Aspects of the flora - Orto botanico 'Pellegrini - Ansaldi'

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Aspects of the Flora and plant species of the Apuan Alps
Geographical setting
The Apuan territory is located on the border between continental Italy and peninsular Italy, in the transition zone between two regions (the Middle-european one and the Mediterranean one) characterised by different mesoclimate conditions. The Apuan area is defined by natural borders: the river Magra and its tributaries in the North, the coastal plain in the West, the river Serchio in the South and in the East; the Serchio Valley develops almost in parallel with the Apuan chain and divides it from the nearby Apennines chain, also parallel to it. From the sea going inland, the elevation goes from 0 to about 2000 m in the space of a few kilometres; the mountains are characterised by an impressive and harsh orography, so much that the geographer Emanuele Repetti described the Apuane as “a stormy sea instantly petrified”.
The climate
The Apuan region is characterised by a high amounts of precipitation, due to the presence of this mountain chain that opposes itself to the western winds saturated with humidity, causing a high amounts of precipitation in the whole area. The climatic conditions are complicated by a troubled orography; indeed, significant changes are observed in the space of short distance: the valley floors are characterised by a high humidity and not too low temperatures (similar conditions to those of the Atlantic climate), while on the opposite mountainsides, there can be different conditions of exposure, sunshine, permanence of humidity, temperature range, enough to cause the presence of various and diversified microclimates.
The plant species
The climate variability of the Apuan area, and also the complex geologic nature of this territory with the alternation of limestone areas (usually barren, with poor basic soil) and mostly siliceous areas (impermeable, with acid and more water-rich soils) reflect on the distribution of the flora and plant species. The different and articulated microclimatic conditions are emphasized by the presence of particular heterotopic situations like bench woods placed at lower altitudes with respect of the usual ones, and relict habitats of Mediterranean species, like those of holm oak and Phoenician juniper in rocky areas, placed at high altitudes (higher than 1000 m).

THE COAST. The coastline of the Apuan area has undergone profound transformations in the last decades, due to the activities related to the seaside tourism; only in very short strips there are still some vestiges of the dunal landscape. In the coastal zone between Bocca di Magra and Bocca d’Arno there are some endemic species: the goldenrod of the sands (Solidago litoralis Savi), the fiordaliso tirreno (Centaurea aplolepa Moretti subsp. subciliata (DC.) Arcang.), and more (Oenothera marinellae Soldano, Oenothera pellegrini Soldano). In addition, in the territory of Massa of this area, there are the northernmost habitats – along the Italian west coast – of some psammophilous rupicola plants (Anthemis maritima L., Scabiosa rutifolia Vahl and Silene colorata Poiret subsp. colorata).

THE PLAIN. The coastal plain of alluvial origin is nowadays very densely anthropized; only until a century ago it was covered by a single and continuous forest surface, the “selva planiziaria costiera”, of which not much remains today, only some small strip. The pine forests of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster Aiton) and of domestic pine or stone pine (Pinus pinea L.) were planted by man in quite recent times (mid 1700s).
THE HILL. On the first mountains, exposed to the sea, the plant cover is Mediterranean: where the soil is calcareous, up to 300 m of elevation, there is the Mediterranean scrub characterised by the evergreen sclerophiles, composed of not only the holm oak (Quercus ilex L.), but also the myrtle (Myrtus communis L.), terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus L.) and phillyrea (Phillirea latifolia L.); this plant cover in large areas was replaced by olive groves. On siliceous soils, up to 600 m of elevation, there is the pine forest of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster Aiton), which undergrowth is made up of Mediterranean shrubs, like the myrtle (Myrtus communis L.), strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo L.), and more of sub-atlantic type, such as whin (Ulex europaeus L.). The maritime pine, differently to what happens in plain, always grows naturally on the Apuan siliceous hills. This plant cover was largely eliminated to plant the vineyards that characterise the landscape of the hills of the Candia, between Massa and Carrara.
