Plant wildlife

The Scrub/Woodland Successional Sequence and Altitudinal Plant Zoning Inversion on the Plateaus and in the Valleys

The limestone plateaus inland of Finale are populated by the typical variants of Mediterranean plant wildlife, ranging from pioneer to climax species.

Macchia (Italian: scrub, pronounced /makia/) mainly consists of an impenetrable, green bushland of tough, leathery-foliaged evergreens (also called “sclerophyll” from the Greek word meaning “hard leaves”) and creepers. This is where the saying “darsi alla macchia” [t.n.: roughly ‘go into hiding’] comes from which is used to describe the action of taking to the bushes to hide. Macchia is mainly made up of buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), and Mediterranean sarsaparilla (Smilax aspera, commonly known as “tear-trousers” because of its thorns).

Unless prevented by forest fires, scrubland gradually gives way to oak forests (Quercus ilex), which in turn tend not to grow on steep, sea-facing slopes and therefore give way to forests of Aleppo pine trees (Pinus halepensis) along the coast. Unlike many believe, the latter, rather than Pinus pinaster, or “maritime pine tree”, is the true coastal pine species.

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Interestingly, woodland and scrub mainly grow on the top, sunnier sections of the local plateaus, while the shadier and cooler valleys in between are populated by a mixed woodland of oaks (or ilex), ashes (Fraxinus ornus) and hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia). This phenomenon is called altitudinal plant zoning inversion and explains why Mediterranean scrub grows higher up than mixed forests. Again, the narrower and deeper the valleys, the more pronounced the inversion of the sessional sequence.

In winter, plant zoning inversion stands out even more. Indeed, if you look out from a scenic viewpoint, you will certainly notice how the deciduous trees in the valleys are bare, while the surrounding oak woodland is green.  Right by the plateaus, at higher altitudes, plant zoning returns to the usual sequence of mixed woodland, chestnuts and beeches.

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