Flora of the Caucasus

I freely admit that I’m a plant geek. Discovery of a particular plant, whether it’s rare or common, beautiful or grotesque, imparts a joy to me that I have difficulty in describing. Knowledge of any plant – its name or natural history, lofty or low, slips another piece into the puzzle of our existence. That’s the best way I can describe it.So beware! Go no further in this blog unless you share some of those same sentiments. This is a blog about plants.

chestnut2

Chestnut Castanea sativa

As you read this blog, you’ll come across links that support my ramblings. Explore those at your pleasure! Also, if you’d like to see all my photos of Georgian flora, you can click here.

Why study plants? Some may question its importance. But, consider that animal life would not have evolved on earth in its present form if early flora had not poisoned the atmosphere. The carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere of pre-Paleozoic earth was a floral paradise – free plentiful CO2, a warm climate and lots of light in the right wavelength, these early plants had it made in the shade. They gave off oxygen as a by product of photosynthesis and tied up precious carbon in their dead skeletons, thus the atmosphere of the earth became oxygenated. So, we aren’t the first living things to modify earth’s atmosphere. It was done first by lowly plants 470 million years ago.

Speaking of animals, all of us rely on floral production for their existence. Not only did plants prep the atmosphere to allow for respiration, but they also directly or indirectly nurture us all. How we grow, hybridize, market and modify plants in the future will determine how the human race will survive. Preservation and conservation of flora can be considered from a self serving point of view. Which grass species now poorly studied or understood will replace wheat as the staple crop of the human race? We don’t know, but we better be sure that we have some options!

Medicine too relies on flora for future innovations in health care. That lowly daisy on a high mountain in the Caucasus may hold the key to some future cure.

OK so what’s interesting about the Caucasus flora? There’s a very high level of endemism, about 25% of the flora, which is very high. The Caucasus are also extraordinary in the number of ecosystems represented. From coastal lowlands to high alpine systems and everything in-between. In addition, the Caucasus area was an important glacial Quaternary refugia during the last glacial maximum. This means that much of the European flora and fauna were repopulated from this small area.

According to IUCN red list, there are 9 critically endangered and 19 additional endangered species in the country. This in a country the size of West Virginia!

One of the first things that’s striking when you travel to Europe is how many plants you recognize; many of our common weeds originated in Europe/Asia. 

vipersbugloss

Viper’s bugloss, Blueweed Echium vulgare

Viper’s bugloss blooms in profusion on roadsides and ditches. It’s one of the highest pollen and nectar producing plant in nature. It’s not a great bee plant due to the fact that it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that will be in honey produced from the flowers.  But, I find this plant a brutish beauty! Why such high levels of alkaloids in this plant, it’s producing these as an antibiotic, basically poisoning animals that eat it.

EpiphyticFerns

These two epiphytic ferns were photographed in Mtirala National Park. A temperate rain forest within a biodiversity hot-spot.  This park’s name means to weep, very high rainfall and constant wet conditions are prevalent.

kinzi

No discussion of Georgian flora would be complete without something that’s eaten. In my experience, Georgians eat a lot of wild or wild growing plants, using them in many traditional dishes. This plant is Coriandrum sativum – known by many names including coriander, cilantro and Chinese parsley. In Georgia, it’s kindzi (ქინძი) and called the same thing for the seeds and leaves.

The content of this website/blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S.  Government or the Peace Corps.

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