„Nothing grows in Saaremaa but junipers and pines,” is a line from a song that paints a rather skewed picture of the Saaremaa fl ora. It is true that junipers and pines are both very important, and a visitor will certainly notice them. But Saaremaa’s plant communities are made unique by the limestone bedrock and the marine climate.
It takes millions of years for new plant species to develop. As Saaremaa has been free of ice and water cover for ‘only’ the past 10,000 years, it is not quite enough to develop many entirely native species. However, Saaremaa yellow rattle (Rhinanthus osiliensis) and Saaremaa marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza osiliensis) are two species not found anywhere else in the world. Both of these rarities are denizens of the lime-rich fens of Western Saaremaa, and the coy yellow flowers of the yellow rattle appear in August.
Saaremaa is particularly famous for its orchids. The most notable is the largest orchid in Estonia – lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus), which is popularly also known as the „cuckoo’s slipper”. There are many other members of the orchid family in the meadows, fens and forests of Saaremaa: fragrant orchids (Gymnadenia), marsh orchids (Dactylorhiza, including the Saaremaa marsh-orchid), twayblades (Listera), butterfly orchids (Platanthera), orchids (Orchis) and so on. In Estonian, many common names of the orchid plants include the word ‘kägu’ (cuckoo), indicating that the best time to go looking for orchids is when the cuckoo is singing – from mid-May to early July.
While wandering the broad-leaved forests of Saaremaa in the spring, you may catch a strong whiff of garlic-like smell, indicating that there is wild garlic (Allium ursinum) nearby. Wild garlic is a very popular springtime herb. However, it would be wise to show some restraint when picking wild plants, to avoid excessive damage to the plant populations. The exciting appearance of the forests in Saaremaa is often created by the tree-climbing common ivy (Hedera helix) with its evergreen, roughly triangular leaves. Common ivy flowers in September and the fruits ripen by spring.
Characterised by dark-green needles and a slightly spruce-like appearance, the common yew (Taxus baccata) is known for its longevity but also toxicity. The first yew flowers can appear as early as end of April, with male and female flowers growing on different trees.
In autumn, the branches of female yews are decorated with red cones that look like berries. Saaremaa offers many rare finds for budding flower enthusiasts and seasoned botanists alike, and from April to October there is always something exciting to discover. Hence it would be a good idea to visit Saaremaa again and again at different times.
Focusing on Rare Plants
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