16.
Anemone blanda, with Corydalis angustifolius, Corydalis caucasica and Scilla siberica, north of Tblisi, Georgia, 26/3/16.
Anemone ranunculoides, flowering with Scilla siberica and Viola sp., Kabardino-Balkaria, 30/3/16.
Anemone ranunculoides, flowering with Scilla siberica and Viola sp., Kabardino-Balkaria, 30/3/16.
Anemone ranunculoides, Ingushetia, 2/4/16.
Anemone ranunculoides, Ingushetia, 2/4/16.

In one bit of damp woodland, near Zedazeni Monastery, we found a population of Leucojum aestivum, all the plants having two or more flowers per scape. I was distracted by a tiny population of Galanthus krasnovii, which we had found, and took only one picture of the Leucojum which was (whisper it quietly) rather more attractive than the snowdrop.

Leucojum vernum, near Zedazeni Monastery, Georgia, 26/3/16.
Leucojum aestivum, near Zedazeni Monastery, Georgia, 26/3/16.

At the same place, I snapped the following picture, which seems to me to capture the quintessence of spring in the woodlands of the Caucasus not because it’s a good photograph, I hasten to add, but because it give a sense of the extraordinary diversity and fecundity of these fabulous places.

Corydalis, Scilla, Colchicum, Aconitum, Cardamine flowering and emerging, Zedazeni Monastery, Georgia, 26/3/16.
Corydalis, Scilla, Colchicum, Aconitum, Dentaria flowering and emerging, Zedazeni Monastery, Georgia, 26/3/16.

On my last day in Georgia we switched landscapes completely, driving south to David Ghareji, in the semi-desert on the border with Azerbaijan. I had hoped to see Crocus biflorus subsp. adamii flowering, but we were too late. Instead we were treated to spectacular displays of two contrasting Iris species, both variable in colour: Iris (of the Juno persuasion) caucasica and I. pumila.

Iris caucasica, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris caucasica, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris caucasica, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris caucasica, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris caucasica, near Rustavi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris caucasica, near Rustavi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris caucasica, near Rustavi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris caucasica, near Rustavi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris pumila, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris pumila, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris pumila, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris pumila, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris pumila, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Iris pumila, David Ghareji, Georgia, 27/3/16.

We ended the day at Turtle Lake, an ugly, municipal ‘boating lake’, within the city limits of Tblisi. This being a Sunday, Tblisites (a Tblisite is to Tblisi as a Londoner is to London, according to my guide, Tolkha Shetekauri) were there in their thousands, trudging on a tarmac path around the muddy, green pond. On the hillside above them Fritillaria caucasica and huge drifts of a Muscari species were flowering but, as usual, almost everyone was looking the wrong way.

Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Fritillaria caucasica, Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Fritillaria caucasica, Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Fritillaria caucasica, Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Fritillaria caucasica, Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.

 

Muscari sp., possibly M. armeniacum? Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Muscari sp., possibly M. armeniacum? Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Muscari sp., possibly M. armeniacum? Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Muscari sp., possibly M. armeniacum? Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Fritillaria caucasica and Muscari sp., possibly M. armeniacum? Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.
Fritillaria caucasica and Muscari sp., possibly M. armeniacum? Turtle Lake, Tblisi, Georgia, 27/3/16.

The mountains of Ingushetia defy description. After several days of low cloud and drizzle, the sun shone out of a flawless blue sky throughout my first day there. A Crocus species, of the C. biflorus complex, was flowering in enormous numbers in high meadows, approaching and above the tree line.

Crocus biflorus subsp.? Ingushetia, 1/4/16.
Crocus reticulatus Ingushetia, 1/4/16.
Crocus biflorus subsp.? Ingushetia, 1/4/16.
Crocus reticulatus Ingushetia, 1/4/16.
Crocus biflorus subsp.? Ingushetia, 1/4/16.
Crocus reticulatus Ingushetia, 1/4/16.

 

In much smaller numbers, or perhaps it was not yet flowering, or had finished, was a Colchicum or Merendera species. I confess that I just can’t summon up the enthusiasm to try to identify these pretty and variable, but difficult to separate, plants to species (or even genus) level. Any suggestions?