THE MOUNTAIN. Increasing the altitude, there are the oak forest-carpineto with the prevalence of hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia Scop.), downy oak (Quercus pubescens Willd.) and manna ash (Fraxinus ornus L.), and the cerreto-carpineti, with turkey oak (Quercus cerris L.), white hornbeam (Carpinus betulus L.) and hazelnut tree (Corylus avellana L.), more extended in Lunigiana and Garfagnana. In the oak forest-carpineto, on the rocks and in the debris, some of the endemic species of the Apuane are frequent: the Globularia (Globularia incanescens Viv.), symbol of the botanical Garden, the santolina (Santolina leucantha Bertol.), the yellow oxeye daisy (Buphthalmum salicifolium L. subsp. flexile (Bertol.) Garbari), the Moltkia suffruticosa (Moltkia suffruticosa (L.) Brand) and more.
In the past, a large part of the deciduous forests was transformed in coppice or fruit-bearing chestnut woods: man planted or facilitated the chestnut tree (Castanea sativa Miller) in all slightly acid soils suitable to the plant to obtain chestnuts and wood; it is widely known the importance that the chestnut grove played in the life and in the economy of the Apuan populations, especially in the past. More recently, the chestnut grove is going through a very critical period; the living conditions of the mountain populations become significantly civilised, and there is no more cultivation of the chestnut tree. The inevitable consequence is the state of neglect of the chestnut grove; the plants that are no more cultivated and pruned are easily attacked by pathogens (the ink disease, the Phytophtora cambivora and with a great diffusion the cortical canker, Cryphonectria parasitica), and especially there is the risk of the lack of the fundamental consolidation of the mountainsides by healthy forests. In this situation, there is the risk of losing the genetic heritage composed of the many cultivars of the Apuan chestnut tree, the characteristics of the fruit and the wood and its different possible uses.
At higher elevations there are the bench woods, with greater extension on the north side of the Apuane, in the Garfagnana and Lunigiana, with altitude from 800-900 m up to 1600-1700 m. In the Tyrrhenian side, especially where the geologic substrate is made up of marble, the beech woods have a lesser extension, and they are mostly between the altitude of 1200-1400 m. Large areas of beech woods had been deforested to open marble quarries, for the grazing of sheeps, or for obtaining firewood; these areas, after the removal of the beech wood, are hardly recolonized by this type of forest. The beech woods are forest very shaded; the rich foliage of the beech tree brings little light to the ground. The undergrowth of the beech tree is usually poor, mostly composed of thin herbaceous species that bloom in spring, when the beech trees are still bare: the wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella L.), the white anemone (Anemone nemorosa L.), the Cardamine (Cardamine bulbifera (L.) Crantz), and a few more. In the beech woods almost the entire tree cover is given by the beech tree, but there are also the rowanberry (Sorbus aucuparia L.) and the sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus L.). Sometimes among the beech trees there are species of remarkable biogeographical significance, like the yew (Taxus baccata L.) e the holly (Ilex aquifolium L.); in a strip of beech wood, in Orto di Donna, in the northern side of the Contrario mountain, there is the only habitat of natural silver fir (Abies alba Miller) of the Apuane; it has here a clear wreck significance, and shows a type of forest cover that had to be more common in the postglacial time, when among the beech woods and the underlying forests there was a strip of vegetation mixed with beech wood and silver fir. Then, the intensive use of the forest penalised the silver fir compared to the beech wood, which has a good reproduction ability and so the silver fir had gone disappearing everywhere.
AREAS OF ELEVATION. The highest areas of the Apuane usually host non-forest vegetation, in which we can find different types: intrasilvatic vegetation located below the altitude limit of the forest, generally originated from the distribution of the forest cover and surrounded by wooded areas; soprasilvatic vegetation located above the altitude limit of the arboreal vegetation; azonal distributed in response to the condition of the ground, regardless of the bioclimatic characteristics.
In the first type of plant species, the intrasilvatic prairies are concerning limited areas, mostly deriving from former plantations (cereals or potatoes) or from grazing. They are composed of graminoids and shrubs. An example is the area of Puntato.
The intrasilvatic shrublands occupy instead warm and barren soils, often crossed by the fire. The species that spread more easily in these conditions are the Aquilina fern (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn), the broom plant (Erica arborea L., E. scoparia L.) e the whin (Ulex europaeus L.). Examples of intrasilvatic shrublands can be observed on the southern slope of the M. Altissimo and on the south-western mountainside of Monte Fiocca, above the village of Arni (where they cover morainic soils).
