PLANTS AND FLOWERS OF THE EUGANEI HILLS

So, a botanical excursion around the Euganean Hills is a fascinating occasion not only for professional botanists but also for several hikers who, taking a simple walk among woods and abandoned vineyard can discover rare and interesting plants and flowers.

Except for the coldest months of the year, December and January, by the end of the winter season up to the late autumn, abundant flowerings follow one after another and between February and March in the abandoned vineyards it is possible to come across the golden flowerings of the Winter-aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), a rare buttercup species with characteristic pronged leaves. In those days, the rays of sunshine coming in the woods through the bare branches of trees, slowly heated the ground and some early plants start blooming at the edge of the woods , along the hedges and in the old cultivated fields. Here, among the early Hellebores, the Snowdrops and the Anemones, the little rare Yellow Star of Bethlehem (Gagea lutea) blooms and in the deepest and dampest recesses of the wood the Spurge Laurel gives off its delicate fragrance.

The beautiful Five Leaflet Bittercress (Cardamine pentaphyllos), which grows in the freshest and dampest hollows, is a species typical of the beech groves; it is possible to find only few small relicts in the fresh chestnut grooves of Rocca Pendice, in remembrance of the those woods past, in which its coloured and rich flowerings cover in April the undergrowth, while at the end of March it is mostly covered by the thick carpet of the green and bright leaves of the Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum); few weeks later, the big and globular inflorescences of this liliaceous plant start blooming and, similarly to a late snowfall, they change the wood into a fairy-tale scenery.

As is well known, the euganean plants are particularly rich of alpine and mountain habitat species, considered in many cases glacial relicts: a good example is the presence of rare bushes of Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), mostly common in the shady mountain fir woods. Furthermore, the chestnut and the oak groves see the flowering, at the end of May, of the Orange Lily (Lilium bulbiferum) and of the beautiful Martagon Lily (Lilium martagon); both are plants typical of the mountain meadows and pastures where they bloom between June and July.

In the thick of the wood few orchids grow, as most part of them, they love the light and they are particularly common, as we will see, in the meadows and in the bushes. One of the rarest orchids of the Euganean Hills is the Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula), with its big strong pink flowers; it is possible to see this flower only in the woods of Rocca Pendice, of the M. Venda and of the M. Vendevolo and it blooms at the end of April. The beautiful Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsi) is also less common; it grows in the same place of the previous orchid or in the bright oak groves and it also blooms between the end of April and the beginning of May. Both before and after the flowering it is recognizable for its lanceolate leaves, bright green and with striking purple spots.

In the oak groves it is also possible to find other two rare species of orchids: the Small-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis microphylla) which, because of the small size and the slightly striking look, easily escape the attention, and the Muller's Helleborine (Epipactis muelleri) with the green "hanging" corollas.

The Iris (Iris graminea), with big violet flowers and elegant ribbon-like leaves, is not very common and it is possible to find it in the oak groves grassy edges. Quite recently, in similar habitats it has been discovered the wonderful Peony (Paeonia mascula) with big strong pink flowers. Authentic rarity of the Euganean Hills plants, it is known only one place in which few and isolated specimens grow. On the brightest sides of the woods, the beautiful Knapweed of Triumfetti (Centaurea triumfetti) sporadically grows, not too much common and only present on the central mountains; It is easily recognizable for the blue-violet colours of its big inflorescences. The little Field Rose (Rosa arvensis) also blooms in this places, with white flowers stained with pink, which create bushes of small size, with flowerings less sparkling than those of the most common and known Dog Rose (Rosa Canina). In similar environments, in the bright glades and on the driest and sunniest slopes of the M. Ceva and few other mountains, it is also possible to find the Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) and the Sage-Leaved Cistus (Cistus salvifolius), which create characteristic coenoses almost evident in May thanks to the rich but ephemeral flowerings.

The abandoned vineyards are among the most typical and full of flowers environments of the Euganean Hills. They spread along the chalky slopes of the southern side of the complex of mountains, bordering on the thick brooms whose bright flowerings shine in the beautiful and hot days in May giving off their intense fragrance. Also the Field Gladiolus (Gladiolus Italicus) blooms here, with its strong pink flowerings which stand out in the pale green grass. The dry meadows are the kingdom of orchids, whose flowerings follow one after another from March to October.

Rich groups of the Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes), the Green-winged Orchid (Prchis morio) and the Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia) appear at the beginning of April, when the air is still cool and the sky sometimes still gives some downpours. At about the end of April or the beginning of May, on the grassy slopes of the M, Cecilia the rare Yellow Ophrys (Ophrys benacensis) start blooming, with an irregular appearance, some years they are very copious, and other years they are very rare. In the abandoned vineyards of M. Ceva instead, the beautiful and rare Pink Batterfly Orchid (Orchis Papilionacea), with the big scarlet flowers, and the strange Long-lipped Serapias (Serapias vomeracea) grow. Both start blooming at the end of April and, similarly to other orchids, can abundantly grow or be almost completely absent. This is caused by the course of the winter season, by its temperatures and above all by the number of Autumn-Winter rains fallen on the dry ground.

Other orchids mostly love the edge of the wood and the shadow of the broom bushes, such as for example the Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) and the Late Spider Orchid (Ophrys holoserica), while the Sword leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia), one of the most common species, is also frequent in other different environments. At the end of the summer season, among the withered leaves of grass and the red leaves of the wig tree, finally the small and delicate Autumn Lady's Tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) blooms. One of the most typical species of these places takes the name from the city of Padua and represents an authentic rarity not only for the natural heritage of the Euganean Hills, but of the entire Italian flora. We are talking of the Ruta Patavina (Haplophyllum patavinum), described on specimens collected on the Euganean Hills, and to be more precise in the whereabouts of Sassonegro. In Italy this is a rare species which is possible to find only on the southern slopes of the Euganean Hills and its presence out of the National territory is concentrated in the mountain areas of the Balkan Peninsula. Its yellow flowerings appear in May-June in the bare scaly clay areas. Finally, the coenoses of the trachyte cliffs deserve to be mentioned; these sunny and dry environments contain an interesting plant community, controlled by the exuberance of a beautiful occasional plant. But it is necessary to raise these places early in the morning in order to appreciate the beautiful flowerings of the Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa); in fact, in the first heat of the day, the big and delicate yellow flowers close and wither. This small cactus, coming from the central America, has been imported in Europe in XVII century, and its "frugality" allowed it to grow along all the southern Alps; it grows on the Euganean Hills cliffs together with another plant typical of these rocky habitats, the Cobweb Houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum), widely common on the porphyries of several mountain groups of Veneto and Trentino which represents a memory of those plants which during the Ice ages covered the Euganean Hills. Leave the task to the landscape of bringing us in a journey through the history of the man, can be, in the case of the Park of the Euganean Hills, a striking experience full of pleasant surprises. The particular geomorphological mapping and the wide-ranging panorama of natural resources on the Euganean Hills have in different manners influenced the human settlement across the centuries. From the most ancient traces dated back to prehistoric times up to the lively towns and the rich cities of today, we can see inside the district of the Euganean Hills a complete palimpsest of human history.

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