As some of you will know, I was born in North East France, very close to Luxembourg and Germany, in a region known as “The Land of the Three Borders“. Two years ago, I had introduced you to the orchid-rich nature reserve of Montenach.
This time, I visit a nearby hill with an interesting geological background….
The town of Sierck-les-Bains is located in a bend of the Moselle River (the V at the top of the maps).
We start our walk at the top of the Altenberg, a hill made of shelly limestone (pale pink on the geological map). In a small woodland, I notice my 1st orchid of the season, Neottia ovata (Common Twayblade), sadly not yet in flower. Viburnum lantana (the Wayfaring Tree), a chalkland loving shrub, is flowering profusely along the path.
The woodland quickly gives way to a plateau with large fields, many of which are filled with colza at the moment (bad for allergy sufferers, good for the photographer!). The chimneys in the distance are the cooling towers of Cattenom nuclear power plant.
The paths and fields’ edge are filled with dry soil-loving plants such as the cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) or the chamomile (Matricaria recutita):
The white bryony (Bryonia dioica), a toxic plant belonging to the gourd family enjoys the heat brought by rocks; and the (very) Common Field-speedwell (Veronica persica), forms little mats of blue flowers along the paths:
Crop fields have always been associated with wildflowers, often annual plants which can withstand disturbance, drought, competition and complete their life cycle over a few months, sometimes less. Although they cause little disturbance to the crops, “arable weeds” have been deemed bad, and destroyed with large quantities of herbicides. It has been shown that they can actually have a positive role, providing shade and water retention for the crop, and attracting more pollinators to the fields.
Thankfully, the fields here don’t appear to be heavily sprayed, and we can still enjoy the pretty sightings of the Field Pansy (Viola arvensis), the Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis)…
but also the Wild Mustard (Sinapis arvensis); and a very dainty but pretty mustard relative, the edible field pepperweed (Lepidium campestre):
The walk then leads back into the forest with a steep descent:
The flora here comprises many indicator species of ancient woodland (woodland that has suffered little disturbance for over a century, often much more), such as the Sweet Woodruff (Gallium odoratum), the Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) and a carpet of Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis):
The banks of a little stream are home to the wonderful Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. montanum) and the vigorous creeper Veronica montana (Wood Speedwell):
Probably my favourites of all woodland plants, a large clump of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) and the striking Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia). Herb Paris normally has a whorl of four leaves under its flower (hence the name quadri-folia), but it can sometimes have one or two extra leaves, like here!
The deeper we are descending into the valley, the shadier and wetter it gets. The path becomes a heaven for fern lovers:
Among the ferns that can be found here are the Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare); the Hart’s-tongue fern, Phyllitis scolopendrium, the Maidenhair spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes and a Dryopteris sp.
As we start climbing back to the plateau, the edges of the path become drier again, and a different flora can be observed. Here’s the European columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris and a strange and uncommon umbellifer, the Sanicle (Sanicula europaea):
The walk leads back to the fields of the Altenberg and….to a well deserved rest!