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26 May 2005 @ 12:00 pm
Gorges de la Nesque and Sault: A Botanical Extravaganza  
On the itinerary for this day stood a walk to Rocher du Cire high above the river Nesque and then a visit to Sault.

The walk is no. 6 in Holiday Walks in Provence. It starts and ends at a gîte d'étape called St. Hubert on the Plateau de Sault. The first part of the walk was through alpine meadows but after that it was mostly in the shade of low oaks. This page is heavy on wildflowers and my attempts to identify them.

In Sault I did some shopping and admired a very funky house.

Places: Gorges de la Nesque and Sault, Provence, France
Weather: Sunny but cool in the morning.
Date: May 26, 2005

On the way to the walk, I stopped in Sarrian and bought my picnic lunch.

The supermarket also sold a strange candy. The name is La Vosgienne and it says Bonbon sève de pin. In other words, boiled sweets made from pine tree sap. The text on the back of the tin says: "Déguster un bonbon La Vosgienne, c'est retrouver tous les plaisirs d'une escapade en forêt." In English that is "To eat a piece of candy from Vosgienne means to rediscover the pleasures of a romp through the woods." They are sweet but also taste the way pine trees smell. One is definitely enough.

Still talking about trees, the photo shows the flowers of an olive tree outside the supermarket in Sarrian.

I parked in the shade of some lovely, big oaks by the pink St. Hubert mountain hostel.

The wild flower bonanza started pretty much the moment I stepped out of the car. As I said, there are a lot of flower photos on this page.

There's also a lot of agonising about the correct names of the wildflowers. I had help from this French-language page by the Société Centrale d'Agriculture et d'Horticulture de Nice et des Alpes-Maritimes in identifying some of the plants shown on them. It has a page with photos of commonly found flowers. Harder to use but a much richer source is JP Chabert's petit herbier virtuel évolutif. On that site, there are thousands of photos waiting for you if you enter the magic keywords.

This decidedly yellow flower is only named Potentilla sp. on the society's page. That's a bit of a fudge because it means that it's a potentilla but we don't know which species. I would have said as much myself. The other search page is better, it allowed me to tentatively identify the plant as Potentilla hirta based on the fluffy buds.

White Flower
Next I found a white monocotyledon. I wasn't able to identify it.

You can tell from this photo that the weather was getting too hot for the spring wild flowers. Many of them looked a bit ragged around the edges, like this one. The season was turning from late spring to early summer.

Pink Flower
This is Saponaria ocymoides, a soapwort. I liked the way the buds are opening from a blunt, hairy tube. It's a pleasant pink colour, too.

Another pink flower. This one is a true orchid, Orchis tridenta.

Pink Flower
The similarity to the yellow Anthyllis vulneraria is so striking that this must be in the same genus. Based on the name, I would guess A. montana but searching a bit further, it looks more like A. vulneraria subsp. praepropera because the leaves are less hairy. The subspecies is also known as rubriflora for obvious reasons. It even has an English common name, Mediterranean Kidney Vetch.

No prizes for recognising this as a Thymus. Based on the flower size I think we've got to do with T. herba-barona. The flowers are larger than in most other thymes.

This is the regular thyme, with smaller flowers, Thymus vulgaris, used in cooking.

Blue Flower
I admit that I'm stumped on this one. It looks rather a lot like a Romulea but I can't find any that have fleshy petals like this. Somebody suggested Allium because they have that kind of darkened vein down the middle but again, no luck. Their petals tend more toward the papery, too.

In the end I resorted to the brute force method. I was going to go through all the plant families represented. Luckily, it starts with an A -- it's Aphyllanthes monspeliensis in the family Aphyllanthaceae.

I first thought this would be an easy one because it is so obviously a flax flower. But it turns out that it's probably not an alpine flax, Linum alpinum. The plant was too tall for that. Instead it's likely to be a L. narbonense. Those lovely blue flowers grow well on well-drained soil in a sunny position. Flax are easy to raise from seed.

Not Chicory
Another one I first thought was easy. This looks a lot like chicory, Cichorium intybus. But not if you look closer at the habit. Instead, it's likely to be a Cicerbita, probably C. macrophylla because of the hairless calyx.

This is true Google detective work, I'm doing here to figure out what it was I took photos of. But this was the last wildflower of the day.

This was the way the path looked most of the way after I left the open landscape behind. It's a scrubby oak woodland.

In May the oaks had only recently got leaves, so they are still a fresh, lime green. The species of oak, is Quercus robur, the English oak. I was hoping it would be the sessile oak, Q. petraea but the leaves don't have proper stalks, so it can't be.

I had my picnic lunch at Rocher du Cire, an amazing cliff formation that is part of the very steep and deep Nesque river canyon. Cire means wax, in this case beeswax.

When I got back to the car, I drove to Sault on the little mountain roads. I passed Monieux. This is how pretty it looks, perched in the shadow of the mountain.

I didn't stop in Monieux but continued on to Sault. This pretty wooden storefront belongs to a master nougat maker. It's not chocolate we're talking about, it's the sticky, white stuff. An American shopping guide says that the shop was founded in 1887. They seem to like the nougat quite a lot. Maybe I should have gone in and tried it.

Another pretty shop but this one relies on its wares to attract customers. With such a colourful display outside, who could resist buying something for the garden or window sill?

Whether the clematis was bought at the florist or not, I don't know. But I got the distinct impression that it belongs to an artist. Just look at the exact match of the colour on the petals with the garage door behind it. That takes a lot of skill.

Purple Shutters
This is the house from the other side, lit by the late afternoon sun. Again, this colour combination was chosen by somebody with a very keen eye. Most people wouldn't think to paint a house in complimentary colours.

The person who chose the colours also broke one of the first rules of harmonious colour combinations: humans tend to not like combinations of a dark tone of an inherently light colour, such as yellow, with a light tone of a dark colour, such as purple. But here the combination just enlivens the whole house. The reason is found in the wide, white boundaries between the two colours. The white acts as a demilitarised zone, allowing the colours to breathe and interact without clashing or turning each other muddy where they meet.

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