The Flowers of Armenia
Rick L. Ney
Armenia’s flora is so diverse and rich it seems all you would have to do is add a cactus or two, a few palms and a rain forest, and your would pretty much complete the world’s diversity of plant life.
In the depths of summer, Ararat Valley is a mirage of rock, except where irrigation feeds oasis’ of melons, vegetables and fruit. Drive along the highway between Giumri and Yerevan in July, and you will swear you are passing through Death Valley.
Yet in March and April, locals flock to this very place to witness one of Nature’s miracles, as the long winter and snow that is measured in meters begins to melt into watery ribbons that feed the verdant valleys.
Drive the same Giumri to Yerevan road in May, and you will be forgiven by locals for thinking you have entered a verdant paradise, something akin to the emerald green of Ireland.
And there are those who swear Armenia never passes from Spring into Summer on the mountains, counting seven spring times that rise in concentric circles up the sides of the mountains. Even in the depths of summer, just a few kilometers up Mt. Aragats, or an hour’s drive into the mountain passes above Vanadzor, or the Siunik Kingdom, the land teems with color, and cool mountain air plays with native poppies, cornflowers, orchids, iris and gladiolus.
Literally within an hour's drive of Yerevan, 5 completely unique topographies lie, each with its own varieties of flora, many lying on opposite sides of the highway. While one side will hold forests teeming with woodland species, the other may be semi-desert, Mediterranean marshland, mountain steppe or alpine meadow.
Spring is a glorious time in Armenia.
Autumn has a twinge of regret in it, even as bountiful harvests make their way to market, the metal stands at the shuka groaning under the weight of succulent fruit and vegetables.
In September, people sigh a breath of relief with the end of summer’s heat waves, and the streets and sidewalks teem with strollers and passersby. But by October they are already talking about stuffing plastic in their windows, cleaning out the wood stove, or stockpiling fuel for the coming winter.
The fields are spent for the year, and the myriad shades of red and brown wrought from months of rainless weather begin to change to gray. The mountaintops are already sleeping under a blanket of white. Soon winter’s snows will blast the land to sleep, and neighbors burrow into their homes for the long night of winter.
But Spring is promise forever. From the top of a snow-encrusted mountain in February, one can already spot ripples of green in valley snowlines. And by April, the ever-changing terrain seems like waves of pastel colors in the breeze. Red, pink, blue, yellow and purple toss like waves of color in fields of green—a green that suddenly erupts in April across the valleys and moves in concentric circles up the mountainsides in May and June.
With 17 vegetation zones, Armenia’s variety of plant-life is truly astounding. The country has everything from semi-desert scrub to deciduous and coniferous forests, from wet marshlands teeming with water flora and fauna, and sub-tropical regions in both the North and South of the country, to alpine meadows teeming with wild flowers.
There are even virgin fields of wild grain, the forebears of the first wheat in the ancient world, believed to have been cultivated in Armenia 12-15,000 years ago. Known by their genus names Triticum Urartu and Triticum Araraticum, they are native to the Ararat valley and can be found in small protected fields between Yerevan and Garni.
Also native to Armenia are the apricot and peach. The apricot was taken by Alexander the Great’s army back to Greece, where the Romans then spread it throughout Southern Europe. Other fruits that grow in the country include apples, pears, cherries, mazzards, plums, pomegranates and an amazing variety of grapes.
Armenia’s flora is so diverse and rich it seems all you would have to do is add a cactus or two, a few palms and a rain forest, and your would pretty much complete the world’s diversity of plant life. Armenia has over 3,500 species of plants, more than half of the 6,000 that can be found in the entire Transcaucasus region. While Europe has around 20,000 species, with a total land mass of just under 30,000 sq. kilometers (about the size of Belgium), Armenia’s diversity and close proximity of so many different types of flora is often breath-taking.
And Armenian flora have their fans outside of Armenia, too. For several years running, Japanese botanical tourists have been making an annual trek to Armenia, to sample rare and endangered flora species found only in Armenia.
Japanese visitors come in May, when flora are still abundant in valleys, and beginning to bloom in upper elevations. Internationally renowned botanist Professor Nora Gabrielian, member of the Academy of Sciences, serves as a host for these "Flower Watching" visits. She explains that the attraction to Armenia’s flora by Japanese is not as exotic as it first sounds. In Japan, where the art of flower arranging ("Ikebana") has become something of a national obsession, beautiful and rare flora are highly prized. Unique species of Iris, ranunculus, colchicum, fritillaria, gladioli, tulips, hyacinths, orchids, crocus, punica, tournefortia, calendula, and vincas are but a few of the thousands that draw annual pilgrimages of Japanese tourists in the Spring.
Asked where the best places to observe flora, Professor Gabrielian said that all of Armenia provides excellent places to observe flowers, but the most beautiful examples are found in places where valleys and mountain meadows come together and have been left relatively alone. Unwilling to peg a most favorite spot for observing flora, Gabrielian offers instead an overview of flora (latin names) for the avid flower watcher:
Garni and Geghard Canyons:
Garni and Geghard Canyons hold very rare flowers that bloom only in Springtime, including Gladiolus atroviolaceus, Nigella oxypetala, Actynolema macrolema, Gundelia tournefort, Verbascum saccatum, Lallemanita iberica, Roemeria retracta, Scabiosa argentea, Scorronera paposa, Muscari beglecta, Stchys inflata, Astragalus distyophysus, A. kochianus, Achillea tenuifolia, Helichrysum rubicundum, Silena spergulifolia.
