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.

February 7, 2014

Sochi and Plants

I have little doubt that the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics will dazzle and impress, but outside of the stadium, I wonder how the organizers prioritized construction and showmanship, with less important concerns, such as how the Olympic experience is enhanced with plants, nature and flowers? Let's check it out.

As the Winter Olympics open tonight in Sochi, Russia, I can't help but think about what it must be like to attend both the opening ceremonies and some events - a life long bucket list item of mine, which I am afraid, I will not experience. Still, I will celebrate tonight by watching it on TV, while eating appropriate Russian food ( Beet soup) and of, since I have to, Vodka. So much drama exists around this years; Olympics, that I am certain the flower and gardens in and around the Olympic Park will be the last thing anyone is worrying about, so, I will explore it a little.

By now, we've all seen the images of tainted water, Chobani, Gay Athletes, unfinished construction projects and heard about potential threats from terrorists, toothpaste and Pussy Riot, but I can't help myself in searching for some garden/plant related facts from these Olympics. I had such high hopes for Russia four years ago, when they announced the next event at the Vancouver Games, and I wish the organizers, visitors and the athletes all the best, naturally, hopeing that all goes well.

A last minute planting Trees last week near a Sochi highway.

As for what the official Olympic victory bouquet might be, I tried to find some information or even leaks online on what the official Olympic Victory Bouquet's might look like, but it seems that the Russian officials are keeping that a secret too. As for the floral bouquets presented to athletes, officials seem to be keeping what these will contain under lock and key ( but I can imagine a hand-tied inspired bouquet with potatoes, beets and pussy willows (get it?).

My search did lead me to some Russian media sites for the city of Sochi, Sochi magazine, and some Russian sites for the Olympics which provided some entertainment. Here is what I discovered.

From the official City of Sochi website ( full of propaganda) this shows a container  or 'Mobile Flowering Tree" being planted in December, in prep for the Winter Olympics. Nice.

 According to an “official” municipal website for the city of Sochi, the city has been adorned with 'winter gardens', planted with primroses, hyacinths violas and cyclamen.”  After confirming this hopeful goal with Western media sources, it was sort-of confirmed…. ( below, from today's post on the Wall Street Journal's blog.

Artificial Flowers 'Bloom' in the ski city of Adler, where many Olympic athletes are staying.  from Rachel Bachman's post from the WSJ.

Not surprising, as the city is rather warm in comparison to the events at higher elevations, and I can imagine that much of the city is beautiful, so says Elina Baranskaya, who has the title of Chief Artist for the city of Sochi.  She says “While preparing the resort, we found common ground between the Olympic Mountain and Coastal clusters. No Russian city has flowers blooming in February. But Sochi does!” .

This image from CTV News by Joy Malbon, shows viola's being planted outside the Adler Arena last week.

According to the official Sochi Russian Olympic Web Site Press release:

Two million of fresh flowers will appear in Sochi before the Olympics!

Today, teams of gardeners continue to beautify flowerbeds and plant flowers. International hospitality zones are decorated with hyacinths, primroses, cyclamens and violas. In the last stage of work, landscapers will plant nearly half a million flowers. The resort will have 28 new flowerbeds. Tulips will also be planted there. Blooming tulips will be planted a few days before the Olympics. This will be done at the last moment, to ensure that the flowers will not die from possible frosts, which are not rare at this time of the year on the coast, reports Sochi News.

The Washington Post shared this image of primula and Viola being planted in equally lovely combinations and in poison-green window boxes in Sochi.

The Sochi site makes an attempt to explain these green planting structures: 

They are placed in different places around the beautiful city of Sochi. Along the roads and in the parks. 
Today mobile trees were installed near the Sochi seaport which have been planted with beautiful

Cyclamen, juniper, brier, and violets. Violas have been planted today in flowerbeds. In total, about 400 similar structures of different types will be installed in the city. These are vases in the form of bridges, firs, columns and decorative flower bunches. 

“Such forms are exhibited across the Central District in the guest area, there are several, they are approved by the artists and architects. During the holidays and after the Olympics, we will take care of them. These will once again accent our city as a charming resort town, which meets all the requirements of international standards of hospitality,” said Sergey Pavlenko, head of the Central District Administration of Sochi.

I would not mind, however, visiting Sochi and the near by Caucasus Mountains at snowmelt  to view the many rare alpine plants and alpine bulbs that grow in the subalpine meadows. 

Tagil Roses painted on trays will be presented to guests.

Tagil trays have been known since 1747. They received recognition for lacquer painting on metal. Since the mid-XIX century, steel trays were forged from a single sheet with perforated handles. It was painted with fruit, vegetable and floral patterns, and especially with a fabulous flower – the “Tagil Rose” on the background imitating malachite or wood. Tagil roses are also know as “one stroke” painted roses.

Olympic mascots are depicted on the cut of a pine nut by a skilled craftsman from Novosibirsk

Bashkir Honey Gatherers, from TheHoneyGatherers.com

Guests of Sochi Olympics will be treated to Bashkir honey, considered a delicacy around the world, and the worlds most elite honey.
According to a Kiev news site: The Bashkir Research Centre for Beekeeping and Apitherapy has worked with the Krasnodar Krai Administration on a presentation of Bashkir honey at the fair, which will open at the Barkhatnyye Sezony Complex in the Imeretinskaya lowland on February 1. Five tons of honey will be delivered to the resort. Besides honey, other products will also be presented – pollen, beebread and propolis, and medical and cosmetic items using bee products, reports FederalPress.

As for PO3A XYTOP?  check this out if you had not seen it.

February 5, 2014


I created a chalkboard drawing for the studio which incorporated many of my fathers sketches over the years ranging from the 1920's to the late 1930's when he illustrated a nature column and had a scholarship to attend a WPA funded art program. Many of his paintings toured the country in exhibits. In later years he illustrated the covers of Parade magazine ( 1945 -1955). My reproductions here are poor representations of his talent, but it captured some of his styles.

As many of you know, this weekend we celebrated my father's 100th birthday (his actual birthday is tomorrow, Feb 6th). I know this isn't a very plant focused post, but I thought that some of you might enjoy seeing some of the photos from the event, and the tasks which lead up to it that involved some plants.

I also though that maybe you might like to see some of these early works, as well as some photos of his life in the early part of the 20th century. Dad has kept concise scrapbooks, which contain virtually every drawing and sketch that he published, beginning with his nature club that he started with neighborhood friends in the early 1930's, a scrap book that includes 600 clippings of his club newsletter sketches documenting what teenagers did in the 1930's (beer, sausages, hiking and girls).  His later scrapbooks from the late 1930's and early years leading up to the war show how his talent for art grew, as well as his interest in birds and wildlife. Here are a few examples starting with his neighborhood nature club in 1935:

Click below for more: