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Photos & text

Creative Commons License
Photos & texts by Sabina Burrascano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Italy License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at: info@plantsdontlie.com.

Plant diversity changes as we walk up European mountains

At this link a nice post from a dear colleague on a study he led that was recently published on the journal Ecography.

He provides original hints on patterns of plant diversity along altitudinal gradients and gives an idea of how complex it can be to soundly address ecological questions the answers to which often looks intuitively simple. Ecologists hard life!

Enjoy your read.

Do current European policies jointly foster carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation?

The common assumption behind current environmental policies is that increasing forest area, besides providing climate benefits through carbon sequestration, will also support biodiversity, thus making afforestation a “win-win scenario”.

However, recent evidence suggests that joined climate and biodiversity benefits are strongly context-dependent and the outcome of afforestation is often highly questionable.

The increase in forest extent is frequently at the expense of grasslands. In Europe, grasslands managed at low intensity, which are often perceived as marginal for their relatively low-productivity, contribute substantially to biodiversity conservation and carbon storage in soil.

The role of grasslands and forests in EU-27 for biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration and storage

The role of grasslands and forests in EU-27 for biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration and storage

The expansion of forests to semi-natural grasslands can be due to either the grassland abandonment followed by spontaneous succession towards woody vegetation or deliberate afforestation programmes promoted by the carbon-centered policies of the European Union or by individual member states. Between 1990 and 2015, EU-27 forests underwent a 12.9 million hectare (Mha) expansion on abandoned agricultural land, of which > 1.5 Mha were deliberately afforested. Both deliberate afforestation and natural expansion of forest may support forest-dwelling species and carbon storage, but they may have negative outcomes in terms of both soil carbon storage and biodiversity when they happen in semi-natural grasslands.

Given that EU is often observed as a leader in global environmental politics, it is legitimate to ask whether the current EU environmental policies acknowledge these uncertainties and recognize and mitigate the potential conflicts between carbon management and biodiversity conservation.

Here I link a perspective article that tries to find an answer to this question and that was recently published in the scientific journal ‘Biological Conservation’ (http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1TXmy1R~e3Chf).

The results of our article is concerning. We found that important conflicts exist between policies to mitigate climate change and increase carbon sequestration on the one hand, and to conserve biodiversity on the other. For instance, although grasslands managed at low intensity contribute substantially to biodiversity conservation and carbon storage, there is the risk that the EU may be paying to maintain these grasslands in some areas, while also paying to convert similar grasslands into forests in other areas.

Goals, documents, funding streams, outcomes and drawbacks of current policies related to biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation through Land-Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry. Light-green boxes refer to the funds and outcomes addressing the conservation of semi-natural grasslands, dark-green boxes to those addressing afforestation, and blue boxes to actions aimed at increasing the proportion of energy supplied by the use of biomass.

Goals, documents, funding streams, outcomes and drawbacks of current policies related to biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation through Land-Use, Land-Use
Change and Forestry. Light-green boxes refer to the funds and outcomes addressing the conservation of semi-natural grasslands, dark-green boxes to those addressing afforestation,
and blue boxes to actions aimed at increasing the proportion of energy supplied by the use of biomass.

Indeed, we found a striking ambivalence between European policies and funding schemes addressing grassland conservation on the one hand (e.g. Habitats Directive, green payments within the Common Agricultural Policy) and those supporting afforestation on the other (e.g. rural development funds).

Since the current land-use trends are still towards the abandonment of marginal farmland with the consequent increase in forest area, carbon-centered measures that further promote and allocate funding to afforestation may only marginally contribute to the international commitments to mitigate climate change with the risk that they could result in a substantial decline in grassland biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The study suggests three measures that could contribute to more effective policy making: (1) promoting the alignment of the decisions taken across different policy sectors; (2) focusing on the whole range of ecosystem services and biodiversity issues rather than on carbon management only; (3) appraising low-intensity managed systems for their multifunctionality.

I hope that this study encourages to face such complex problems by an interdisciplinary approach both in science and policy-making.

Dynamic is the world!

Whoever had the chance to study some ecology, or to catch a glimpse of how natural systems work knows as a commonplace that everything natural is constantly changing, every single cell as well as the most complex ecosystems is dynamic.

Despite this is undoubtfully a commonplace it is not always easy to keep this concept in mind since our perspective often tends to be static in time.

However in some cases a single snapshot of life disperses every possibility for a static view. I had this impression recently when I had the chance to visit a small open patch within a beech forest in the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park.

