Orchids of Italy and Flora of Bulgaria by Andrew Cleave

Orchids of Italy and Flora of Bulgaria by Andrew Cleave

Orchids of Italy and Flora of Bulgaria by Andrew Cleave

Haberlea rhodopensis by Andrew Cleave

Our November talk talk us on a botanical adventure to Italy’s Gargano Peninsula and the Balkans in Bulgaria with Andrew Cleave, an experienced tour leader.

The Gargano Peninsula, located on the Adriatic coast in Southern Italy, is known as the Orchid Capital of Europe and Andrew reports this his groups regularly see over 50 species in a week in this botanically-rich region. Summers are very dry but there is consistent rain in spring, with some further rainfall in autumn and winter. The landscape is largely free draining and grazed including by buffalo, divided by stone walls, but with sparse buildings and few crops. There are many familiar orchid species here, but the isolated nature of the Peninsula means that there are also many endemics found nowhere else in Europe. Orchids Andrew regularly sees include the Gargano form of the early spider orchid, flowering in spring on open sunny hillsides. Bertoloni’s Bee Orchid is notable for its mirror-like lower petal. Rare, even in this orchid-rich area, is the Small-patterned Ophrys, a local form of the late spider orchid, which only grows in 3 locations.

There is also a rich Mediterranean flora and an abundance of birds, butterflies and other wildlife, including the pygmy Cormorant and the Scarce Swallowtail.

Ophrys siponensis, an orchid species restricted to the foothills or Mount Gargano and the plain around the village of Siponto, by Andrew Cleave

The second part of Andrew’s talk took us the explore the flora and fauna of Bulgaria, an exceptionally beautiful country of pine-clad mountains, rocky gorges and wooded valleys, yet it remains one of the least visited corners of Europe. Andrew’s talk covered some of Bulgaria’s most botanically rich upland regions, beginning close to Sofia, where he takes groups botanising on Vitosha Mountain. Andrew then shared with us his visits around Bansko, the gateway to the Pirin Mountains National Park. Finally Andrew’s presentation covered the meadows and forests of the Rhodope Mountains where the limestone gorges that typify this area, including the Trigrad Gorge, are home to the beautiful Wallcreeper as well as a wealth of flowers.

Andrew’s beautiful photographs introduced us to butterflies include the Black-veined white, once a UK resident but now extinct, but prolific in Bulgaria. Storks are commonly seen on rooftops in huge, towering nests, with sparrows nesting in the lower parts (a habitat used before people made buildings). Digitalis forms are plentiful, including ambigua and lanata, growing in hedgerows. Balkan endemic plants include The Golden Kidney Vetch. In Pirin National Park grows Geum coccineum, which likes wet locations, and Pinus mugo, (dwarf mountain pine), Moonwort, alpine Woodsias (ferns) and the Bosnian Pine.

Clutching our glossy Naturetrek holiday brochures (with whom Andrew regularly leads tours), we headed home entranced by these beautiful regions and stunning landscapes.

Campanula lingulata by Andrew Cleave