Well, we were in for a treat the next day as Laszlo Demeter (oh no Harry Potter comes to mind! Where were we going? 😉 ), an eminent plant biologist, took us to one of his hay meadows in the mountains near Frumoasa. Laszlo had spent quite a few years looking for some land to buy and eventually found this meadow. It’s in quite an isolated valley with a very, very, long dirt track leading up to the hectare of land. A lot of the hay meadows have begun to scrub up, including this meadow, and I suspect many plots of land will disappear under the ever encroaching forest. However for our part we were going to mow this one and learn a little about the rarities that grow in this area.
The mowing was sometimes awkward and the small saplings proved somewhat resistant to the sharp edge of the scythe blade, though the willow succumbed more easily. One plant that has always fascinated me is the wood cow-wheat Melampyrum nemerosum a semi parasite of woody plants apparently and one that does grow in the UK in a few southern areas but may have been a garden escapee. Another name for this plant in Sweden is ‘Night & Day’ and I think that’s a much prettier name.
Of course mowing in Romania isn’t mowing if you don’t bring along breakfast and, most importantly, palinka. So, after an hour or so of mowing, we sat under a spruce tree and had breakfast.
Back to work mowing again but this time we found a slow-worm, quite an old one judging by its size; another two rows later and a small adder was encountered. Luckily for these two the scythe blades did not make contact which is why mowing with a scythe is better than using a massive drum mower as the wildlife cannot escape the speed of its low cutting blades. The more rows we did the more flower species we encountered, but one stands out in my mind: Monkshood, the Queen of all Poisons.
Here’s a bit about Monkshood from Wiki!!!!!!
“Aconitum also known as aconite, wolf’s bane, leopard’s bane, mousebane, women’s bane, devil’s helmet, Queen of all Poisons, or blue rocket, is a genus of over 250 species of flowering plants belonging to the family Ranunculaceae. These herbaceous perennial plants are chiefly native to the mountainous parts of the northern hemisphere,growing in the moisture-retentive but well-draining soils of mountain meadows. Most species are extremely poisonous and must be dealt with carefully. The name comes from the Greek ἀκόνιτον, which may derive from the Greek akon for dart or javelin, the tips of which were poisoned with the substance, or from akonae, because of the rocky ground on which the plant was thought to grow.The name may reflect that toxins extracted from the plant were historically used to kill wolves, hence the name wolf’s bane. In Metamorphoses, Ovid tells how the herb comes from the slavering mouth of Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of Hell. As the veterinary historian John Blaisdell has noted, symptoms of aconite poisoning in humans bear some passing similarity to those of rabies: frothy saliva, impaired vision, vertigo, and finally a coma. Thus, it is possible that some ancient Greeks would have believed that this poison, mythically born of Cerberus’s lips, was literally the same as that to be found inside the mouth of a rabid dog.
Marked symptoms may appear almost immediately, usually not later than one hour, and “with large doses death is almost instantaneous.” Death usually occurs within two to six hours in fatal poisoning (20 to 40 mL of tincture may prove fatal).The initial signs are gastrointestinal including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This is followed by a sensation of burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face, and of burning in the abdomen. In severe poisonings pronounced motor weakness occurs and cutaneous sensations of tingling and numbness spread to the limbs. Cardiovascular features include hypotension, sinus bradycardia, and ventricular arrhythmias. Other features may include sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion. The main causes of death are ventricular arrhythmias and asystole, paralysis of the heart or of the respiratory center. The only post-mortem signs are those of asphyxia.”
There were hordes of yellow foxgloves: Digitalis grandiflora aka big-flowered foxglove or large yellow foxglove. It is a species of flowering plant in the genus Digitalis, family Plantaginaceae (formerly Scrophulariaceae). It is native to southern Europe and Asia. In mountains it grows on warm, bushy slopes or areas left after logging. It is an herbaceous biennial or perennial plant with glossy green, veined leaves, whose flowering stem can reach a height of 70–120 cm (28–47 in). The pale yellow bell-shaped flowers are spaced out on the stem, 3–4 cm (1–2 in) long and show a netted brown marking in their interior.
So, after another few hours or so working on the meadow, it was time for lunch. Kevin was wondering what Jenny, his partner, would say about all the fat we were eating: smoked pig’s fat, loads of cheese, more fatty pork sausages and, was that a vegetable I saw lurking in the corner? Naw, it was another lump of fat all washed down with a palinka. “Promise Kevin, I won’t say a word about your diet” !!!!!!!!!!
More mowing in the afternoon and we soon had a very large area cut. What was interesting was the amount of hazel bushes growing on the slopes. I wonder if this happened in England and, when wood was hard to find, the free growing hazel was used making a coppice area?
Finally we had finished for the day but took a little time to gander at some more unusual plants: there was a frilly ragged robin and Mr Brown was rather perplexed until, later in the day, we found out it was Dianthus superbus. Then, as we drove out of the valley, we spotted some wild gladioli, a most gorgeous plant.
As we left the valley one could only marvel at the picturesque setting and the most enjoyable day’s mowing we had ever done.
Laszlo had one final treat in store…he drove us up to a high meadow overlooking all the mountains; here there was a carpet of yellow rattle but, alas, the rare orchid we were looking for had long since flowered and faded away.
We did find the moon fern however, which is a real rarity; then there were clumps of dashing Carthusian pink aka Dianthus carthusianorum which is one of Prince Charles’ favourites.
Looking back across one of the mountains I was curious about all the dimples on the slopes. Apparently it is normal to dig out the roots of big trees and cut as many as one can so that in the winter the tree blows down. On asking why, the answer was quite obvious (drrrrrrr!)- Laszlo informed us that the roots and stump are much easier to remove once it has become uprooted. Wow, how blooming obvious!