In a small group, we travel through the diverse Slovenian landscape, in search of the earliest spring flowers. This tour especially concentrates on the flowers of the genus Helleborus, of which there are five species in Slovenia. For more information about these plants see our blog posts “Notes on Helleborus in Slovenia” and “Notes on Crocus in Slovenia”.
Slovenia has continental climate and winters can be cold. Almost 60 % of the country is covered by predominantly deciduous forest. In fall, the above-ground parts of most herbaceous plants die off in late fall. During winter, plant life is at a standstill for several months. Then, just before trees develop leaves in spring, there is a brief explosion of early spring flowers which colour the forest floor and the extensively used hay meadows.
In some forests, Christmas roses, flower already in late winter, sometimes even through a thin layer of snow. Elsewhere, Snowdrops dominate the forest edges in a multitude of delicate white flowers. At the same time, meadows become the domain of Crocus of which there are four species in Slovenia.They often grow together with other, less known species like Gagea pratensis, Omphalodes verna and Hacquetia epipactis.
Arrival and departure from Ljubljana Brnik airport.
This is a specialised botanical tour in which we focus on the early spring flowers. We will see all five Slovenian species of Helleborine and Christmas rose, as well as many other spring flowers including Crocus, Snowdrop and Dogs Tooth.
During the tour, we will visit forests, mountains and dry Karst regions. Much of the time we will be outdoors, and although we will not walk long distances (max 5 km), we go off the roads on often uneven and rocky ground. In the end of March, the weather can be unpredictable: we hope for pleasant sunny days but it is possible that we get windy days with rain showers as well. In the evening, the temperature rapidly drops and there might be night frost. Therefore we kindly ask you to be prepared for a variety of weather circumstances.
Please note that taking any plants or animals from nature is not permitted during this tour.
We arrive in Venice airport in the middle of the day. With a stopover in Italy we drive to our accommodation in Divača, where we see the first early spring flowers including Istrian Hellebore and the white flowering Crocus albiflorus.
In the Slovenian Karst region, much of the landscape looks grey and brown during winter. Occasionally, a strong, cold wind, the Burja, blows from the mountains. At the early onset of spring, Cocus and Grape Hyacinth appear. They stay small at first and find shelter between last years grass.
Istrian helleborine grows mainly at forest edges, where the Burja is less strong. Here, it can afford to grow tall: with up to 40 cm height it is one of the tallest deciduous plants in the early spring! These plants have a rather variable leaf- and flower shape and one of the best field-characters that distinguish them from other hellebore species is that, in time, Istrian Hellebore can form dense clusters with many flowering stems. On sunny afternoons, the flowers emit a smell which ranges from pleasant to rather not-so-nice: this varies between individual plants. This variable smell is a characteristic which Istrian Hellebore shares with Fragrant and Red Hellebore.
Not far from the Dry Karst, on the Limestone Hills of Inner Carniola, the Illyrian Beech forest begins. This is part of the largest forest complex of Central Europe which spans from the Italian/Slovenian border region all the way to the southern Balkans in Greece and Albania. Already in February, Christmas roses start to grow here, but the height of their flowering season is in March. With their large flowers, they literally dominate the forest floor and many hundreds can be found in some places. The flowers of Christmas rose are white at first and often blush with pink hues when they grow in bright sunlight. Towards the end of the season, their “petals” show that they are in fact modified ordinary leaves and turn to a yellowish green colour.
Locally, in the same region, we find the Fragrant Hellebore. this plant reminds us of it’s relative the Istrian Hellebore and in fact, the distinction between the two is often unclear. Fragrant Hellebore is a forest plant which prefers south-facing slopes on a limestone underground. Where this plant grows, the vegetation is often exceptionally rich in species and we may expect other spring flowers as well.
The Bush Hellebore, Helleborus dumetorum, remains one of the least known Hellebores. This is also the case in Slovenia and part of the historical distribution data actually refer to wrongly identified other Hellebores. It is a rather smaller and more delicate plant, which can best be distinguished by the shiney and smooth undersides of its leaves. Its flowers are yellowish green and slightly smaller than those of other Hellebores. In Slovenia, the Bush Hellebore is a Pannonic floral element, which means that it is restricted to the low riverine region in the northeastern part of the country. Here, it grows in moist forests, often together with an abundance of Spring Snowflakes.
To reach this plant, we have a longer driving time diagonally through Slovenia. On the way we stop at the largest population of Snake’s Head Frittilary, Frittilaria meleagris as well as the best known Slovenian ocality for the Greater Pasque Flower, Pulsatilla grandis! We end this day in a medieval city in Southeastern Slovenia, where we will stay for the remaining part of the tour.
In Southeastern Slovenia we encounter yet another Hellebore species: the Red Hellebore, Helleborus atrorubens. In lowland localities, like the place which we visit this morning, it is often difficult to determine if they are a separate species or merely a dark form of the Fragrant Hellebore. Regardless of this taxonomic question, they have beautiful flowers with a distinct appearance, which are well worth looking at. We find them in species-rich forest edges, often exposed to the sun for part of the day.
Until now, we spend much of our time on slopes and hills, but this afternoon, we visit an area which is entirely flat. Close to our accommodation, we find one of the last remaining near-natural lowland forests, which is partly flooded! This is the natural habitat of Snake’s Head Fritillaries, Spring Snowflakes and the rare endemic Pulmonaria dacica as well as a frog which turns bright blue for just a few days in early spring. If we are lucky and the weather is right, we might see them between the flowers!
In the lowland where we saw them yesterday, Red Helleborines are already special plants, but where they grow on the top of a low mountain, exposed to the sun and the weather, they become truly spectacular! Here, they develop into very dark purple-violet flowers without a trace of green, the absolute highlight of our tour! They grow together with a variety of other spring flowers, many of which are already familiar from our previous days. But with this, the tour is not over yet: in the afternoon, there is still time to visit the largest Slovenian location with Winter Aconites. These yellow flowers are close relatives of Hellebores and they start to flower even earlier, in February or sometimes even in January. The place which we visit is on a small mountain and we hope that our timing is just right to still seem them on the top, at an altitude of 900 meter …
With this, our Early Spring Flower tour already ends and we will make sure that everyone is in time for the departure flight from Zagreb Airport.
Easy. During the tour, we will walk slowly and stop many times, but terrain can be difficult, rocky and occasionally steep, without real climbing. Please make sure that you have good hiking shoes and sturdy trousers! While we hope for pleasantly sunny early spring weather, we may get cold wind and occasional showers, please dress accordingly!
During the tour, we will stay at two accommodations. In the first three nights, we will stay in the Logar Tourist Farm in Žerovnica in southern Slovenia. In the second half of the tour, we will move towards eastern Slovenia, where we will stay in Vila Castanea in a small picturesque town Kostanjevica na Krki.
During this tour, we will use a van (up to 8 participants) or a minibus with a driver (9-19 participants). This gives us a maximum of flexibility: how long we like to stay at each place, is up to us. due to the kind of places which we visit, we can allow for a somewhat larger group than usual during our tours.