The ground was moist and crunchy under my boots. A closer look revealed that I was walking on petrified grasses and mosses, that were building a travertine rock.

Travertine

Travertine is a type of limestone that is formed by a process of rapid precipitation of calcium carbonate, often at the mouth of springs. Bryophytes, algae and other organisms colonise the surface of travertine and are slowly included into it while it forms, giving travertine its distinctive porosity. This process was just taking place under my feet in that small patch and was strikingly evident.

Pinguicula bud and rosette

 

I was just wondering at what was under my feet when other things caught my attention. On the travertine, plants other than bryophytes developed, these were vascular plants, or as someone calls them higher plants. In particular I saw small, light green plants, with shy buds still hidden in their rosettes, leaves and peduncles densely covered by glandular hairs. How unique, how rare these plants looked, even to unexpert eyes solely for their ability to grow where no other plants can make it.

 The glandular hairs of Pinguicula

Again I had to wonder that something hidden and silent was happening: hunting was going on with no sound or clear movement that could be perceived. The glandular hairs that my macro lens just managed to capture displayed some irregularly shaped black spots. These spots answered my questions about how can this plant make it where no others can, as soon as I realised that they were what was left of insects that tried to land on these small plants.

What is left of the unlucky protein supplier

I was looking at tiny, wonderful ‘carnivourous plants’, catchers of insects, that they need to integrate their strict diet on nutrient poor soils. In particular I was looking at a representative of the Lentibulariaceae family. The members of this family (like other plants of the order Lamiales) were originally able to secrete a proteinase mucilage through leaf surfaces, that prevents insect predation by trapping and degrading potentially harmful insects. Several studies suggest that these glands can shift their function from secretion to absorption giving plants the ability to absorb the proteins deriving from the unlucky insects.

The second most diverse genus of this family is the genus Pinguicula, within which more than 80 species were described, mostly from Southern and Central America. ‘Flora Europaea’ reports 12 species for Europe, of which five occur in Italy. However the taxonomy of this genus grew much more complicated since the publication of the ‘Flora Europaea’, with distinctive characters found for several isolated populations and new species and subspecies recently described (see Conti & Peruzzi 2006 for detailed information). According to this recent publication the plants I had the chance to see belong to the species Pinguicula vulgaris and to the subspecies vestina.

Pinguicula in bloom

Later on in the same site I had the chance to see two plants of Pinguicula in bloom, in a delicate and almost romantic pose that helped me to focus on the beuty of their flowers and to give a sense to the fate of the unlucky insects stamped on their leaves.

In the patch I just described everything was evidently in transormation: from water to rocky and nutrient-poor habitats where only plants that are able to prey insects are able to survive, and to use their extra-income of nutrients to produce wonderful flowers. Even if no movement could be perceived, nothing was static in the pictures I took, but everything was silently astonishing.

The wettest and wildest Spain

Far away from the collective imagination of Spain, made of Flamenco and Paella, lies the Atlantic region of Asturias more similar to southern Ireland or England than to Andalusia…in botanical terms at least.

Besides the imagine of barren dusty landscapes, the word ‘Spain’ often recalls, a long history of human activities and land exploitation, as it is for other Mediterranean countries. I guess many people would bet on the absence of areas with negligible anthropic disturbance.

After visiting the Reserva Natural Integral de Muniellos everyone that somehow relied on the most common images of Spain would think of this country in a new different way.Roble gigante

The Reserve occupies an area of about 5500 hectares in north western Spain, within the Asturias province. This area displays notable uniformity of geological substrates, with almost total dominance of siliceous Paleozoic substrata (quartzite, sandstones, schists and slates) shaped by water in deep valleys and steep slopes.

This part of Spain has an oceanic climate and gets amounts of rainfall far higher than the central and southern areas of the country whose climate is Mediterranean or semi-arid. In particular most of the area of the Reserva Natural Integral de Muniellos may be included in the hyperhumid ombroclimate, with annual rainfall ranging from 1200 to 2000 mm.

The Reserve is not only in one of the wettest parts of Spain, it also includes forest ecosystems among the best preserved in Spain: in Muniellos the best examples of broadleaf deciduous forests of the Atlantic region of the Iberian Peninsula occur (see Los Bosques Ibericos for further details).

The most spread forest types in the Reserva are dominated by sessile oak (Quercus petraea), beech (Fagus sylvatica), and birch (Betula pubescens often called B. pubescens celtiberica or B. celtiberica).

