Spring meeting 1974: Draguignan, Var, France

HomeEventsSpring meeting 1974: Draguignan, Var, France

3 April 1974 - 10 April 1974

Meeting report

The Spring Meeting, organized by Mr P. J. Wanstall, was held at Draguignan, chef-lieu of the Department of Var, France, from 3 to 10 April. Seven British members attended, and we had the pleasure of the company of our French member Monsieur Pierrot for three days.

Draguignan lies 23 km distant from Fréjus, the nearest point on the sea, at about 250 m alt. on the northern edge of a broad, highly cultivated basin of Triassic rocks. Immediately north of the town rolling hills of predominantly Jurassic limestone rise to altitudes of 300-500 m. Northwards the limestone hills continue to rise until, 20 km north of Draguignan, around the spectacular gorge of the river Verdon, they attain an altitude of 1000-1500 m; eastwards the limestone belt passes Into the Maritime Alps, while westwards it extends to the neighbourhood of Marseilles and Aix-en- Provence. To the south, bordering the sea, are massifs of hills with acidic rocks and igneous intrusions – the Maures to the west of Fréjus, rising to about 500 m, of Carboniferous and Precambrian grits and shales, and to the east of Fréjus the much more highly dissected Esterel, of Permian shales.

On 3 April we examined the limestone close to Draguignan, and on 4 April the more elevated limestone above the gorge of the Verdon. On 5 April we visited the famous Forest of Ste Baume, 30 km east of Marseilles, on limestone, 670-970 m alt. 6 April was devoted to the low sandy ground north of Puget (6-8 km northwest of Fréjus) and to the low siliceous hills around the gorge of the river Blavet just to the north. On 7 April one party visited the Esterel, which appeared so promising that we revisited it on the 9th, while the other party examined the low-lying limestone country to the west and southwest of Draguignan. On 8 April one party visited the limestone foothills of the Alpes Maritimes between Menton and Sospel, guided by Miss M. Campbell, while the other party visited various places on the coast near St Tropez and in the Maures. On 10 April three of us paid a quick visit to Roquebrune, a spectacular rocky hilt which forms a northeastern outlier of the Maures, apparently a neglected site which would repay more thorough examination.

It was scarcely to be hoped that we should make any outstanding discoveries, and many of our most interesting records, so far as distribution in France is concerned, merely confirm old records from the same districts by Boulay or Philibert – e.g. Fissidens serrulatus* ( Ravin de Perthus, Esterel), Epipterygium tozeri (near La Mole, Maures), Timmiella barbuloides (Brid.) Moenk. (Esterel? +). Mr Crundwell, however, recognised Tortula bolanderi (Lesq.) Broth, (new to Europe) in a shady lane at Ramatuelle, near St Tropez, accompanied by Fissidens algarvicus, Ditrichum subulatum, etc. We saw fewer than ten species of bryophyte which are not known from Britain, in striking contrast to the phanerogam flora, in which non-British species are overwhelmingly predominant.

[* Except when authorities are cited, the names of the bryophytes are those used in the two British Census Catalogues.]

[+ Not noticed in the field, but noticed by Mr Fletcher amongst Riccias that I sent him to grow, and has also appeared amongst Riccias, probably from the Esterel, that I am growing.]

French authorities (e.g. Flahault, in Coste’s Flore de la France) place the boundary of the Mediterranean floristic region about 10 km north of Draguignan. Sunny earth banks and limestone rocks near Draguignan bear many thermophilous species such as Bryum canariense, Crossidium squamigerum Jur. , Desmatodon convolutus, Fabronia pusilla Rad. (on olive and Quercus ilex), Grimmia orbicularis, Tortula canescens, Pottia starkeana, Cephaloziella baumgartneri, Southbya tophacea, Funaria pulchella Philib. (not very rare, as the old authorities state, but apparently the common representative of the ‘F. muhlenbergii complex’ in the district). All these species are frequent, and were seen in many places, accompanied by more widely ranging species such as Aloina aloides, Bryum torquescens Bruch and Grimmia pulvinata. The thermophilous element very quickly disappears on going northwards, and the oak coppice (often very degraded) and limestone pavements above the gorge of the Verdon have an essentially continental European flora such as would be found on the Burgundian hills. Neckera crispa, Orthotrichum affine, O. speciosum and O. striatum, Zygodon viridissimus var. vulgaris (the only form seen during the week), Frullania dilatata and Radula complanata were abundant on tree boles, while Camptothecium lutescens and Hylocomium splendens are abundant on the ground. Rhytidium rugosum was frequent, and Tortula subulata var. graeffii was abundant on earth banks. Almost the only markedly southern species were Leptodon smithii (stunted, and confined to tree bases), Tortula princeps (stunted and rare), and Targionia hypophylla. North of Menton the mediterranean element disappears even more quickly, and in general the bryophyte flora resembles that of the lower limestone hills of eastern France, though marked by the remarkable luxuriance of certain species such as Neckera complanata, which draped Buxus branches with curtains up to 20 cm deep.

