Alpine travels in Armenia (part two)

By: Kit Strange - 27/06/2011

Travelling in Armenia is fascinating, both botanically and culturally. Read on to find out about legends, mysteries and tales of the unexpected!

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Many churches and monasteries are scattered throughout Armenia, adding an extra dimension to your journey whilst travelling. Sometimes if you are lucky, you may have amazing plants and buildings together, in addition to the fantastic scenery. One highlight from our trip was seen when visiting Karahunj, also known as Zorats Karer, Armenia’s Stonehenge. In the grass I found a very beautiful Astragalus that was incredibly furry and bright. Absolutely amazing.


Karahunj the Armenian Stonehenge  Yellow Astragalus in Armenia

Left, Karahunj, Armenia's Stonehenge, and right, the beautiful Astragalus we found there


We had an entire day travelling around a very interesting mountain called Mount Arayiler, which is quite close to Yerevan. This mountain resembles a resting man when viewed from certain positions. The legend goes that the Armenian king had almost died after a very difficult fight. He was not sleeping and not dead, just being. His bride managed to wake him up after getting the dogs to lick him back to health again... Anyway, around Arayiler were many beautiful plants. On the north side of the mountain, in alpine meadows, we spotted large numbers of Bellevalia pycnantha growing happily in the wet meadow, which was soon to have cows grazing. The ticks were very happy to jump on us, as we were the only living thing they had seen since the snow melted!


Blue flowers of Bellevalia pycnantha

The bright blue flowers of Bellevalia pycnantha


We then travelled to the south face of Arayiler and after a very long climb in the car, we arrived at what was the last place Mount Arayiler erupted from. Even now you can see how the whole of the mountain blew out, and lots of volcanic tuff is scattered over the hillsides. Of course we cannot have lovely scenery without plants, and on that hillside we found lots of Tulipa julia, scattered all around. A lovely small, red tulip, which is quite common in Armenia, but this was in a truly fantastic setting.


Red flowered Tulipa julia on Mount Araylier

Tulipa julia on Mount Arayiler


The next day we were travelling up to a castle and church, called Amberd. On the way up we saw many lovely bulbs, mostly on the alpine meadows at high altitude, where the snow had just melted. There we found our mystery plant. We were looking at Corydalis nariniana which is a lovely stout, red and white corydalis, with a long bright red spur. In amongst this plant we found another corydalis that looked like nothing else we had come across before. It has small, short, stout flowers with up-turned lips, very unusual. We asked our botanist guides and they thought it might be a mutation in the population. Possibly even plant evolution in action!


Flowers of Corydalis nariniana  The unknown Corydalis in Armenia

Left, Corydalis nariniana, and right, the mystery plant!


Our second but last day was full of surprises and unexpected things. We had afternoon tea in an Armenian tea shop, which could rival anything in a swanky London establishment. This was next to a hillside full of obsidian and many interesting plants associated with this unusual growing medium, like Fritllaria caucasica and Pulsatilla albana.


Armenian afternoon tea Flowers of Pulsatilla albana

Left, Armenian afternoon tea, and right, Pulsatilla albana outside the tea shop


Then it was off to the Tsakhkadzor ski resort where we rode up in the ski lift to see alpines where the snow had freshly melted. Finally, on our way back to Yerevan, stopping by a very unusual hummocky landscape made up entirely of Onobrychis cornuta. There in the vegetation we came across a poisonus snake, which we first thought was an Armenian viper, but later found out it was actually an Iberian cat snake, which is not venomous to man. However it was still exciting to see as it was the first snake I have ever seen in the wild.


Onobrychis cornuta hummocks

Hummocks of Onobrychis cornuta, home to the Iberian cat snake!


- Kit -

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About us

Looking north towards the Davies Alpine House from the Rock Garden

Several people contribute to the Alpine and Rock Garden Team blog. Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include all the areas where alpines are grown at Kew Gardens. The three team leaders, Joanne Everson, Graham Walters and Katie Price, each have their own particular parts of the Gardens to look after. Between them, these four experts have over 55 years experience of growing alpines.

Alpines at Kew Gardens are not only grown to create colourful and informative displays, they also play an important role in the research Kew carries out around plant naming, classification, biodiversity and conservation.

Mountains are found on every continent and each range has its own unique alpine flora, but these plants are under threat from climate change. As temperatures rise, alpines are forced higher and will eventually have nowhere to go. The alpine collections at Kew are studied to help us all understand the mountain flora better and make informed decisions about protecting its future.

"Probably the most beautiful glasshouse in the world is the Davies Alpine House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew", John Hoyland, Gardens Illustrated, April 2011

Richard Wilford has written a book on alpines, 'Alpines from Mountain to Garden', published by Kew Publishing. You can buy it in the Kew shops or from

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