Valle d’Aosta Rock Gardens
At the entrance to the Gardens you’ll find the flora of Valle d’Aosta, the region the Gardens call home and the smallest in Italy, as little children learn in school. And yet, although its surface area is only one percent of Italy’s total, it hosts forty percent of Italy’s plant species. As you learn their names and come to recognize their scents, you’ll discover that every flower has a story. The edelweiss, for example, is symbolic of these mountains but comes from very far away: the arid mountain plateaus of Central Asia. Many think that it’s the rarest of the native flowers, but that’s not the case. There are flowers here of lesser prominence, but much harder to find, like Eritrichium nanum, a tiny forget-me-not that grows on the morainic slopes, or the martagon lily, also known as the Turk’s cap lily, because of its elegantly curled petals.
There are more rare blooms here: a tour around the borders of this rock garden will reveal many plants worthy of note. Centaurea triumphetti, which resembles a large light blue mountain cornflower; Lychnis alpina, a resident of the highest alpine pastures; Lychnis flos-jovis, typically found in more arid areas at lower altitudes; Campanula thyrsoides and the extremely rare Paeonia officinalis: today, in Valle d’Aosta, this plant is found only in two inaccessible spots in the lower part of the valley.
Then there are the artemisias. One in particular, Artemisia genipi, lends its aroma to genepy, a sweet, alcohol-based digestive tonic. The yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea) also has digestive properties, but you must be very careful: it is quite similar to the white hellebore (Veratrum album), which is poisonous. The difference between them lies in their leaves, which are opposite and paired in Gentiana lutea, with five veins that diverge towards the borders, and are never furry. Instead, Veratrum album has alternating leaves at various heights along the stem, the veins are numerous and parallel and the leaves are thickly furred on the underside. When they are in bloom, it is easy to tell them apart: the hellebore’s flowers are small and greenish, arranged in a spiral, while the gentian’s are larger, yellow and arranged in concentric circles.
Cover image: ©Antonio Furingo
Schede piante: Valle d’Aosta
Common name: spurge laurel
A small bush that flowers as soon as the snow melts.
The plant ranges in height from 30 to 70 centimeters, with an upright, ramified trunk and greyish bark. The leaves are simple, whole and alternating, and they develop after the flowers bloom. The flower consists of four petals fused in a tubelike lower part.
The fruit of the spurge laurel is a brilliant red drupe, about a centimeter in diameter: it is poisonous to eat for mammals, but not for birds.
The bush blooms from April to June; it is found in the pastures and on rocky ground, at altitudes of 500 to 2600 meters, and is common in Valle d’Aosta and throughout the Alps.
Common name: straw foxglove
Digitalis lutea belongs to the Scrophulariaceae family: it is a perennial and reaches a height of 50 to 100 centimeters. Its leaves are oval and lanceolate: those at the base of the plant are serrated and much larger than the ones that grow along the stem. The inflorescence is formed by many yellow, bell-shaped flowers, all facing in the same direction. The straw foxglove is found in clearings in the woods at heights of 800 to 1600 meters and blooms in June and July.
The plant has cardiotonic properties, but the preparations made from its active principles can only be administered by prescription and under constant medical control: in fact, medicines made with digitalis can cause intoxication and poisoning.
It contains digitalin, a substance that has not yet been synthesized in the laboratory.
A very similar plant, Digitalis purpurea, is a biennial, a bit taller and with purple flowers flecked with white. In the wild it is found only in the woods of Sardinia and Corsica, and the cultivated variety contains a greater concentration of active principles than its wild counterpart. All species of digitalis are poisonous.
Common name: white saxifrage
Synonymous: Saxifraga exarata subsp. moschata (Wulfen) Cavill.
This plant’s stem is glandular, almost glabrous; its leaves are concave, with shallow grooves, either whole or divided into 3 – 5 linear lobes. It blooms from July to August and its petals are generally a yellowish green, or in rare instances white, pink or dark purple. The plant is quite common in all of Valle d’Aosta, in meadows, on rocky outcrops and on scree slopes.