February 8, 2014


Krasnaya Polyana? Yes, it's where Snowboarding in Sochi currently rules…..but in the summer, these hills are alive with the sound of  plant people botanizing. This resort area known as the 'Switzerland of Russia', was off limits to any Westerner until maybe, hopefully now. This area around Sochi opens up a new botanical world to explore.

The answer is obviously, Sochi Russia, and with the Winter Olympics well under way, we are getting a chance to see some of the impressive scenery that exists in these remote villages in the western Caucasus'. Particularly in the small village of Krasnaya Polyana, where  most of the snowboard  events are held. Knows to Russians, for both skiing and summer hiking, few outside of the country have ever had a chance to visit, and explore these peaks and valleys so rich in flora. As I watch the snowboard events today, with those breathtaking images of icy rivers and footage of inspiring snow capped peaks in the NBC bumpers and interstitials, I can't help but wonder about the inspiring adventures we could have there soon - searching for plant species as we hike and explore a region which, until recently, was difficult if not impossible to visit as an American.

In he autumn, the high elevation areas around Sochi offer spectacular scenery with streams, waterfalls and forests as well as one of most plant species diverse areas in on the planet in its alpine region.

Aside from the natural beauty and friendly people of this mountainous region, where the Caucasus truly become valuable is with its botanic treasures, many species which are unique to this area, are related to the forests along the same latitude ( primarily maples, beech and spruces), but in the high mountain meadows, and high mountain forests, the real treasures lie. Hellebores, Trolius, Delphinium and a few choice Galanthus ( Snowdrop)  species only found on these slopes, yet tragically, one the five known sites of an endangered snowdrop, Panjutin's snowdrop (Galanthus panjutini),  which was just recognized in 2012, was reportedly destroyed by construction crews preparing the area for these very Olympic games. The species is now considered to be Endangered according to IUCN Red List criteria, as it is known from only five locations, and its only area of occupancy (AOO) is estimated to be 20 square kilometers, with a major part of that now destroyed due to the new Olympic facilities.

 On a lighter note, the Olympic Snowboard events are held in the small resort town of Krasnaya Poliana, a name which in English translates roughly into Red Meadow. The alpine plant authority Vojtech Holubec mentioned in his book THE CAUCASUS AND IT'S FLOWERS (Loxia 2006) states that the name may come from bright red autumn foliage of a large Rumex species which is abundant on these slopes.

Mountainous areas around the world are popular with plant people, where trails and lifts open up areas which would typically be inaccessible if it were not for ski resorts, and their gondolas.

Most mountainous areas share the same genus are certain elevations, like Pulsatilla, Anemone Trollius and Gentiana, these are the Pasque Flowers,  Buttercups and Gentians we all see on place mats at ski resorts, but the same genus here are unique. Pulsatilla aurea instead of the species common in the Swiss Alps, Pulsatilla alpina for instance. Of course, there are over 33 species of Pulstatila worldwide, each specific to a different mountain range, but without getting too geeky, those species of most alpine plants in the Caucasus are perhaps the most undiscovered, and when it comes to botanizing - hiking to see plants and then identifing them, photographing them and yes, Instagraming them, the Caucasus are going to offer us a whole new world to discover soon.

Other plants you may know, but which have rare relatives which hail the Caucasus include many species of Peony such as Paeonia mlokosewitschii (yeah, Molly-the-Witch), the ferny leaved alpine peony, P. tenuifolia, P caucasicam, P. wittmanniana and P. lagodechiana. Now, add to this many species of Corydalis, Saxifraga, many rare Primroses not in cultivation (Primula), and many campanula species and you can start to see how rich this area is with plants - and I haven't even mentioned bulbs. If you are interested in hiking and exploring the Krasnaya Polyana area, you may want to visit the website Russkie Prostori, which presents many of the hikes and trails in the area which is also known as the Switzerland of Russia.

Now that there are modern lifts in at the ski resorts, it will be easier to explore the alpine flora in Krasnaya Polyana. which offers more species per square meter than any mountain in the Swiss Alps.

 I hope the events go well, for both the athletes and for the people who live in this once remote area of Russia, for now that there are hotels and ski resorts here, and many sporting events planed for the future, that the area will also be open for hikers and trekkers looking for new places to botanize. Ski areas with modern lifts offer a secondary benefit of summer high elevation sightseeing and sports, but before the mountain bikers take to the trails, it's common for hikers and plant lovers to take gondolas and lifts up to the highest peaks, to not only save time in trekking up the mountain, but to save ones knees and legs.


  1. Great post! Thank you Matt!

  2. yes thanks for a whole new perspective for those of us who never put skiing and russia together in the same sentence.


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