The sessile oak forests (robledales) in Muniellos are among the most spread in Europe and the best conserved in western Europe. Oak trees up to 40 meters in height and 1 meter in Diameter at Breast Height can be found.

These forests develop on very shallow soils with abundant stones, on very steep slopes.

 

Daboecia canatbrica in flower

 

 

Several species of the Ericaceae family can be found in these robledales, ranging from Erica arborea to Daboecia cantabrica. Interestingly, the genus Daboecia occurs in western Ireland, western France, northwestern Spain, Portugal and the Azores, and includes only two species:

Daboecia azorica endemic of Azores, and Daboecia cantabrica occuring in the other mentioned territories.

 

 

 

 

Another species that catches the eye in the understorey of the forests of Muniellos is Linaria triornitophora, endemic to Iberian peninsula and easily distinguished from the congeneric because of its big purple flowers (up to 45 mm) with a yellowish lobe in the lower lip, and a long spur.

Linaria triornitophora coloured flowers

Less loud but equally beautiful are the ferns belonging to the species Blechnum spicant, rather common Blechnum spicant fertile leavesin the woodlands of Muniellos since this fern is especially competitive on acid soils. This evergreen fern and has two types of leaves: the sterile leaves have flat, wavy-margined leaflets, while the fertile leaves have much narrower leaflets, each with two thick rows of sori on the underside.

The wonderful green beings that can be appreciated in the area are numerous, I would like to post all the pictures taken in the days I spent in Muniellos but I will only mention Luzula lactea, a species endemic of the Iberian peninsula with specially remarkable flowers for this genus.

Luzula lactea in flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other things I want to mention of this area are: the abundance of water and streams you will encounter while hiking, but also the very harsh morphology of the places that will invite you to stick to the valley paths.

 

The river Muniellos within the Reserve

 

 

Harsh ridges within the muniellos reserve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reserve is enclosed in a mountain region with unique traditional buildings that tell a lot about the long coexistence of humans and nature: the barns designed to discourage mice and other animals from reaching the stored food; and the cortinos that would avoid bears to reach the sweet results of bees labour. I think there is much more to discover in the region for an inquiring mind so…don’t miss your chance!!!

 

Asturian barnCortino, a stone ring to protect beehives

Autumn creatures

When the temperature drops leaves become of several different colors but green. Then green beings are no longer green and other creatures catch the eyes in the woods.

Acer obtusatum leaf at the beginning of autumn

Castanea sativa leaf at the beginning of autumn

Acer obtusatum leaf at the beginning of autumn

 

 

Mushrooms are so variable in shapes and colors that they resemble the diversity of my favourite taxonomic group.

Some of them look like discs, but they are similar to corals if you change perspective.

Saproxylic mushrooms on deadwood

Saproxylic mushrooms on deadwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some others are tiny, but still magical in their ghost costumes.

Tiny white mushrooms

 

Some are so attractive but dangerous, already when they have just come up of the ground.

Amanita pantherinaAn Amanita just come out of the ground

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just like plants, some of them can provide you a meal or get you into troubles…this time the meal was gorgeous.

Boletus edulis sacrificed for lunch

Down through the Samariá Gorge

In the middle of the Mediterranean Sea there is an island where rocks have been shaped by wind and water in numerous sculptures that are unique just as much as the plants that grow on them. One of the many ways to witness what the four elements have been able to create, and the great variety of plants that occur in Crete is to walk through the Samariá Gorge along one of the busiest path in the Mediterranean.

The walk through the Gorge starts from the edge of the Omalos Plateau (ca. 1,250 m a.s.l.), from where you can just lean over the first part of the path that will lead you to the coast, beyond your horizon. A step down and you are walking through a steep slope covered with cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) and pines (Pinus brutia), both native to the eastern Mediterranean region.

On the steepest stretches of the path, where trees are missing, you can have a look at the White Mountains from a great perspective looking towards the highest peak of the range (Pachnes 2,453 m a.s.l.). White Mountains is the English translation for Lefka Ori, which is the local name for this mountain range, and probably derives from the light colors of these limestones mountains that are crossed by several gorges (about 50) and include a number of plateaus ranging from 500 to 1,100 m a.s.l..

