Sunday 2nd July 2023
The Biros valley in the western Ariège is the nearest location to find Ramonda myconi according to to the excellent Biodiv’Occitanie website; this is the sister plant to the Ramonda serbica, which I was excited to find on the hills to the south of Lake Skadar on the eastern edge of Montenegro back in the summer of 2015.
The slow road from Luzenac to the Biros Valley is magnificent; up from Tarascon to Val-de Sos and over the Port de Lers with its great restaurant overlooking the Etang; then up over the Col d’Agnès with its breathtaking panorama of the mountains, before winding down to the pretty village of Aulus-les Bains; from there heading west through the centre of Seix with its busy Sunday market, before running up again to the Col de la Core and finally down into the Biros Valley and the tiny village of Sentein. At the Col de la Core, walkers set off to conquer Mont Valier; this huge massif dominates the entire western Ariège.
The walk from Sentein runs up alongside the river Isard and then quickly rises into the forest within a precipitous valley. On the north face, under huge, hanging beech trees, it is shaded and damp and here on the vertical rock outcrops is abundant Ramonda myconi juggling for dominance amongst mosses and lichens; the plants seem glued to the clefts and crevices of the smooth stone.
Ramonda myconi is one of a small number of resurrection plants, all with highly fragmented populations within mountain regions across Europe, with the gift of being able to dehydrate and to all intents and purposes die and then come back to life after months or even years. The leaves are leathery and almost brittle or crisp to the touch. In early July, the main flowering period has just passed and there are only a few stunning blue, flowers within a wall of seed pods and clumsy rosettes of rough, green leaves. Clearly, the remarkable species is thriving in this steep, sheltered valley.