Showing posts with label expeditions/travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label expeditions/travel. Show all posts

June 24, 2010

Schilthorn Scree and Talus plants

Geum reptans
There are many environments in which alpine plants grow, and each has specialized species or species with distinct characteristics unique to each environment. Those plants at the highest elevations, often above the clouds form buns, and mats, whereas those that choose to grow in the scree and talus fields, those accumulations or deposits of broken rock fragments at the base of crags, cliffs or ridges, tend to form low mounds, more loose than those in crevices, but still tight enough to keep a low profile, and to take advantage of the added heat and protection from the rocks in the scree. One often needs to look carefully, for many scree plants at higher elevations are still dense and short, whereas the same species at a few thousand meters lower, will have a completely different profile, often growing looser and larger.

Linaria alpina, much more dense at higher elevations as seen here. It's a color that stands out in the snowy talus fields of rock and ice.

Summit of Piz Gloria, the Schilthorn

Androsace helvetica, a rare high elevation alpine plant related to the primula, growing near the summit of the Schilthorn, in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland.

We arrived at the summit via a funicular ( see it on the left), and quickly emerged above the clouds. The Mürren-Schilthorn area of Switzerland is a magnificent botanizing and hiking regions with a rich variety of alpine flora. The finest of which blooms just at snow melt in late May or early June. The highest alpine treasures live on the edge of glaciers, often above the clouds and above treeline. Catching such treasures on camera is one thing, since finding them requires some rock climbing skill for most live not on the trails, but on cliffs, in crevices and on steep, rocky peaks where their specialized botanic forms of mats and buns, can capture the cloud mist. Most are hard, dense domes which are actually formed from tiny rosettes of foliage which over time, form these buns which look like rocks most of the year when they are not covered by dry snow. capturing them in bloom, is another thing, and this time, on my third trip to the Alps, I was lucky enough to find some of the best specimens not only in form, but also in bloom. 

Anrdrosace helvetica, Primulaceae just below the summit of Pix Gloria

A detail of Switzerland's most precious of all high growing true alpines, Androsace helvetica, the holy grail for alpinist's since it is difficult to find in good condition. I think we were just lucky this time.  These specimens were growing on the edge of a vertical rock face, which you can see, descends for about a mile down, just below the Schilthorn cable car station, where we broke a snowy trail to see if we could find exactly these high alpines in protected rocky crevices. The highest part of the trail was closed due to snow last night, but since we had the proper gear, ( crampons and such)  authorities let us traverse the upper ridge walk between the Engetal and Birg funicular station, we could tell that we were the first hikers since there were no foot prints in the snow. These photos I took of specimens growing at 2700 meters just above the Engetal, below the Swarzgrat.

Androsace helvetica on the Engenthal, 11,000 ft. Maybe a mile drop, as you can see.

Another high elevation plant, Saxifraga . There are 26 species in Switzerland, so without a book to key this out, I am guessing that it is Saxifraga oppositifolia.
Saxifraga oppositifolia

I'm very happy, even though I can barely breath at 14,500 ft.  I'm happy not only because the weather has shifted for a few days, but because the plants we've been able to capture images of have been awesome. Not to mention the views of some of the best scenery in the world here in the Bernese Alps, dominated by the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau as our backdrop.

June 23, 2010

Many, Many, anemeones

At this elevation, near 9,000 feet, we rested in an alpine meadow in the village of Murren, Switzerland. 

As out trip through Switzerland continues, we are promised that sunshine will return tomorrow, and we feel hopeful since the cloud cover seems higher. Still, as we leave the alpine village of Wengen, and take the mountain trains and funicular over and up to the even more remote village of Murren, which is older, more quite if that is even possible, and exactly what I want. In the picture below, Murren is a village on the edge of the cliff on the right hand side, far back. Popular with cliff divers, parasailers and alpinists, we expect the town to be quiet since the snows are just melting and the tourist season has yet to pick up. I think that this valley in Switzerland is one of the most beautiful on earth.  As a protected UNESCO nature preserve, the area in and around Lauterbrunnen valley is rich with natural wonders, from long waterfalls, to glaciers. Mostly, I find it spiritualls energizing with its alpine meadows, flora and botanic treasures. And, oh yes, the vistas.

Rain, rain, rail, and this is the view from our cog train, as it takes us to our chalet in Wengen. Normally, I mean, in other years, this view is amazing, with glaciers, and mountains in the distance ( it was even the default screen saver that came with Apple Mac's a few years ago), but with two weeks of rain, all we can see is waterfalls.

