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Among rocky towers

This post is more about mountain landscape than plants.A tower made of rock

I strongly suggest the hike trail that crosses the Gran Sasso massif that I came to know thanks to a Roman hiking group. From the ‘Albergo di Campo Imperatore’ you can reach in 6-7 hours the town of Pietracamela on the opposite slope of the grat mountain feeling the real essence of it, its role in dividing in two this part of Italian peninsula through a series of steep slopes and rocky peaks.

The trail starts going up towards the ‘Sella di Monte Aquila’, after skipping the trail to go to the highest peak of Gran Sasso you can easily head north towards Rifugio Garibaldi.

The Gran Sasso peak

Entering Val MaoneAfter walking under ‘Pizzo Intermesoli’, you enter the long Val Maone that starts among the highest peaks of the Apennine, goes through a beatiful beech forest along the stream named ‘Rio Arno’, and finally reaches the town of Pietracamela.

The latter is as rocky as the peaks surrounding it, that unfortunately got his houses and churches damaged by the heartquake that hit this region about one year and a half ago.Wounded church in Pietracamela

Not so many plants were in bloom in September, when I faced this hike, however I got the chance to see the tidy flowers of Gentianella columnae and the hairy and messy fruits of Pulsatilla alpina.

Gentianella columnae flowersThe fruits of Pulsatilla alpina

Boreal and mediterranean plants shaking hands!

Silver birch (Betula pendula) is a tree tipical of the boreal region. It is spread widely in Northern Europe from Norway to Siberia and Kazakistan towards east, and to Basque region towards west. The southern most populations occur along Italian peninsula.

Betula pendula treesIn Italy this species is rather common in the Alps becoming rarer and along the peninsula, where it is limited to isolated patches characterized by particular microclimatic and edaphic conditions.

This distribution is related to the climatic history of the Quaternary period. Pollen analyses show how this species was widespread in the Italian peninsula just after the last glaciation. Then a more oceanic climate favoured other tree species, e.g. European beech (Fagus sylvatica).

One of this isolated patches with very peculiar conditions is the Caldara di Manziana. It is an ancient volcanic crater where in the lowest part air moisture compensates for Mediterranean summer drought and a patch of silver birch forest occurs.

On the slopes, just above this patch,  the deciduous oaks Quercus cerris and Q. frainetto give rise to a definitely more mediterranean community.

On the edge of the birch patch you can also see a strictly mediterranean shrub of the leguminosae family Adenocarpus complicatus that is not so common in central Italy for its preference for siliceous substrata. All of this is rather peculiar, just as seeing the birch white trunks just north of Rome!

Adenocarpus complicatus legume

Betula pendula bark

To make a need a flower

The title is the translation of a very popular Italian children’s song used to teach the importance of plants in every day life.

Here are some pictures to help achieving the goal.

Bud of Fragaria vesca

Young flower of Fragaria vesca

Old flower of Fragaria vesca

Young fruit of Fragaria vesca

A strawberry...still green

All of you know the story (yummy) end!

La Sierra de Las Nieves

In the hearth of the hottest Andalucia in the middle of August you can still see snow!

La Sierra de las Nieves with peaks up to 3480 (Mt. Mulhacén) is astonishing if you look over the city buildings of Granada trying to survive the 43°C  heat.

The way from Granada to the Sierra may bring you through the so called Alpujarras, a bunch of towns with white Andalusian houses characterized by slate roofs and evident chimneys (that you don’t see often in the region).grassland with cushion plants

The road from Capileira goes up crossing pine plantations and finally widespread grasslands characterized by wonderful cushion plants.

Cushion plants are compact, low growing plants that are often found in alpine environments around the world. The term “cushion” is usually applied to woody plants that are limited in height, have relatively large and deep roots, and have life histories adapted to slow growth in a nutrient poor environment with delayed reproductivity. This plant form is 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

Bupleurum spinosum

Among the Sierra Nevada cushion plants, the species with the most coloured flowers in August is definitely Bupleurum spinosum.

Its yellow flowers are in an umbrella-like arrangement, as it is tipically in the family of Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae). Less typical is the cushion growth-form that I haven’t see often in the species of this family.

Bupleurum spinosum flowers

The convergent evolution to cushion growth-form is nicely demonstrated by the species of another family, the family of Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae): Ptilotrichum spinosum.

Ptilotrchum spinosum

Reading the names of these species both ending with spinosum, the latin word for thorny, another convergence stands out. In fact many species in this environment are characterized by spinescence.

