This trip was part-fieldwork, part-birthright. I have family in Armenia that I never had the chance to visit before, so when the opportunity came up to join in on a botanical tour of the country, I couldn't pass it up. Tucked in the Caucasus mountains at the fringes of western Asia, Armenia is nothing if not highlands - most of the country is above 2000 m. Mostly arid except for its densely forested northern third, Armenia's fern flora is depauperate compared to its exceptional representation of flowering plants (Apiaceae, Fabaceae, and Rosaceae struck me as especially rich) but the species were interesting nonetheless. Most of the ferns I encountered were tucked in small crevices in cliffs (Asplenium and Allosorus were abundant) but I found others in forests and alpine meadows: Polystichum, Dryopteris, Equisetum, Polypodium, and Athyrium species were never abundant but widespread nonetheless. In particular, the Dryopteris affinis group was well-represented in the country, and needs revision.
I was able to visit the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh during my trip but botanizing was not on the agenda. This region, which is in Armenian control but remains the focus of ongoing conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan, is difficult to explore. Just before my visit, a brief military conflict broke out, in which hundreds on both sides were killed, and tensions were high. Even apart from this flare-up of violence, cross-border sniping is common and the region remains one of the most heavily mined in the world. Many karabakhis live in buildings ruined by the war of the early 1990s, and most of them resettled there from within Azerbaijan proper during the war. Visiting the still-ruined town of Shushi was an eerie and sobering experience, but life goes on for four thousand people living there (mostly with smiles, remarkably!)
A complicated trip for sure, but one of my favorites. I'll be back - someone has to sort out those Dryopteris!
Testing the edibility of Morus fruits - they were indeed edible!
Sheep grazing in a cemetery. The carved stone blocks are called khachkars are an important feature of Armenian art and culture.