The vegetation will evolve as you continue down to the south.
A particularly rich flora will accompany your steps, from the famous tea of the Aubrac (Calamintha grandiflora) and the dog tooth (Erythronium dens-canis) to the Salzmann pines of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. There are many orchids in the spring including some native varieties (Ophrys d'Aymonin). Carlina (Carlina acanthifolia) and angel hair (Stipa pennata) share the space on the causses. Not to forget the superb pulsatilla (Pulsatilla vulgaris var. Costeana) and the adonis of spring (Adonis vernalis).
On the Aigoual the great gentian (Gentiana lutea) and the martagon lily (Lilium martagon), Saint Anthony’s laurel (Epilobium angustifolium), the Eupatorium cannabifolium and the cévennes thale cress (Arabis cebennensis) are native. Further south the boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) tends to enclose the dry meadows, which are sheep or cattle paths. The saskatoon (Amelanchier ovalis) perfumes the spring by opening its white flowers; asphodels (Asphodelus cerasiferus) thrive where other species would not.
The most common trees are : sylvestre pine (Pinus sylvestris), beech (Fagus sylvatica), spruce (Picea abies), cedar (Cedrus atlantica) ; a few species of oaks : evergreen, pubescent, sessile and common oaks. On the heights a few larches (Larix decidua) and hooked pines (Pinus uncinata). Plantations here and there of Austrian black pines (Pinus nigra subsp. Nigra) in high growing forests.
Not to forget, in this inventory (far from being exhaustive), the chestnut tree, more a Cevenol tree and formerly grown in orchards, now abandoned, which fed whole generations with its fruits.
Basic advice :Rather take good photos than pick plants. Many species are under departmental or national protection and gathering plants is forbidden in the national park.
The Great yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea) is very abundant on the plateau of Aubrac. This flower can measure up to 1,5 metre high, is capable of living for up to 50 years and blooms for the first time when it is from 7 to 10 years old. So please don’t cut it! You can see it on the paths and in the fields from June to August. The gentian is used for different purposes. Its rhizome (the long root that can measure up to 1 metre and weigh up to 5 kg) is used to make famous aperitifs as gentian….
The wild tulip (Tulipa sylvestris) is a bulb-forming perennial, with yellow flowers. This beautiful tulip is protected. Formerly, the wild tulip were abundant in the vineyards, but they also grow in the meadows and also in the woods where they flower before trees make their leaves.
The Salzmann pine (Pinus nigra Salzmannii) is a subspecies of Austrian pine. Formerly, the Salzmann pines were very common in the Mediterranean Basin; now, they are in decline and in danger of extinction. There are several residual populations in France: the biggest is the forest of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. This pine, whose shape is often crooked, grows in a landscape of ruiniform chaos. Its original habitat is in fact composed of rocky areas where the other tree species can’t compete with it in the long run. There the Salzmann pine grows: it is stunted, but it grows and subsists, and is the….
You will admire wild orchids all the way. Don’t cut them! It is also useless to try to transplant them: the orchids don’t survive out of their habitat, where they live in symbiosis with other organisms. More than a dozen of species can be observed from the Aubrac region to the most southern part of the way: elder-flowered orchid, bee orchid, lizard orchid, pyramidal orchid, monkey orchid… or even the beautiful and rare lady’s-slipper orchid… Look for them from April to June on the slopes, in the meadows, and in the limestone soils! Amongst the orchids, the Ophrys look like….
Let’s admire the flora in the most mediterranean part of the way to Saint Guilhem! Breathe the way… Eat the way… Contemplate the way… In this fragrant landscape, the heady perfume of honeysuckles mixes with the scents of boxwoods and blooming serviceberries. In this tasty landscape, you can pick thyme or wild asparagus. On these dry and rocky soils, asphodels and many other treasures grow: come and admire them! The Etruscan honeysuckle (Lonicera etrusca) produces from May to September white or yellow and purple flowers. As early as March, the asparagus can be picked!
The Dogtooth violet (Erythronium dens-canis) is a bulbous plant in the family Liliaceae. This is a mountain species you can see on the way to Saint Guilhem, in the Aubrac region. The name comes from the Greek adjective erythros, “dark red’, because of the colour of the flower but also of the leaved, which are green flecked with purplish red. What about the doog’s tooth? Well, the bulb of the plant is white and stretched, as a dog’s canine tooth.
Digitalis purpurea (foxglove, or lady’s glove) is a biennal plant: it vegetates the first year and flowers in the second year. From June to September, you can admire its clusters of purple flowers. The shape of the flowers, which look like little gloves for fingers, has given the name to the plant (digitus means “finger” in Latin). But be careful: due to the presence of the cardiac glycoside digitoxin, the foxglove is poisonous to humans and can be fatal if ingested.
From May to August, Stipa pennata covers the vast open lands on the Grands Causses. This plant (common name Orphan maidenhair) is a sand grass famous for its feathery flowering spikes. Agropastoralism prevents the closing in of the vegetation, and so enables to preserve the plant, which grows in open environments.
Common hepatica (Anemone hepatica) forms beautiful carpets in the woods. The flower are usually blue (sometimes also white, pink or purple). This plant which belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) is famous for its early flowering (March-April), which occurs before tree leaves appear: it announces the coming of spring. The plant gets its name from the shap of its leaves, that reminds of a liver lobe.
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is also called bear’s garlic because of the legend that this animal eats this plant to purge itself after winter hibernation. This 20-50 cm high plant has white blossoms. It can be found in shaded undergrowth where it sometimes forms large colonies. When its leaves are slightly wrinkled, it releases a smell of garlic. Its leaves can be eaten as a vegetable or as a condiment. The flower buds (which can be picked from April to June) are also edible. Harvest period ends when the plant blossoms. Be careful: before flowering, wild garlic may be mistaken….