Saturday, 13 March 2010

PLANT: Biebersteinia orphanidis, a very rare plant world-wide

May 11, 2004
Biebersteina orphanidis (Geraniaceae), a plant of montane limestones, is extremely rare in Europe and is restricted to a few sites in Greece in the mountains of northern Peloponnesos; it also occurs locally in central southern Turkey but is unknown elsewhere in the world. It was first discovered by the Greek botanist Theodor Orphanides on Killini, a Peloponnese mountain in 1851. Thereafter, it remained unrecorded for almost a century and a half and was considered to be extinct until re-discovered on nearby Saittas in 1994 by a party of Greek botanists (see Yannitsaros et al, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 120: 239-242 (1996)).

We saw the plant on Saittas in May 2004 at a large colony at c.1400 metres where it grew on the sides of two dolines amongst scattered Abies cephalonica. Its main associate was another very rare plant, Adonis cylleneum (bottom photograph), which preferred the deeper soils of the doline floor. The Biebersteinia flowers shortly after the snows melt in late April-mid-May. Although its presence on Saittas was previously unknown to botanists, the hill shepherds had for long used an infusion of its rhizomes as an inexpensive medicine with which to inoculate their animals. This knowledge understandably led to much secrecy amongst them.

Adonis cylleneum growing with the Biebersteinia in the dolines.

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