June 22, 2010

Base of the North Face

We decided to continue to explore some of the higher trains leading to the glaciers, but with the heviy rains,  and risk if rock slides, we decided to keep todays  walks short. This image show how the clouds are thick and moist in the cold alpine air. Even in these conditions, we saw some treasures.
 A Paris species growing in a large colony under some spruce at 7,000 ft. If you are not familiar with Paris, they are a relative of the Trillium, but have four segments of everything, instead of three. What few species there are, all are highly collectable by plant enthusiasts who search for them at the nurseries who 'know'.
When ever I am traveling, I like to see what local florists are doing, This shop in Grindlewald displays Edlewiess in homemade baskets made from roots.
 This just might be the nicests green roof we've seen, on a pizza cafe in the center of Grindlewald, this planting has moss, spruce and stone pine growing along with many small shrubs. The constant moisture provided my mountain mist and the cool summer temperatures certainly add to its success.

Lastly, there are many ground orchids growing in the high alpine meadows, this one stood out from the rest of the pink and white species which are all too difficult to identify. Here, a 
  Neottia nidus-avis blooms under the spruce trees at the base of the Eiger's North Face where it risks getting crushed my the massive rockslides that keep occuring in this wet month of June. We saw many trails so covered with freshly tumbled rock and mud, that the rain had not even had time to wash the mud off of the rocks., as they crushed Stone PInes into tooth picks. SO, we decided to turn back!

June 21, 2010

A rare surprise, Snow on the Summer Solstice

Well, not THAT rare, but snow in June is cool, regardless, especially when it happens on the summer solstice. Local Wengenites told us that they have even had snow at this elevation in July, but that we should still take in a hike to see the alpines in the snow, since it only happens every 10 years or so. So even though we've seen nothing but clouds, rain and no mountains or glaciers so far, we were treated to this summer snow, which was very special. Beside, Sunshine is forecast for the next four days.
 Soldanella alpina, or the aptly named Alpine Snowbell, is blooming much later this year in the Alps in and around Wengen, Switzerland. I usually find flowers that have passed on to seed, but this year it's another story, and the precious Soldanella alpina are in peak bloom, and they even were treated to a spring snow which greeted us this morning.

False Hellebores, surviving a late spring ( early summer?) freak snowstorm in the alps on June 21. Taken near the Eiger's famous North Face. Typically, hikers would be looking the other way, at the enourmous cliffs of the North Face, but if the clouds brought something, they brought a new focus, and we are seeing things that we might have missed.

June 19, 2010

Report from Switzerland -Day 1

Greetings from Switzerland, where Joe and I are hiking, botanizing and catching up on some well needed rest ( if you can call it that!). I thought that I might throw some pics up on the blog that might be interesting to my readers, so most are plant related. 

Apparently this part of Switzerland ( Lauterbrunnen/Wengen) has been experiencing some rather unseasonal cold and rainy weather this year, with most tourists complaining about their lost week or two, to the rain and fog, and the residents, laughing at them (politely) because rain is not unusual here during the flora weeks in June and early July, they admit that this year has been very rainy. It's cold too, with temperatures around 0 degree C ( 32 deg. F) at the hiking trails, 45 degree temps where we stay. But, for one of the most beautiful places on earth, even when it rains, one cannot complain that much, I find the clouds, mist and fog restful, and even peacefully relaxing. 

Gardens in and around the tiny alpine village of Wengen, are in peak bloom. The rarer gentians and alpines that we know are blooming up on the cloud-cover alpine meadows may be calling us, today, we are taking a day of rest, and still enjoying some of the more common flora in the local chalet front gardens. Lupines, saxifrages, poppies, all seem to grow much nicer in the cool, moist mountain air.
The Swiss seem to find places on these steep slopes for vegetable plots that are so tidy, and weedfree, that I am in envy. 

October 21, 2008

New York Botanical Garden - more autumnal inspiration

Here are a few more photos from our trip to the New York Botanical Garden. Above, the giant Queen Victoria waterlillys, with pads large enough to hold a small child. The cool, autumnal weather brings out intense color in many plants. Below, I share a few plants on my wish-list since like many of us - I too forget to order plants which look best in those last few weeks of the year. There are many plants rarely seen by gardeners because they simple look boring and dull in the spring, so garden centers and retail shops rarely carry them. Go now to you local plant store and see what you can find beyond the bushel-basket mums and pumpkins - think bigger! For your fall displays. Tricyrtus, Monkshood, Japanese maples, check these out...

I was very impressed with this shrub which at first I thought was an Wiegelia, but is actually an Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope'. It's fall flowers along with old calyx's look like glossy white jasmine blossoms at first glance.

Callicarpa dichotoma 'Issai' a rarely seed hardy zone 5 shrub with amazing technocolor violet berries.

Lotus in the reflecting pool even show great color in the fall.