A view of Mt. Pachnes from the trail to the Samaria Gorge

The evergreen leaves of Acer sempervirens

 

Besides Pines and Cypresses, another tree caught my eye, even if it was much smaller than the two conifers I just mentioned. At first I recognized it as Acer monspessulanum, but soon I realized that, despite the fact that the three-lobed leaves were very similar to those of the small maple I am used to see in Italy, the leaves of the maple I was looking at were clearly evergreen. No surprise then, but great satisfaction, when I found out that an evergreen maple does exist in the south-eastern Mediterranean region, Acer sempervirens, and, as described by a recent publication on the Ecology and Management of the Samariá Gorge, it is typically found together with Pinus brutia and Cupressus sempervirens.

 

Dracunculus vulgaris in bloom

 

 

Within the forest, where a sunflake reaches the ground sparse individuals of Dracunculus vulgaris occur close to the path. Also this species has an eastern Mediterranean distribution and, as it is often the case for eye-catching plants, it is poisonous.

 

It is fascinating how many species in this part of the Mediterranean are completely new for me. This glimpse on some of the species of the flora of Crete really makes me wonder about how south-eastern Europe is rich in endemic and limited distribution species. I know this is true for many other regions, also within the Mediterranean basin, but the relevance of this regional hotspot is however absolutely impressive.

 

 

 

 

 

Nerium oleander in bloom

The path continues on the river bed. As a hiker you will walk beside and on it for several hours being grateful to the summer drought for letting you pass by that trail. The biggest plants you notice as soon as you get close to where the water is, or uses to be, are Planes. Large individuals of Platanus orientalis will let you easily identify the deepest parts of the valley. There the air is fresh and other plants are waiting for you, their flowers wondering around if there is someone interested in taking a picture of them: the Oleanders (Nerium oleander). These plants in their habitat hardly resemble those planted along the highways in the Mediterranean. When the Oleanders grow spontaneously their green is brighter and their pink more delicate, they actually bloom.

 

 

If some plants prefer to get close to the water, despite the risk of being partly submerged or swept away; some others prefer a safe dry rock from which to look at the river. Spiny cushion plants grow more and more numerous along the riverbed as it become narrower and its sides steeper and rocky. Here the plants of the phryganas can show off their art of surviving saving water in the sun.  Among these, I had the chance to see Verbascum spinosum, Phlomis lanata and Satureja thymbra in bloom.

The first species puzzled me for a while, as it seemed to me a Chimera, with Verbascum flowers on a totally misleading habitus. Indeed this species forms a compact hummock-shaped little. Cushion plants like Verbascum spinosum represent an example of parallel or convergent evolution with species from many different plant families on different continents converging on the same evolutionary adaptations to endure the harsh environmental conditions. Verbascum spinosum is endemic to the Sphakia region of Crete, and I really enjoyed to ‘get acquainted’ with it.

Flower of Verbascum spinosum    The hummock-shaped Verbascum spinosum plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another species growing on the walls of the gorge that is endemic to Crete is Phlomis lanata.

It is not as different from the other species of its genus as Verbascum spinosum, but it can be distinguished by its rounded leaves. Its bright yellow flowers lean out of the rocky walls offering flying insects a profitable stop over.

 

Satureja thymbra belongs to the Labiatae family and offers to its pollinating insects a good reward in nectar. It is more spread than the two former species in the Mediterranean basin and it is used in cookery and phytotherapy.

Satureja thymbra and its guest for breakfast

The flowers of Phlomis lanata growing on the walls of the Samariá gorge

 

Before getting to narrowest part of the gorge, the old village of Samariá lends itself for a pleasant break. It is made of a few, partly destroyed, rocky houses, surrounded by old olive groves. The actual point of interest for the hiker is the fountain under the mulberry tree, with perfectly ripe fruits at the beginning of June (note that the picture of mulberry fruits was shot somewhere else, where hunger did not kept me to spend some time taking pictures before the fresh snack).

 Fruits from the Mulberry tree

 

Finally the path goes through the ‘Portes’, a passage only a few meters wide betweenrocky walls impressively high.

Here some bold cypresses challenge gravity and slip their roots in the rocky walls, their habitus reminded me of trees in the Far East, depicted in Japanese engravings.

 

The Portes of the Gorge of Samariá

Cupressus sempervirens growing on the walls of the gorge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The town of Agia Roumeli and its beach are near. Once there, it is hard to believe that only a few hours before you were looking at a completely different landscape from the Omalos Plateau; and you realize that the Gorge represents an incredible shortcut from the sea to the inner part of the island: you finally understand why the founders of the village of Samariá chose the Gorge to settle.