In the end, the intrasilvatic moor are found on the acid soils and they are mostly composed of heather (Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull); examples are the area of Campocecina and the Passo dell’Alpino.
In the sopraselvatic vegetation, the wooded prairies represent meadows formation with trees, in which the tree cover is only less than 20%; they are composed of a small number of herbaceous plants, among which dominates the meadow fescue (Brachypodium genuense (DC.) Roemer et Schultes), that determines an almost total cover to the ground. On the Apuan Alps they represent the most common and maybe the most characteristic meadow formation; they are mostly located with southern exposition and on poor soils. They generally derive from an intense grazing activity, to which it is usually associated the activity of the fire; in this situation, the ability of the tillering of the meadow fescue and its poor palatability from the cattle, makes it competitive with the other herbs.
The moors of altitude are mostly in the north-central Apuane, on acid soils; they are mostly composed of two different species of blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L. and V. gaultherioides Bigelow). Examples of the moors of altitude are found at Passo Giovo (between the Pizzo d’Uccello and the Cresta Garnerone) and on the highest part of the Monte Fiocca. In a few areas of the chain (Monte Pisanino, Monte Contrario, Zucchi di Cardeto) there are rarer species like the crowberry (Empetrum nigrum L.), the alpine rose (Rosa pendulina L.) and the purple colt's-foot (Homogyne alpina (L.) Cass.).
In the end, the prairies of altitude are a type of plant species fragmented and alternated to the psammophilous one (see below). They are present on several peaks: M. Sagro, M. Pisanino, M. Pania della Croce, M. Croce, M. Matanna, M. Piglione, M. Prana. They are formed of perennial grasses, mostly grasses like meadow fescue (Brachypodium genuense (DC.) Roemer et Schultes) and the Fescue (Festuca

Among the azonal vegetation, the psammophilous vegetation is the aspect that most largely characterises the plant species Apuan landscape of altitude, and it develops on the peaks composed of marble (part of M. Contrario, M. Tambura, M. Sella, part of M. Sumbra, M. Altissimo, M. Corchia), the grezzone (Pizzo d'Uccello, Cresta Garnerone, M. Grondilice, Catena degli Uncini, "Torrioni" ofl M. Corchia), and flinty limestone (M. Sagro, part of M. Contrario, Zucchi di Cardeto, part of M. Sumbra). It is composed of plants that live on the rocky walls (the term psammophilous probably derives from the greek chasma, that means crack, gap, fissure, chasm, mostly of non-graminoids herbs, bushes and shrubs, that determine a type of irregular vegetation; here there are a lot of endemic species, like athamanta (Athamanta cortiana Ferrarini) and the silene lanuginosa (Silene lanuginosa Bertol.).
The glareicola vegetation is found instead in the screes formed of debris of slope and furrow of erosion (glareicola probably derives from the latin glarea, that means gravel, and from the verb colo, dwell, live); it is composed of non-graminoids herbs that often have a rooting apparatus formed by a taproot. There are several species of ferns. An example is the area of the Borra Canala, in the group of Panie.
As a final example of vegetation of azonal type, the peatland vegetation and hygrophilous prairies is very rare on the Apuan Alps, that are mostly composed of rocky limestone formations, and so permeable, and this don’t allow water to remain in surface. The peatland derives from glacial ponds that dried out with time, and they have been colonised by hygrophilous species, like the white hellebore (Veratrum album L. subsp. lobelianum (Bernh.) Arcang.), the cottongrass (Eriophorum sp. pl.) and more. On the Apuan Alps the most famous example of a wetland of altitude is that of Fociomboli, where live important hygrophilous species, like the early marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata (L.) Soò), the musk orchid (Herminium monorchis (L.) R. Br.), and the cottongrass (Eriophorum latifolium Hoppe, E. angustifolium Honckeny). Another had to be added to them, of recent individuation, on the Monte di Roggio, in which there is a species that has here the unique Apuan habitat: the buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata L.); the wetland of the Monte del Roggio host other rare species, like the marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris (L.) Crantz) and the the early marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata (L.) Soò).
L'ORTO BOTANICO PIETRO PELLEGRINI, Un giardino alpino nel Parco Regionale delle Alpi Apuane
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