5 Forest Flowers
Along the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), you’ll see a huge variety of alpine and forest flowers. But which will you see, and where will you see them? When is the best month to see flowers on the TMB? We’ve used our intimate knowledge of the trails to answer your questions.
This post is the first in a series, in which we’ll categorise alpine and subalpine, forest flowers, depending on where you’ll see them on the TMB. In this post, we’ll look at our favourite 5 TMB forest flowers.
Coming soon : TMB alpine flowers.
Lower forest flowers…
Many days on the Tour du Mont Blanc start in the lower forests. Great, towering spruce trees dominate this area, and thick clouds shroud their treetops. Beard lichens – indicators of clean air – dangle above your head, and a carpet of moss lines the floor. Not many flowers grow here, but sometimes you’ll pass through a natural clearing, such as on the way up to Rifugio Bertone (TMB day five), where you can find wild strawberries in June, and wild blueberries from July – September. These delicious treats are so much better than the shop-bought varieties! In amongst these, you can often find other forest flowers, such as the Great Yellow Gentian, and the Round-Leaved Saxifrage.
1. Great Yellow Gentian
The Great Yellow Gentian is a subalpine, forest flower that often grows in clearings and lower alpine pastures. With it’s bright yellow flowers and staggering height (it can reach up to 2 metres!), the Great Yellow Gentian is easy to spot. Toxic to animals, it can become invasive in over-grazed pastures. Beneath the ground are more surprises! The roots of the Great Yellow Gentian can reach up to 1 metre in length, and 8 kilograms in weight! Locals have harvested these roots for centuries. They use them medicinally, and also to make bitter aperitifs. You can find “Suze”, a well-loved brand of aperitif, in Savoyard supermarkets and bars. Hiking the TMB, look out for the Great Yellow Gentian on day five. We often see it on the balcony trail towards Rifugio Bonatti. The best time to see this typical TMB forest flower is from late June until early July.
2. Round-Leaved Saxifrage
The Round-Leaved Saxifrage grows in subalpine forests, close to streams and waterfalls.
It likes humid, shady places that stay cool all summer. Their bright white flowers illuminate the dark, mossy floor. They seem to emit their own light, and their petals are decorated with tiny, mesmerising spots. Hiking the TMB, look out for the Round-Leaved Saxifrage on day eight. We often see it in the lower forest below Bovine. The best time to see this TMB forest flower is from June until early July.
Higher forest flowers…
At around 1,900 metres, the spruces thin and give way to larch and pine trees. The air becomes thinner and cooler, and we’re often above the clouds. There is not so much moss on the ground, and the trees are less densely spaced. Shards of light shine through, which allows more forest flowers to grow. In these upper forests, you’ll often see the Woodland Geranium, and the Purple Alpine Colt’s-foot (Homogyne Alpina). But the forest flowers that we’ve chosen to showcase are the Yellow Monkshood, and the Martagon Lily.
3. Yellow Monkshood
Otherwise known as the “Healing Wolfsbane”, these eery plants grow next to streams and in natural dips. They have beautifully hooded flowers, but don’t be tempted to touch them! They are highly toxic! In ancient times, various species of Monkshood were used as poison. The name “wolfsbane” is thought to come from the practice of killing wolves with poisonous arrowheads. The root of this yellow, “healing” wolfsbane is locally thought to cure illness. Hiking the TMB, look out for the Yellow Monkshood on day six. We often see it in Alpage de la Peule, and in the forests above La Fouly. The best time is from July until September.
4. Martagon Lily
As soon as they open, the petals of the Martagon Lily curl backwards to form these distinctive, “turban-like” flowers. In fact, the name “Martagon” comes from the Turkish word for a turban.
The flowers emit a strong, potent smell. Many myths surround the Martagon Lily. Avoid sleeping next to one, because they’re said to cause haunting nightmares. In ancient times, they were used in love potions and to cast out bad demons. Because of their unique beauty, Middle Age alchemists hoped to extract gold from the Martagon Lily. Hiking the TMB, look out for the Martagon Lily on day six. We often see them next to the streams on our way to Rifugio Elena. The best time is from July until August.
Above the forest flowers…
At around 2,100 metres, the forest dwindles. We use the term “tree-line” to describe the upper limits of a forest, but this term is deceptive! These upper limits are neither sudden nor well-defined. Instead, what we get is a kind of battlefield, where only the strongest trees survive. Here and there, we see an isolated pine, or small groups of trees huddled together, but little by little they all give up. What comes next is a vast stretch of moorland; shrubby thickets of Alpenrose, Bilberry, Crowberry, and Drawf Alzalea. Because of its fragrant smell and bright colour, the Alpenrose is the most treasured of the subalpine, forest flowers.
The Alpenrose prepares its buds in autumn, then takes shelter under the snow. This protects the buds from frost. As spring arrives, the snow melts and the Alpenrose opens its flowers; filling the hillsides with colour and fragrance. But pay attention to the underside of its leaves! Rusty and unusual-looking, they are lined with microscopic scales which produce toxic oils. A clever defence against grazing animals! Hiking the TMB, look out for the Alpenrose on day nine. We often see it on our descent from Col des Posettes. The best time is from early June until July.
These are just 5 of our favourite TMB forest flowers. What’s your favourite forest flower? Why not leave a comment below!