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Flora on Kamchatka: flowers and grasses
"Grasses all over Kamchatka are with no exception so tall and rich that you can hardly find alike ones wherever in Russian empire", wrote Stepan Krasheninnikov, "At the rivers, lakes and in the copses they are much taller than a man's height and grow so fast that you can coch hay in one and the same place three times a year."
ShelamannikAs soon as the snow goes away, round the rivers, in the ravines, at the foot of the mountains the shelamannik, a huge grassy plant that makes "the guard" of Kamchatka's tall grasses along with krestovnik and puchka, grows up thickly. The stems three meters high hide a rider easily. Inside the thickets the plants make you step by touch: no direction seen, the sun and skies are hidden by the broad leaves, and willy-nilly you are pleased with bears' paths cleaving the wall of stems like tunnels. Shelamannik is a friendly plant: leaves are soft, stems are easy to be moved apart with hands or a stick. The shelamannik's young sprouts are edible, meanwhile for bears they are a rescue against hunger in the early summer when there are neither berries nor fish or cedar nuts yet.
PuchkaPuchka (Heracleum dulce) is an insidious plant. Its juice has a sweet taste, but leaves blisters and sores on the skin that ache for months! There were dodgers who managed to eat green puchka - the way when lips escaped touching the stems. The ancient inhabitants of Kamchatka, ltelmens, extracted a sort of sugar using puchka, and Cossacks distilled wine that produced a strange effect: after two or three glasses a person saw wonderful dreams, but in the morning felt so miserable as if he had committed a crime.
Lily: sarana, slipperAmong the plants the most important one in the diet of ancient Kamchadals was sarana, a lily with dark purple flowers. Its bulbs ground with blueberries and other berries were a good substitution of bread for ancient Kamchadals, and, in the opinion of Krasheninnikov, one of the tastiest dishes in Kamchatka. Another lily natively called "tzar locks" for its bright orange flowers was also used as food, but not often - perhaps due to the fact that it was less widespread and chose secret unavailable spots to grow. Today this lily is in the preservation list in Kamchatka, but it can hardly rival with another flower - one of the rarest and the most beautiful Russian orchids, i.e. large-flowered slipper. It was discovered by V.L.Komarov in Kamchatka in 1908, then in 1923 was re-found and registered by a Swedish traveller, R.Males. Sixty years later after that, the employees of Khronotsky National Park met it for the third time!
Elfin CedarFrom a bird's-eye view, the brushwood of elfin cedar resembles dark green thick carpets thrown by a caring hand over the mountain ridges. It looks soft as a harmless undergrowth with regular trees rising solidly over it. However, these are ones of the most hard to traverse places in Kamchatka. The cedar's branches always go down along the slope - towards a climbing traveller. Continuos thickets of the cedar are absolutely impassable, and this is still more pitiful for the fact that the cedar forest's height seldom exceeds one and a half or two meters. Anyway this tree is terrific. Dry elfin cedar's branches burn like gunpowder in any weather, the infusion of the cedar's needles is the best medicine for scurvy, and its cones ripening in September make happy all those who are keen on cedar nuts. The only question here is who is going to be the first to pick them: a man, a bear or a nut-cracker.
Erman's BirchKamchatka's forest is certainly the forest of Erman's birch. An unpretentious tree that learnt to grow both in the valley and in the mountains (that is why it is called in russian "stone", i.e. "mounty") covers nearly one third of the entire area of Kamchatka. It is still most wide-spread, meanwhile the scarce larch, fur and poplar forests are cut down as timber. It would be the most sorrowful result of this human "economic activity" if after the extermination of more valuable tree breeds, the Erman's birch - one of the symbols of Kamchatka along with geysers, salmon and bears - will follow the same doom. Big bulky trees grow freely and never block the roads as stlanik (i.e. low-growing brushwood) habitually does. This is a friendly forest that is invariably clear, though grass and underbrush are of man's height. The birches are so vigorous and their branches are so stretchy that the trees would not survive if cramped. Corpulent stems covered with black bark hardly resembling the usual birch bark seem to emanate warmth: it is quiet under its roof at any nasty weather. The birches on the plateaus in the mountains are crooked as if by evil chants, in the river valleys they are vigorous and unshakeable. The birches' roots can hold the tree horizontally on the precipes and such steep slopes where even stlanik cannot grow. Kamchatka's summer is short: birch buds open in June while in August the trees have yellow "locks" - the first sign of approaching autumn.
Jan from the Czech Republic
Jacqueline, Roland, Sibylle and Frank from Germany
Marta Kvakzinska (Polska)
Axel + family and friends from Germany