Geghard Gorge is particularly unique, with samples of Linaria armeniaca, Acantholimon bracteatum, Illium akana, Tulipa julia, Corydalis augustifolius, Orni-thogalum mountanum, O. gussonei, Campanula choziatorskyi, Bellevalia longystila, Muscari neglecta, Lotus goebelia, Astragalus strictifolius, Serratula serratuloides, Tomanthea aucheri, Malus oreientalis, Prunus divaricata, Sorbus graeca, S. persica, S. aucuparia, Crataegus orientalis, C. lacimiata.
Found throughout the regions are Merendera trigyna, M. raddeana, Colchiam bifolium, Purdminia scilloides, Scilla armenia, S. siberica, Tulipa julia, Iris caucasia, Muscari caucasicum, Bellevalia pycnantha, Ornithogalum schelkovnikovii, O. brachystachys, O. hyastanum, Fritillaria caucasia, Nectarosordum tripedale, Osp of gagea, Myosotis alpestre, Amenone caucasia, Orchis coriophora, Gladiolus tenuis.
Lower Elevation sagebrush steppe flora includes Gladiolus atroviolaceus, Nigella oxypetala, Actynolema macrolema, Gundelia tournefort, Verbascum saccatum, Lallemanita iberica, Roemeria retracta, Scabiosa argentea, Scorronera paposa, Muscari beglecta, Stchys inflata, Astragalus distyophysus, A. kochianus, Achillea tenuifolia, Helichrysum rubicundum, Silena spergulifolia.
Mountain Steppe flora includes Gladiolus atroviolaceus, Nigella oxypetala, Actynolema
macrolema, Gundelia tournefort, Verbascum saccatum, Lallemanita iberica, Roemeria retracta, Scabiosa argentea, Scorronera paposa, Muscari beglecta, Stchys inflata, Astragalus distyophysus, A. kochianus, Achillea tenuifolia, Helichrysum rubicundum, Silena spergulifolia.
Sevan Shore flora include Prangos ferulacea, Eremurus spectabilis, Tulipa julia, Iris paradoxa, iris caucasica, Scutellaxia orientalis, Crambe orientalis, Cleome ornithovodioides, Gypsophila elegans, Senecio vernalis, Silene chlorantha, Reichardia dichotoma, Srophularia olgae, S. armeniaca, S. grossheimii, Artemisia absinthium, Spiraea crenata.
Sevan Pass and mountain flora include Iris furcata, Anemone fasciculata, A. raminculoides, Primula ruprechtii, P. macrocalyx, Trollius patulus, Caltha polypetala, Veratium lobelianum, Palsatilla armena, Corydalis persica, Fritillaria caucasica, Betonica grandiflora, Prunus spinosa, Sedum pilosum, Sempervivum transcaucasicum, Malus orientalis, Pyrus caucasicus.
Vayots Dzor and Siunik:
River Gorge flora include Alkanna orientalis, Cerasus incana, Prus, salicifolia, Cerasus
mahaleb, Amygdalus ferzlinia, Spirala crenata, Saxifraga cymbalaria, Linaria armeniaca,
Acantholimon bracteatum, Illium akana, Tulipa julia, Corydalis augustifolius, Orni-thogalum mountanum, O. gussonei, Campanula choziatorskyi, Bellevalia longystila, Muscari neglecta, Lotus goebelia, Astragalus strictifolius, Serratula serratuloides, Tomanthea aucheri, Malus oreientalis, Prunus divaricata, Sorbus graeca, S. persica, S. aucuparia, Crataegus orientalis, C. lacimiata.
Sissian and Goris flora include Iris lineolata, I. Caucasica, Merendera mirzoeval, Colchicum Szoritsii, Gagea ssp., Puschkinia scilloides, Draba ssp., Lallemautia caneseeus, Ranunculus ssp., Myosotis alpestris, Pedicularis ssp., Trifolium ssp., Gladiolus kotschyanus, Silene ssp.
Kapan and Meghri Mountain Flora include Tulipa florensvyi, T. confusa: f. pink, f. red, f. yellow, Iris grossheimii, I. Paradoxa, I. Caucasica, I. Pseudocaucasica, I. Atropatana, Mesendera candissima, Colchicum zangezurum, Hyacintella atropatana, Fritillaria kurdica, F. armena, Orchis simma, O. schelvcornikovii, O. stvenii, O. coriphora, Steveniella satyroides, Cephalanthera epipactoides, Epipactis latifolia, Acantholimon fedorovii, Reseda globulosa, Cercis griffithii, Gladiolus szovitsii, G. atroviolaceus, G. italicus, Punica granatum (wild), Tournefortia siberia, Calendula persica.
Northern Meghri and Kapan flora include Iris imbricata, Tulipa sosnovskyi, Fritillaria pinardii, F. armenia, Colchicum ninae, C. Szovitsii, Merendera raddeana, Crocus asamii, Corydalis persica, Ornithogalum sigmoideum, O. transcaucasicum, Genista transcaucasica, Mespilus germanica, Scilla mistscheukoana.
Kapan and Vorotan flora include Iris lineolata, I. Paradoxa, I. Caucasica, Allium stamineum, Bellevalia paradoxa, B. longystila, Muscari atropatana, M. sosnovskyi, Tulipa Sosnovskyi, Punica granatum, Vinca Vitis sylvestris, Ficus carica (wild).