Japanese Toad Lily - Tricyrtus 'sinonome'
The Japanese Toad Lily looks like an orchid but is actually related to the Lily-of-the-valley. I am in love with them, and there are a few species that are truly spectacular. Mine have been in bloom since late August.

Another maple on my wish list - one of the bamboo-leaf Japanese maples, Acer palmatum 'Koto-no-ito'

Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' or momiji, the Coral Tower maple which is generally grown for it's coral stems in winter, shows it's other side- impressive autumn color. I ordered one yesterday!

Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku', a unique must-have Japanese Maple that you won't find at your local home center. Try expanding your Japanese maple collection by ordering small ( or large) pots from sources such as FOREST FARM in North America. Every year, I buy about 5-8 new "tubes" of these expensive cultivars in small sizes, since I am 'rather young'. They arrive in a few weeks ( you can plant them in the fall, mine arrive in November), and by next summer most put on enough growth to be interesting, even at a young age. I started collecting Japanese Maples about ten years ago when I purchased my parents house, and now, those trees are nearly 9 feet tall and stunning. I have discoverd two valuable things here....first, one rarely cuts down a Japanese Maple, they just get better with age. (LIKE US...right?). And second, in our crazy financial market, they may be the best investment one can make - with trees selling for hundreds if not thousands of dollars, these trees become more valuable each year of your life. A mans wealth can be measured by how many Acer palmatum they own.

I suggest growing them in containers, on a terrace, deck, or near the front entrance as we do. Large, fiberglass frost/freeze-safe containers are now on sale everywhere ( like Target or you local high-end garden center). We always buy our large outdoor tubs in the fall saving often 60-80% off of the retail price. Japanese maples in containers are often the most commented on plants at our home, even in the winter they look impressive.

View of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is autumn at the New York Botanical Garden

White Chrysanthemums

March 17, 2008

Japanese Native Orchids - Shogunbutsu

Dendrobium moniliforme

Dendrobium moniliforme

Cymbidium goerengii

Cymbidium goeringii

Neofinetia falcata'

As many of you know, I grow few orchids, but what I do collect and grow are the species native to Japan which it seems the Japanese only grow, and very few westerners. These include the genus Neofinetia, the species Dendrobium moniliforme, and the species Cymbidium goringii. Orchis graminifolia, Calanthe species and Liparis round out the more common Japanese orchids grown by the Japanese who have grown these species for hundreds of years, and who, over time, have evolve the art and cultivation for each of these species to include elaborate techniques involving pottery, sphagnum potting material style and display. Without going into tremendous detail, these species are worth seeking out and researching, since their history and culture is absolutely amazing and practically unknown in the west.

It amazed me that here in Japan, one can walk through rows and rows of two inch pots of Dendrobium moniliforme, and see most every balcony contain the tiny pots with clean globes of perfectly white sphagnum moss, all topped off with a perfect tiny neofinetia 'wind orchid'.

Just when you think you've seen it all, there is an entirely new world of plants and culture to discover. These orchids all have a deep history to the Japanese, one that involves the Samurai, the Edo period and the fact that these are some of the first potted plants ever cultivated by man. As my friend said, as she toured the displays " I can;t beleive they filled a stadium up with dead plants for people to take pictures of!", But these are orchids that are cool or cold growing, and they bloom often before thier new foliage comes out, so take the time to learn more about them, and if you are interested in getting any, there are a few sources in the US who carry them such as Barry Yinger's Asiatica.com

Tokyo Orchid Show Recap

Just as any orchid show, half the floor is dedicated to retailers selling everything from plants, to fertilizer.

....and 'mouse pad eramu'

An award winning Dendrochilum species

Jet lag from the Orient is a nasty thing to recover from, but I did want to recap my trip with some images of the best orchids which I viewed wile visiting the International Orchid Grand Prix in Tokyo.
Even though I was on a business trip which was non-plant related, I was fortunate to be able to squeeze in a Saturday afternoon at this largest of orchid shows. This was my second Grand Prix in Tokyo, and although it felt smaller, it still motivated me to go buy some orchids. Here are some of the highlights...

A Cattleya with lots of blooms. This is a show, where the specimens have an incredible number of blossoms.

A Dracula species that I did not happen to get the name of.

Amazing Cat's

This is a show where the whirr and buzz of digital cameras and cell phones add to the experience.

First on my wish list, the Australian, Dendrobium speciosum.

Second on my wish list, Dendrobium hancockii, a branchy, deciduous Dendro that was massive in width. I HAVE to get this one!

Lycaste are perhaps the most impressive at this show. I think the cool winters in Japan provide the perfect conditions for this orchid.

Lycaste 'Spring Bouquet"