Colchicum or Merendera species, Ingushetia, 1/4/16.
Colchicum or Merendera species, Ingushetia, 1/4/16.

The low-elevation woodlands near the eastern coast of the Black Sea are mild, though subject to large, sudden falls of snow when the moist sea breezes meet freezing winter temperatures. The plants we saw in flower were quite different to those I’d found at higher elevations in the Caucasus.

Aristolichia steupii, with implausibly alien flowers, was one of the most spectacular. Many thanks to Denis Shipman on Facebook, for the identification.

Aristolochia steupii, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Aristolochia steupii, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Aristolochia steupii, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Aristolochia steupii, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.

A small plug, by the way. You can follow Revolution Snowdrops, if you ‘do’ Facebook.

Epimedium pinnatum subsp. colchicum was just starting to flower near Sochi. In one or two places in Abkhazia, it was slightly further ahead. I value this species as much for its mottled evergreen foliage, as for the cheerful, yellow flowers.

Epimedium pinnatum subsp. colchicum, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Epimedium pinnatum subsp. colchicum, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
EpiPub004
Epimedium pinnatum subsp. colchicum, Abkhazia, 4/4/16.

I had previously seen Scopolia carniolica, an interesting [calcicole] member of the Solanaceae family, only in Croatia and I’d thought it was confined to the Balkans, so I stopped short, when I saw it, almost finished flowering, in a flourishing colony, in deep shade, at the base of a limestone cliff near Sochi.

Scopolia carniolica, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Scopolia carniolica, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
ScopCarn001
Scopolia carniolica, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.

In the same woodland were scattered, spreading colonies of Paris incompleta, with vast numbers of Allium ursinum and fewer Veratrum nigrum.

Paris incompleta, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Paris incompleta, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Paris incompleta, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Paris incompleta, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.

I realise that it hardly counts as a flowering plant, but I am very fond of Ruscus colchicus, which is common in deeply shaded and high elevation woodlands in these eastern Black Sea coastal regions.

Ruscus hypophyllum, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.
Ruscus colchicus, near Sochi, Russia, 3/4/16.

Flowering with and above a large population of Galanthus krasnovii in Abkhazia, was Erythronium caucasicum, most plants going over.

Erythronium caucasicum, Abkhazia, 4/4/16.
Erythronium caucasicum, Abkhazia, 4/4/16.

Along one lovely road in Abkhazia, we saw numerous small populations of Scilla monanthos, of the form known locally as Scilla winogradowii. Thanks again to Olga Bondareva for putting me straight on the identity of this plant.

Scilla monanthos (syn. Scilla winogradowii), Abkhazia, 5/4/16.
Scilla monanthos (syn. Scilla winogradowii), Abkhazia, 5/4/16.
Scilla monanthos (syn. Scilla winogradowii), Abkhazia, 5/4/16.
Scilla monanthos (syn. Scilla winogradowii), Abkhazia, 5/4/16.

Finally, in the same place, a pretty little Oxalis species was flowering.

Oxalis sp. Abkhazia, 5/4/16.
Oxalis sp. Abkhazia, 5/4/16.

I hope that rumours that I am interested only in snowdrops are now banished!

2 thoughts

  1. Hi Tom again!
    great article as well!!!!!!!

    just a little bit correction on right naming:
    Dentaria quinquefolia, not Cardamine now
    Leucojum aestivum
    Ruscus colchicus
    Allium victorialis, not ursinum
    Merendera trigyna
    Crocus reticulatus in Ingushetia, not biflorus
    In this your photo the prominent leaves belong to Ornithogalum arcuatum, although Scilla siberica is also flowering on a pic ))) http://i2.wp.com/www.revolution-snowdrops.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/SpringWoodland005.jpg
    also it is really Scilla siberica on all your pics, not Scilla caucasica in current Helena Mordak (LE) treatment and S. caucasica species concept.
    this is S. caucasica on my pics from Armenia https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1387370021582413&set=a.1387368558249226.1073741837.100009282841117&type=3&theater

    all the best,
    Dima Zubov.

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