Thorns always come in handy if grazing animals are numerous, as a matter of fact animals will choose to eat something that does not wound their mouth.A closer look to Ptilotrichum spinosum

During a walk on these slopes you will meet several horses, sheeps and goats looking for food among  the thorny shrubs that seem to be well defended.

horse grazing in Sierra Nevada grasslands

Men, sheeps and beauty

An harvestman keeps an eye on the town of Arcinazzo

Between the small towns of Arcinazzo and Affile, close to the town of Anagni (famous for the “outrage” (1303) involving the Pope Boniface VIII and the French king Philip the Fair) the sheeps grazing on the southern slope of Affilani Mts. maintained grasslands of astonishing beauty due to their incredibly diverse blooms and invertebrates.

What is also astonishing is the extreme drought in which plants and animals live and reproduce here, it is not a desert but hiking on this mounts in a summer day make you realize how much water you need being all day under the warmest sun and how dry these habitats are.

Ants harvesting on an inflorescence of  Erysimum  pseudorhaeticum

The diversity of vascular plants is noteworthy, sampling 50 square meters can lead to record up to more than 60 species, it is not a world record but it is something! Here plants interact with a much diverse people of invertebrates that add colours and shapes to an already complex picture.

The importance of equilibrium

These southern slopes’ grasslands are rather common along the Apennine chains, due to the traditional use men made of these mountains. Southern slopes were often used as pastures or, through the building of terraces, for agriculture; on northern slopes the woodlands were left as a source of timber and non-timber products.

Not very originally, the slope where I took these pictures is named Costa delle Pecore, that is Sheeps’ slope. To their grazing is due the wonderful grasslands we can enjoy!

Himantoglossum adriaticum incredible flowers

Old-growth forests in Italy

Out now is a brief publication about the work my colleagues of the Sapienza University of Rome and of several other universities in Italy and I carried out about  old-growth forests in Italy.

You can find both the English and the Italian versions among my downloadable publications.

Read, comment and enjoy!


First Quarter

The first quarter of year of plantsdontlie is just over.

The thing I’m most proud of is not the number of visits but the number of different countries from which people connected to the blog! 281 visits from 28 different countries have been recorded! Thanks to all the visitors and to the authors of no-spam comments!

countries from which people connected to plantsdontlie is also on Technorati now (code 476N3RKJYWEG)!!

Dry grasslands in Slovakia

Last week the European Dry Grasslands Group meeting took place in Slovakia.

After the conference three nice excursions were led by researcher from Slovakia and Czech Republic. I want to share some of the information and pictures took during those days, in this post I’ll especially write down the things that impressed me the most.Dianthus lumnitzeri flower

The first day excursion brought us to the driest grassland…on the dolomitic bedrock of the western-most outposts of the Western Carpathians. Here the soil on the steeper slopes reaches very high temperatures in summer, many annual species occur, rather common also in more mediterranean communities I’m used to see in Italy. On these slopes the nice flowers of Dianthus lumnitzeri and Campanula sibirica.

Campanula sibirica flowers

Stipa eriocaulis in contact with Quersuc pubescens woods

On these slopes also Stipa eriocaulis with its long, plumose awns draws my attention. It grows in spatial and dynamic contact with pubescent oak woods, that on the southern slopes of these mountains represent potential vegetation. The grazing of mouflons and restoration actions aimed at the removal of planted pines contribute to the conservation of these grasslands.

Stipa eriocaulis awns

A green monument!

Another lovely place near Rome, a natural monument where to have a walk…in a warm day I suggest!

In fact this time I would like to take you to the “Valle delle Cannuccete”…it is a narrow valley, almost a ravine with a permanent stream on the bottom…where some springs occur.

TPolypodiumAllium  pendulinumhe air in the valley is fresh and moist…and you can tell it by the plants growing happily everywhere: on the understorey, on the mosses covering the tree roots, on the bark of the trees…a vertical stratification resembling tropical forests.

The tree species richness is outstanding, maple, hornbeam, lime, beech and oak trees will keep you in the fresh shade even in the warmest mediterranean summer day.

This could seem not so surprising…however the occurrence of a permanent spring makes this place much different from the definitely dryer vegetation types in the surrounding.

It deserves a visit…also to take a picture with the huge pubescent oak, under which many people believe a XVI century composer of sacred music used to rest and find his inspiration.Huge Quercus  pubescens

How to measure leaf area

After searching for plant functional traits data on the web, I’m now trying to fill the gaps for species missing in the databases. Measuring leaf area in Image lab

Measuring plant traits can be very time consuming and sometimes expensive tools are needed.

However to measure leaf area you don’t necessarily need to buy an area meter or to waste days counting quadrats on grid paper.

I used a software that is available in demo version at

First you have to scan your leaves and save the image as 300 dpi bmp file.

Then you can open it in Imagelab and simply click on the leaf edge after choosing the magic wand tool. You will get the area among the object results.

Collect, scan, measure, enjoy!