The road from the small town of Massat winds up a narrow, wooded valley to the Étang de Lers; the onward route to Val-de-Sos and Tarascon over the Port de Lers is closed and so is the lakeside restaurant. The Étang itself is still frozen over and the snows have only just left the hills roundabout.
With the last few days of spring warmth, there are now banks of narcissus under the broadleaved woodlands and, much higher around the etang where the snows have only just melted, dog’s tooth violet, with the descriptive scientific name Erythronium dens-canis, are appearing . The last time I saw these were in similarly, rugged mountains and low hills in Montenegro. Some are out alongside a scattering of narcissus and many have just punctured the brown and snow-flattened turf probably within days of the snow melt.
The violet is really a type of lily and most closely related to tulips. The genus Erythronium comprises 25 species, with four in Eurasia and the rest in North America and are all described as spring ephemerals and use their ability to flower in the early spring cold to complete a very rapid life cycle before the grassland competition gets going. The Eurasian species are therefore considered much more vulnerable to climate change being entirely confined to high mountains but some of the the Americans have diversified into warmer, lowland habitats. So the genus is more likely to die out where it evolved in Eurasia but prosper in its ‘new home’. The irony of evolution.
On the limestone cliffs the first gentians are flowering, the flowers are frosted at the edges but the brilliant blue is still captivating. The grasslands are dotted with holly trees where wood spurge shelters beneath the low branches ins some cases appearing like a green ruff around the holly tree’s neck. The ubiquitous hepaticas are here too; the barren uplands are coming alive once more.