The key plants of Romania's wildflower meadows

Some of our most familiar plants have their provenance in the grasslands of southern Transylvania, here we look at the importance of these wildflower meadows and list some of their key plants. 

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For some time now, foreign visitors have been flocking to southern Transylvania in Romania, largely drawn by the remarkable architecture of its medieval towns and villages. Today, however, more visitors are coming to its hills to see the wildflowers. From late spring to midsummer the green farmland vistas of this region of rolling marl hills magically transformsinto a grassland garden of colour, scent and humming insects. Everywhere, a bright tapestry of wildflowers enfolds and transfigures roadside verges and banks, hay meadows, sheep and cattle pastures, scrubby hillsides and woodland margins. It is a spectacle to lift the heart.

 

 

The grassland flora

The grassland flora is a mix of western and central European, steppic and Mediterranean plants, together with some mountain plants. The region’s central European climate means hot summers and cold winters, and the plants that thrive here are both drought-tolerant and resistant to low temperatures. This dry or semi-dry meadow-steppe is an internationally important vegetation that has retreated throughout central Europe, at its best in patches of true steppic grassland on south-facing slopes and steep marl hummocks that are a feature of the area known as the Saxon Villages.

Here, from early May, among sparse tussocky fescues and feather-grasses appear special wildflowers, several on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Romania’s rarest plants, including Crambe tatarica, Dictamnus albus, Echium maculatum, milk-vetches, mulleins, yellow, blue and pink flaxes and, most spectacular of all, the tall, bowed spikes of violet-blue Salvia nutans, which look like giant, branched bluebells, are visible even from a distance. By contrast, in the Carpathian foothills, as well as in a few lowland sites that have escaped 20th-century drainage, the flora of damper meadows on north-facing slopes and along valley bottoms includes orchids, globe-flower, bistort, marsh marigold, monkshood and gladioli.

13 key plants from the wildflower meadows

 

1 Clematis integrifolia
An upright perennial that will form small clumps in meadows and low, open scrub on hillsides or sides of steep hummocks. 20-50cm. RHS H6, USDA 3a-7b.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Dianthus carthusianorum
Striking wildflower that grows on dry banks, meadows and woodland margins, variable in height and size of flower clusters. 30-60cm. RHS H7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Cichorium intybus
From midsummer onwards it colours fallow fields with shimmering blue. There’s also a white variant. 30cm-1m. RHS H5, USDA 3a-8b.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Stachys recta
Common in dry meadows and on steep sunny slopes but rather inconspicuous. The lips of the flowers are minutely but beautifully marked. 30-80cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Salvia nutans
Aromatic plant found on steep steppic slopes. Forms bluebell-like crowds that are visible from a distance. The flower clusters become erect in fruit. On the Romanian IUCN Red List. 60cm-1.5m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Allium scorodoprasum
A handsome wild leek with flat, keeled leaves and heads of dark flowers. Forms patches on dry banks, and edges of meadows and paths. 40-80cm. RHS H5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Polygala major
A magnificent, almost orchid-like milkwort forming loose patches in dry meadows and open scrub, which flowers over much of the summer. 20-60cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Trifolium pannonicum
The finest of the many Transylvanian meadow clovers, this has scented flowers in heads the size and shape of a bantam’s egg. 30-80cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Melica transsilvanica
Tufted grass of dry meadow slopes, scrub and woodland margins, described from Transylvania but widespread in eastern Europe. 30-60cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Muscari comosum
Found on dry slopes. One of few bulbous species present in the meadows. 30-50cm. USDA 5a-8b.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Vincetoxicum hirundinaria
Poisonous plant that forms upright clumps and patches, with clusters of waxy flowers. Found on dry slopes, scrub and woodland margins. 50cm-1.2m. USDA 4a-8b.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 Neotinea ustulata
This elegant orchid is widespread but not, in large numbers, in old meadows or where abandoned arable land has reverted to grassland. On Romanian IUCN Red List. 10-35cm.

 

 

 

 

 

13 Stachys germanica
Common in dry meadows, pastures and fallow fields, on grassy banks and roadsides; similar to the garden favourite lamb’s ear (S. byzantina) but a more elegant biennial. 30-80cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Useful information

You can find out more about the conservation of the meadows at Fundatia ADEPT (fundatia-adept.org). 
 

Words John Akeroyd, botanist and leading authority on Transylvania's wild flora

Photos Richard Bloom

This article was taken from a longer feature in the May issue of Gardens Illustrated (260). 

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