 

More than alike

I was not really seeking for green wonders when I found the book I am going to write about in this post. I was rather browsing through the stall of the most famous flea market in Rome when a familiar shape caught my sight.Book Cover

My ravished face did not allow me to bargain as I could…however I had a tiny reduction anyway. The book was about a combination of two things I love: art and plants.

It is a book made of plants illustrations, mostly works in watercolors, all belonging to a British collector, a woman that spent a lot of time and energies not only in collecting botanical illustrations but also in promoting this art genre. Her name is Shirley Sherwood and to give you an idea of the role this woman has in the spread of botanical illustration it is enough to remind that the first gallery in the world dedicated solely to botanical art is named after her: Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art.

Indeed Botanical illustration has been gradually replaced by photography in the task of accurately reproduce plants. For this reason not many people practice this kind of art today; however, even if it sounds passé I think it is absolutely natural for people who like drawing and painting to reproduce plants. In order to survive photography this genre had to substantially change its focus. Today the goal of a botanical illustrator is not only to faithfully represent a species but also to choose a detail, a moment in a plant life, something beautiful, or to compare different parts or species, to offer the observer a different perspective.

The change to which botanical illustrations were subjected in the last centuries is extremely clear if you browse the first pages of the book by Shirley Sherwood. In fact one of the things that make this book interesting is that in the first pages pairs of illustrations are displayed that represent the same species, or similar species, painted by contempLilium new-schoolorary artists and by artists from the 17th-18th century.Lilium old-school

I report here only a few examples through which the different approaches of the artists are evident. I chose two illustrations of Lilium (older illustration by Francis Bauer & Ferdinand Bauer, contemporary by Coral Guest), and two of conifers (older illustration by Georg D. Ehret, contemporary by Brigid Edwards). In both the oldest ones the artist tries to highlight the traits by which the observer can identify the species, also through text in the case of Lilium. In the contemporary illustrations text disappeared and the plant is represented through a few parts or even a single part as in the case of Pseudotsuga menziesii cone.

Pinus old-schoolDouglas fir cone

 

 

Another case in which only a fruit is painted, without any hint on how the plant that will develop from it could look like, is the Illustration by Coral Guest in which a Screw Pine nut is represented (Pandanus sp.). I find this illustration extremely powerful since it catches the beauty of a part of a plant that maybe I would not have appreciated in its actual form.

MagnoliaThis trend can be more extreme as in the case of this representation of Magnolia by Susannah Blaxill in which only two parts of the plants are chosen for the illustration and represented apart from the whole plant; these parts are painted in a moment that is absolutely not the best time to analyse their traits in the view of the plant identification.

Acorns from Brunei

In this book I also appreciated those illustrations that represent a series of similar plant structures allowing the observer to spend time comparing them, finding similarities, differences, wondering about convergence or a unique form of time lapse.

 

This is the case of the illustrations by Mieko Ishikawa letting us know how many species of oaks occur in Brunei through the representation of their wonderful acorns; or of the Rosiers painted by Regine Hagerdorn in which the artist points out a part of roses that is not usually appreciated but that reaches a very high degree of diversification, thorns.

 

 

 

Rose thorns

While Regine Hagerdorn helps us to appreciate differences, Alvaro Nunes in its Fruit of Savannah wants us to notice similarities and to hypothesize convergences. Finally a nice time lapse is realized in the representation of the goat willow blossom by Brenda Watts.

Goat willow time lapse

Ready, steady...

Pinus mugo cone

The time has come…for the snow to melt, for the leaves that resisted on the branches to fall down pushed by the new green leaves.

Crocus about to bloom Scilla bifolia about to bloom

It’s time to bloom! And some species are always in good time…here are a pair of them I just met at the pedmont of Monte Amaro, within the Majella National Park.

 

 

Patience is a virtue!

It seems that is never too late to bloom…ages in a cold environment could not stop a tiny and fragile flowering plant.

Its name is Silene stenophylla, and was brought out of the ice from Russian scientists after 30000 years.

Read more on this good news here!

 

Guess where?

Sometimes the things plant can tell us are more than we think.

Knowing plants can allow for an interesting trip every time we cross a green patch. We can try to read the condition of the site, the amount of rain the plant gets, the soil within its roots develop, and the main events happened there…from fires to landslides or human intrusions.

But there are cases in which plants can also tell us with a high degree of accuracy where we are. I found this astonishing! The subject that brings you to play this game is biogeography and it is more than fascinating.

