The vegetation landscape of the upper-Mediterranean and mountain-Mediterranean floor
At the altitudinal area comprehended between 1.000m and 1500m the vegetation, is no longer mediterranean, is characterised by important forest formations. It is here that prevail the pine forests of Pino Laricio, the birch, and the Etna Betulla [photo], beech, poplar and aspen plantations.
The same climate area of the deciduous oaks and below the horizon we find the chestnut widespread.
The Chestnut [picture] (Castanea sativa), currently distributed across the Mediterranean to Asia Minor and the Caucasus, is native to the Old World and has had great importance in Western civilization.
It is not impossible that, with the exception of some limited areas of Asia Minor, the tree is not really "wild". However, there are no traces of prehistoric Castagno. Not even the ancient Greeks speak about it, suggesting the absence of the species in the neighboring territories.
Even wanting to overlook in these pages, the issue of native Chestnuts in our territory, it can not be ingnored that the species represented in Etna a primary importance for the economy of local people, so as to be cultivated with such care to present a more substantial and familiar presence in the Etna landscape.
The species is well represented on the climate of the deciduous oaks and in any case where the soil materialise sufficiently deep conditions and the ability to overcome and alleviate the conditions of persistent drought in summer.
The governance of Etna chestnut forests is still conducted using the coppicing which many times is necessary to stem the spread of infections of Endothia parasitica, agent of "mal del Castagno."
These cultivation interventions, although they are governed by the forestry laws by existing regulations of the Park of Etna, still do not allow the recovery of a type of flora of closer association to the existing forests.
Only in the chestnut no longer subject to forestry operations, we are witnessing the phenomena of gradual regression toward the original types of sub-Mediterranean deciduous forests with black Carpino, Ornella, Cerro (Quercus cerris) and maples.
The chestnut is now unanimously considered a typical forest of artificial cenosis (anthropogenic facies of the oak vegetation oak) planted by humans in the past and then kept to the present day thanks to periodic cultivation interventions.
The conifer that in Etna exerts an important function of colonising species in the old lava flows and has a role in the unique mountain landscape, particularly in certain forms slopes where extensive forests, which cover the range of mountain-Mediterranean vegetation, is the pine larch ( Pinus larch).
Its spontaneous spread is particularly abundant on lava flows, where, for reasons not always justified and in stark contrast with the protecting objectives of the Etna territory, is done with excavation work and paving.
It happens like this, with a rapidity that never ceases to amase us, we attend a sort of unexpected vitality of the wounded giant, which is manifested by unexpected flowering of hundreds of new pine seedlings, which herald, with their massive presence, the formation within time of a new vegetation cover.
We are not less striken by isolated specimens or specimens in small groups that break up the monotony of extensive lava flows, and barren and steep slopes of the secondary cones or better the majestic trees towering in the most beautiful forests of Etna.
Man has always benefited economically from the Etna pine forests, also through the cutting up of pines in ancient times.
Suffice it to remind that back in 400 BC, during the expansion of the seaport of Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse, extracting excellent material from the Etna pines they managed to build the Syracuse naval fleet.
The presence of particular entities, exclusive of the Etna territory, such as the endemic Betula aetnensis, suggests considerations and scientific assessments sufficient to clarify the phytogeographical meaning of these populations of Etna that together with the interesting tree formations, typical of certain environments beyond the Alps, they leave on the landscape and special imprint of beauty and an elegant charm.
The Birch has a circumscribed distribution on the north-east Etna, in the montane areas to its upper limit, this happens also in some stations on the Western and Northern slopes. Their exquisitely pioneer character is linked rather than to soil conditions, to climatic conditions (intensity of rainfall, humidity, snow) and in general to the needs and ability of the different beech, pine, oak or poplar to adapt.
And this why the species is able to fulfill an important role to prepare for the subsequent establishment of true forests, in place of the open forests. Along lower altitudinal limits there are common aspects of mixed birch and oak trees, including the Cerro.
More varied and multifaceted, however, when the landscape are associated to birch beech and pine, or, at about 2100 m, where at the upper limit of forest vegetation remain only the last pieces of birch, with dwarf appearance and twisted in the constant wind direction.
Although the Etna Beech [photo] (Fagws sylvatica) did not come to establish those forest consortiums, in other mountain areas of Sicily play a major role in the composition of the forests of the island, it has a broad scientific interest for the peculiarities of the disappeared stations that in Etna occupie the southern boundaries with this tree essence.
These beech forests are considered relics of the period of postglacial oceanic stations and fragmentary evidence of the presence of more extensive forests decimated, in time, by magma and other human events.
The physiognomy of this vegetation, with very poor floral parade and with entities of more southern associations, with a very close tendency to the aspects, of a more varied number of species and composition, of the Peloritani, Nebrodi and Madonie Mountains. Commonly the undergrowth forest hosts: bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), the Eastern Doronico (Doronicum East), the laurel (Daphne laureola), the Clinopodio forestry (Clinopodium vulgare), the Common Wall germander (Teucrium cbamaedris), the common strawberry (Fragaria vesca), the Elleborine (Epipactis belleborine), the greater Cefalantera (Cepbalanzbera longifolia).
If the plant landscape of our vegetation area is characterized by upper-Mediterranean forests and mountains (at Oaks, Chestnut, pine trees, beech, birch, and at a poplar), no less significant are the formations of the shrub stage with a predominance of the Genista aetnensis shrub.
The Etna Broom, who in late spring dresses up of widespread and intense blooms, is an amazing species and typical of the Etna landscape and has a very wide distribution, from 300 m, where it is mixed with the occasional Sparzio (Spartium Junceum), up to over 1,800 m.
Around 1,600 m is not uncommon to see beautiful trees of the magnificent specimens of broom, that for their flowering habit recall the rich descriptions of the Etna woods by Scuderi.
The massive use of Broom as firewood in all the Etna villages, which were widely used in the past, has helped to arrest both the development of the species and to maintain the shrub appearance, because of the cuts, once quite frequent and intense.
The Etna Broom shrub host a very diverse flora affected by the location and the evolution of vegetation and play an important role in the process of colonization of lava flows.
Often, on certain of these lava flows, the bushes of broom are associated with: Oak (sl), Cerro, Chestnut, Holm Oak, Birch and Beech.
But where the populations of Broom are somewhat sparse, the landscape plant contains a large sample of pioneer plants such as Romice (Rumex scutatus) or some like Centering (Centrantbus ruber), the Immortelle (Helicbrysum italicum), the Scrofularia (Scropbularia canina).
And it is important to note that the colonization of the species takes place in different stages, so that the first settlement with algae and bacteria, says the advent of fungal species, including, for the large areas it occupies, the prevailing existence of Stereocaulon vesuvianum.