Last week our Managing Director and Principal Ecologist Sue Searle went to the French Alps to visit her son…
‘I arrived in Chamonix, where my son lives, a stunning town nestled at the foot of Mont Blanc and surrounded by huge mountains. I had never visited in the summer and I hoped I was in for a treat – a botanical treat!
Only having 3 complete days for my visit I was determined to go for it and each day my son and I headed up the mountains. Already at 1000m Chamonix is in the ‘pine zone’, well above the deciduous woodland I am used to in lowland Britain. As you climb higher and higher up the mountains the trees peter out and the habitat becomes tundra, and then there’s snow even higher. Each of these ‘zones’ are represented on mountains all over the world and on the earth as you move to northern latitudes. And each zone has different plants.
Everywhere you looked there were amazing plants to see, as well as butterfly species that are either rare or don’t even occur in the UK.
I was not lucky enough to spot a chamois or an ibex, although I did see their signs, but I did see a marmot – a surprisingly large rodent right up above the tree line. He was very obliging for my photo!
From glorious flower meadows, shaded forests, gorges, and rocky outcrops to wild rhododendron-clad rocky slopes, each step I took brought more wonderful plants to see! I spotted a beautiful white buttercup almost in the snow zone and when I looked it up it was aptly called a Glacier Buttercup. Sitting in a high-altitude rock-strewn meadow enjoying the sunshine I loved exploring the plants – Burnt Vanilla Orchids, saxifrages, bell flowers, house leeks and lilies. Along came a large blue butterfly – once extinct in the UK, and a swallowtail – we only have them in East Anglia. We picked wild strawberries and raspberries, the bilberries were not yet ready.
It was sad to leave, I could have explored for months! I have resolved to come back soon, much preferring the summer visit to the winter (I am not a skier!). Maybe one day I will teach botany in the Alps, or maybe do guided walks…
Back home I was straight into teaching Beginner’s Botany in Surrey, one of our introductory courses for ecologists, again we were very lucky to be in a wonderful site – Witley and Milford Common – where I was able to enjoy even more flowers and share my knowledge with others.’