There is always something to learn when you go on an exploration with biologists. What was proposed by Mindaugas (our Head of Nature Department at Dzukija NP) as some leisure activity turns out to be an educative and interesting search for those plants and flowers that enrich something that is supposed to be monotonous. First I discovered that all permanently or seasonally wet areas (wet mineral or organic soils with a thin peat layer like in wet forests and wetlands) are called “šlapios žemės”.
We saw also meadow grass spread in certain areas. Mindaugas told me that this type of grass used to grow in the pinewoods. A wild field of meadow grasses can provide food and cover for animals, enrich the landscape and prevent erosion. Modern water system drainage has currently replaced it.
All along the path, I noticed some interesting marks on old pine trees. In the past, these marks were made in order to collect resins before cutting old pines. Resin is a fluid that is secreted from certain plants such as pine trees. Resins could perform several functions like sealing over wounds thus protecting the plant from pests and infections. Specific antimicrobial properties in this fluid can prevent decay and fungal infections, and not least decrease water loss during droughts or plant injury.
Lithuanian people have gathered and used resins from plants for thousands of years because of waterproofing, varnishes, adhesives, art, incense, medicines, and many other purposes. It was also used to make bowed string instruments like the cello. Therefore, collecting resins was a very important industry in an area where about 50% of the forest is commercial. It is only recently that natural resin has been replaced by synthetic fluids. See images.
Accompanied by an equally explorer dog named Peperai, we had the opportunity to find several flowers and plants that are finally showing their beauty and even ‘dangerousness’ like the Common Sundew or ‘Somlašarė’. This carnivorous plant feeds on insects, which are attracted to the drops of mucilage, loaded with a sugary substance, which serves as a glue. Sundew prefer open, sunny or partly sunny habitats in wets and marshes. Another ‘dangerous’ plant, for herbivorous animals this time, is the Meadow Buttercup (Aitrusis vėdrynas in Lithuanian). As someone deeply in love with the yellow colour I was instinctively attracted to it. Like many other plants and flowers in marshes, this flower comes from northern countries like Finland. Other plants were to be found in Margionys, a village located south-west of Marcinkonys. (Curious tip: the name Margionys is strictly related to English ‘patchwork’ because this village is made up of different coloured lands and plants, like a real patchwork). Everywhere it was possible to find typical plants and flowers like: Meadowsweet flowers (Pelkinė vingiorykštė in Lithuanian) traditionally used as anti-inflammatory treatment; Grey Hair Grass (Smiltyninis šepetukas LT ) typically growing in drifting dunes; Peat Moss (Sphagnum in Latin, Kiminai in Lithuanian) that forms larger peat lands and has no roots because its lower part becomes peat. See pictures of flowers with some intriguing ‘guests’.
Last but not least Soldier Orchids having pale purple flowers with a four-lobed lower lip. They are called ‘soldier’ because of their look. As it is possible to notice they seem to have a military helmet, arms, body and legs. I learnt that the bulbs of these and other orchids like Early-Marsh Orchids were considered as powerful aphrodisiac and used in love potions in the past XD.
Our quest took place in several swamps and in Skroblaus swamp I finally left my feet free and walk bare feet. What a wonderful and freeing experience! The water was even warmer in certain points and I was assured by Mindaugas that water in swamps are free of bacteria and fungi because of high levels of acidity that prevent them to form and prosper. There was nothing more to say for me but to take off my shoes and explore the swamp in an intense way.