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Wednesday 8 May 2024

Wildflowers in the Montagne Noir - Part 2

After lunch we headed a bit west and higher up to a place Gill calls the Magic Meadow. On the way we passed areas covered in the Papillon or Butterfly Lavender (a good indicator of acid soil). Rocky verges gave way to grassy ones full of Cowslips, then swathes of Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) appeared, like these below.

The last time we were here we walked several kms uphill, but this time, thankfully we drove that bit after carpooling at Pech Mégé, altitude 637m. Then it was a shortish walk to where we disappeared into some trees and emerged on the side of a limestone ridge.

This area is amazing for having a mix of Mediterranean and mountain species, at an altitude of about 700m, which is not particularly high for mountain plants. 

This photo, taken by Keith, is an indicator of what it's like on a wildflower trip. Bums in air! All the photos K took of me by the way, I had my back to the camera and my hood up (that's me on the right). It was FREEZING up there and when the sun went in it was even worse. There were times when I was nearly blown off my feet.

Here we are looking in the direction of the plain , on the other side of which are the Pyrenees.

And this is the other side of the ridge that we were on.

There were occasional lovely little sheltered spots like here, just covered in Early Purples and Rush-leaved Narcissi, the same little Narcissus that we saw in the morning. In a place like this, it’s hard to not tread on a flower, so we did our best to avoid the orchids, knowing that the thyme and other low ground cover plants could mostly take our footsteps.

In a sheltered spot we found the only two Fly Orchids (Ophrys insectifera) of the day. The two flowers that were out show just how varied Ophrys species can be in terms of colour and markings.

This is a cute little mountain species, Creeping Globularia (Globularia repens).

My favourite plant of the day is this lovely little alpine, Hairy Rock Jasmine (Androsace villosa). Several websites I read said that this species is found from an altitude of 1,200m, showing how interesting it is in the Magic Meadow, as we were about 500m lower down than that.

In the top right of the picture is Mountain Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis montana) with pinky red flowers.

And in this picture is Common Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), although both species can be found at altitude.

There were other wildflowers worthy of photos but by this time my knees had just about given up! I saved my last bit of strength for anything amazing, like this Sword or Narrow-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia) which we saw in a shady spot on our way back.

On the way back to the cars it started snowing!!! Unbelievable! It was only light fine snow, but even so. We called it a day earlier than we normally would have because everyone was cold and fed up of the wind by now. I sat in the car and enjoyed a nice warming cup of tea from our flask.

Just after we left K decided to take his jacket off, so we pulled in and I saw these Aphyllanthes monspeliensis - they are a common plant on the garrigues in spring and on grassy hillsides around where we live. I didn't see any during the day however.

Other orchids seen during the day, and the reasons for not taking pics, were:

Early Spider Orchid (in my lawn!)
Yellow Bee Orchid (in my lawn!)
Man Orchid (in my lawn!)
Tongue Orchid (already have many photos and knees were giving way)
Dense Flowered Orchid (I have photos from the last time we were there, plus knees)
Woodcock Orchid (I missed that one)
Violet Limodore in bud (I missed that too sadly, but it was growing along the verge a bit lower down from where we parked. Not one I have seen before). 

I went back through my 2021 photos, as I never posted about that trip on my blog. Here's a photo giving you an idea of what the Magic Meadow looked like a month later, in mid May. Not really a lot different, apart from a sea of yellow everywhere from a yellow Rock-rose.

This is the plant in question: a Rock-rose that I can't ID (Helianthemum sp.). PlantNet isn't much help as there are three that look similar but not quite right!

It was a very successful day in terms of wildflowers but somewhat challenging with the weather! Having seen these two spots in both April and May, I would like to come back in June to see what else might be in flower - but I would choose a nice day and hope to see lots of butterflies!


  1. Oh, wow! Considering their environment, I think higher elevation plants are SO special. I certainly couldn't survive there very long :-). I especially love what I call "belly flowers". My position is like the person to your left. Interestingly, I don't see knee pads on anyone. I always have some on :-)
    Anyway... great post, as always! (Marianne in AZ)

    1. Thanks so much Marianne! If I ever find any knee pads which don't end up around my ankles, then I will take them out on wildflower/butterfly walks - I'd never thought about them before other than for DIY stuff.

  2. A shame about the weather but what an amazing selection of flowers. Super photos Mandy and the views look stunning. I love reading about the orchids in your lawn - so envious!!!!

    1. Hi Caroline, and thanks! I must take some more photos of my orchids at home - and I have found some new ones on the grassy bank next door!!!