For many of us, wildflowers, along with the butterflies that frequent them, are among the supreme beauties of the natural world, and this year they have been incredibly lovely. We recently made one of our quick trips right into the chain of the high Pyrenees, and were rewarded with some wonderful sights. But it was by no means all rarities, or plants of the alpine zone, which gave us such pleasure; sometimes, indeed very often, it was simply the common gorse and broom, which gave sheets of dense, brilliant yellow all over the already magnificent landscape. They presumably enjoyed the greater humidity of this past spring, which had left larger snowfields than is usual at this time of the year, themselves adding brilliance to the far views. (It is interesting, if puzzling, that this year from Orkney in the far North of Scotland, via Brighton on the south coast of England, to the Pyrenees, the gorse and broom has everywhere been remarkable.)
As ever, it is impossible to provide a comprehensive account of these, without writing a book, so I will have to be very selective. This year, the yellow of the gorse and broom has been matched by that of a small rock-rose, the Helianthemum alpestre, which is carpeting the hillsides up at La Batère also.
Also there we found one cushion of the flowers of the mountain avens, or Dryas octopetala, a lime-loving alpine with cream-and-gold daisy-like flowers, one of the favourites from Assynt in the far North of Scotland where I spent so much of my earlier life.
On the other day, in the vicinity of the fine peak called Le Roc Blanc, there were small wetlands below the remaining snowfields, and the clear streams issuing from them were bordered by a flower, which most folk will know from Britain: the marsh marigold or Caltha palustris. But, on both days, there was an exquisite delicate flower that was completely new to us. It either bordered the remaining snowfields, or grew in considerable numbers in areas where they had recently been, the grass still brown and flattened. The leaves were slender and hard to find, the flowers white and delicate, but reminiscent of buttercups. This is exactly what they turned out in the end to be; Lesley lent us her father’s “Alpine Flowers of Britain and Europe” (Collins, Grey-Watson and Blamey), and there we found the (rather obvious) Pyrenean buttercup, Ranunculus parnassifolius), a flower of exquisite beauty.
Lurking by a crystal stream was the pink flower of a primrose type. It was hard to see its tiny leaves, and awkward to photograph, but I think it was Primula minima, a sort of remote, mountain-cousin to the tiny, vivid Primula scotica which only grows along the North Coast of Scotland, and in Orkney. It is rather nice to be reminded, when in one astonishing location, of another, over a thousand miles away and totally different. Truly a wonderful world.