The Forest of Ste Baume is famous as an outlier of deciduous forest with beech, elm, ash, Quercus pubescens, holly and yew in a region where Pinus halepensis, Q. ilex, Q. coccifera and sclerophyllous scrub predominate. It occupies steep northern slopes at the foot of a range of cliffs in which is a cave where, according to a very ancient tradition, Saint Mary Magdalene ended her life as a penitent recluse. The site is certainly one with a locally enhanced precipitation (ca. 1000 mm, much of it as snow, which had not completely gone, compared with ca. 560 mm at Marseilles), but it is probably not unique in this respect, and the forest has survived because it has been protected for nearly a thousand years as a ‘sacred grove’. The rich corticolous flora included Habrodon perpusillus, Leptodon smithii (luxuriant and fruiting freely), Leucodon sciuroides var. morensis, Radula complanata (highly gemmiferous, as everywhere where we saw it) all abundant, and Tortula virescens. On rocks and on the ground Anomodon viticulosus, Cirriphyllum crassinervium, Isothecium striatulum and Pterogonium gracile abounded; Myurella julacea var scabrifolia was mixed with other mosses on rocks. The southern slope of the hill presents a complete contrast, with bare rocky ground and open scrub of Cistus, etc. Phascum curvicollum, Pottia lanceolata, P. starkeana and Pterygoneuron ovatum (so hoary as to look like a different species from our English plants) were frequent, but pronouncedly mediterranean species were not seen.

The non-calcareous rocks and sandy ground near the coast afforded a great contrast to the limestone. Sunny rocks were often thick with Grimmia spp. including G. commutata, G. laevigata, G. tergestina Tomm. , and with Hedwigia ciliata. Campylopus polytrichoides was frequent on rock ledges in the Esterel and at Roquebrune. The following species were frequent or even abundant, and seen in many localities: Bartramia stricta, Barbula acuta, Bryum alpinum (often fruiting), Ceratodon chloropus, Camptothecium aureum (Lag.) B. , S. & G. , Eurhynchium megapolitanum, Funaria attenuata, F. obtusa, Scleropodium tourettii, Cephaloziella stellulifera, Gongylanthus ericetorum. The Esterel also yielded Cephaloziella turneri, C. calyculata, Fossombronia angulosa (also in the Maures), F. caespitiformis, F. husnotii and F. pusilla. On seasonally wet ground (usually flat, but occasionally near the bases of steep banks) Riccia crozalsii was frequent, usually accompanied by a larger persistently sterile Riccia which is presumably R. michelii; R. nigrella was very much rarer, seen only in the Esterel and on Roquebrune. Fissidens algarvicus was seen in two localities in the Esterel, and also near St Tropez. Corsinia coriandrina (Sprg.) Ldbg. was frequent in damp ground.

River banks, whether calcareous or not, often yielded Scorpiurium deflexifolium (Solms) Fleisch. & Loeske, Bryum gemmiparum (sometimes without gemmae), and Cinclidotus mucronatus.

Much of the interest of the week’s experience lies in seeing some of our most local and unfamiliar British bryophytes growing in abundance, in obviously optimum conditions, and some of our familiar species growing in unfamiliar conditions. I have already named most of the first category; to them may be added Eurhynchium meridionale, Scorpiurium circinnatum and Tortula cuneifolia. Of the second category perhaps one of the most striking is Bryum alpinum, often abundant on dry rocks (though doubtless copiously irrigated during periods of rain) at very low altitudes. The frequency of Leiocolea turbinata emphasises its strong western Mediterranean tendency. By contrast, Lejeunea cavifolia (the only Lejeuneaceae seen) was very rare and only in exceptionally moist places (close to the stream in the Ravin de Perthus, Esterel) or outside the Mediterranean floristic region (Gorges de Verdon). Habrodon perpusillus is widely distributed in the lowland s of Mediterranean and Atlantic France – we saw it in several places – but its abundance in the Forest of Ste Baume perhaps throws some light on its apparently northern tendency in Britain. We may note that at Ste Baume it had as companions Pterogonium gracile and Myurella julacea, and reflect that all three species occur in the neighbourhood of Killin in Perthshire. On the other hand we may reflect that in view of the abundance of Pterogonium gracile in the forest of Ste Baume its occurrence beneath beech in the New Forest should not surprise us, despite its markedly western and northern distribution in Britain as a whole.

No account of the meeting would be complete without reference to the extraordinary proceedings after an informal dinner on 6 April, when all members from our President downwards, kissed and embraced Mme la Patrone, toasted her in champagne (it was her birthday), and danced far into the night. Some of us may be tempted to say, with Laurence Sterne, ‘They order this matter better in France’.

E. W. Jones


Draguignan, Var, France