Pinus nugra laricio forestThis summer I was walking my way up to an alpine lake. Along the path I met several plants that shouted loud the place where they belong.

My walk started in a pine forest, along a river. The air was fresh and moist, more than you would expect in a pine forest. The pines had high straight trunks pointing the sky and some of their traits suggested a centuries-long  life. Those trees were European black pines, but they were generally higher than those I saw before; their needles displayed some differences too.

The branches that shaded my path belong to individuals of Pinus nigra subsp. laricio. During Quaternary ice ages, European black pines spread towards southern Europan peninsulas and islands. This determined processes of isolation and diversification within the species. The subspecies laricio is native in Calabria, Sicilia and Corsica, it is particularly adapted to siliceous rocks. Looking at a lithological map of Europe its distribution definitely makes sense.

The forest ended gradually while we hiked up to the lake. Around the altitude of 1700 meters large gaps occured among the last clusters of pines. In this gaps a dwarf, thorny shrub is rather abundant. Its dominance indicates that being thorny constitutes a great advantage in this site, that is subjected to grazing during most of the year. In deed young pines could develop only around a log that protected them from grazing and trampling. Besides telling us about grazing animals we could not see in that moment, the dwarf, thorny shrub gives us another key clue to undertsand our location. It is a cushion plant of the Fabaceae family with twisted branches that end up in thorns.Genista salzmanii

It is a broom of the genus Genista. Especially the species in the picture is Genista salzmanii, it constitutes dwarf shrublands on the Mountains of Sardinia and Corsica. This species together with the Pinus nigra laricio already told us we are walking in the wonderful island of Corsica. Indeed the common name of Pinus nigra laricio is Corsican pine, and it is one of the symbols of the largest French island.

Many other species reminded me the location of my hiking, during that day; and made me wonder about the incredible diversity of Mediterranean regions.

Berberis aethnensisWhen we left behind the last pines, another dwarf thorny shrub appeared beside the path. This still had fruits on. The fruits are oval berries, coloured in red shading into yellow. It belongs to the genus named Berberis. The species of this genus that displays the widest distribution is Berberis vulgaris. But the species we met on our path does not grow higher than one meters and has thorns. In fact it is Berberis aethnensis. In some floras it is considered as a subspecies of Berberis vulgaris. Whatever its taxonomic rank, its differences with the most common taxon are evident. Berberis aethnensis is limited to Sardinia, Corsica, and south-western Italy. therefore its distribution is rather similar to the one we mentioned for the Corsican Pine.Alnus viridis suaveolens

The occurrence of Berberis aethnensis is particularly striking on the Corsican mountains because it grows right next to another shrub that usually grows at far greater latitudes, Alnus viridis, or Green Alder. In fact, while Berberis aethnensis is particularly related to the Mediterranean context, Alnus viridis is distributed in the boreal emisphere in the northern-most regions, from Alaska to Greenland and Siberia.

Alnus viridis is a light-demanding, fast-growing shrub that grows well on poorer soils, which it enriches by means of its nitrogen-fixing nodules. In many areas, it is a highly characteristic colonist of avalanche chutes in mountains, where Alnus viridis survives through its ability to re-grow from the roots and broken stumps.

Different subspecies were recognized for Green Alder in different regions; the nominate subspecies being the one developing in Central Europe (Alnus viridis viridis).

The subspecies found in Corsica is endemic to this island, that represents the most southern region of the species distribution area. The Corsican Green Alder differs from the Central European subspecies by its rounded and scented leaves, in fact it is known as Alnus viridis suaveolens (latin word for sweet-smelling) and I took home its scent through my hiking pants.

Besides trees and shrubs other tiny plants, settled on the wonderful islands of Sardinia and Corsica, that became their exclusive lands. Among those I had the pleasure to see Helicrysum frigidum and Sagina pilifera. The first one is an incredibly tiny Helicrysum (3-10 cm in height). Before landing on Corsica I thought plants belonging to this genus (family Asteraceae) were small shrubs at least half meter high. But this species growing towards the highest altitudes chose a smaller size to better resist hard windy and snowy times.

The second species I mentioned belongs to the Caryophyllaceae family. It is very similar for ecological requirements, distribution and size to Helicrysum frigidum. In the case of Sagina all the species in the genus are tiny, reaching the size of 15 cm. I found these species one next to the other and I like to think that they are linked by a friendship that already lasted for generations.

Helichrysum frigidumSagina pilifera