The plant world of Medvednica is very rich, diverse and interesting. Flora, the Roman goddess of spring and flowers, has so far recorded 1205 species and subspecies on Medvednica, which makes up about 23% of the total Croatian vascular flora.
The diversity of flora on Medvednica is largely a consequence of climate changes that happened during Earth’s history. Medvednica is a transitional area where the species of different plant-geographic regions meet. Apart from that, human activity has created a valuable mosaic of grasslands, vineyards, orchards and arable lands with farming cultures, which together with natural habitats increase the biological diversity.
The plant cover of Medvednica is mostly represented by natural and preserved forests. Due to the indentedness of the relief, various geological foundations and types of soil, even 12 forest communities appear on Medvednica, demonstrating pronounced zonation i.e. distribution of types depending on their elevation and exposition.
The knolls at the foot of the mountain are covered with sessile oak and common hornbeam forests, forming a ring around the whole mountain. These forests have mostly been cut down to make way for settlements and agricultural lands. Sessile oak and sweet chestnut forests grow on mild slopes above 300 m. During autumn time these forests are very popular for chestnut picking. Sessile oak forests with mouse-ear hawkweed appear on warm south ridges. Hornbeam forests appear above the sessile oak forests. These hornbeam forests cover most of Medvednica: beech forests with woodrush have an unvaried composition while the Dinaric beech forests with deadnettle are significantly richer in species. Above 800 m there are recognizable Pannonian beech and silver fir forests. Sycamore and common ash forestsoccasionally occur in cold, damp valleys near the mountain top. Relict linden and yew forests which grow on limestone foundations in only a few locations (Horvatove stube, Lipa-Rog) are also very interesting and rich in rare and thermophilic species. On the south slopes, on carbonate foundations, there are thermophilic downy oak and manna ashforests, as well as sessile oak forests with black pea plants. Black alder forests with elongated sedge appear near bigger streams at the foot of the mountain. A particularity of this area is the typical lowland pedunculated oak and common hornbeam forest which grows in the Park near the Golubovec Castle.
Precisely the diversity of Medvednica’s forests was the reason why 8 special forest vegetation reservations were declared in 1963. The only economic activities allowed in these areas are related to the maintenance of natural balance.
Since beech forest is the most common forest on Medvednica, it is called “the mother of all forests” by locals. Furniture and many other useful objects are made of beech wood. Pigs were often sent to beech forests to feed on their fruits – beechnuts. Within the Nature Park there are a few very nice locations with beech wood: the forest reservations Mikulić potok – Vrabečka gora and Pušinjak – Gorščica.
Protected plants on Medvednica
There are 91 strictly protected and 154 protected plant species in the Park. One of the strictly protected species is the common yew (Taxus baccata), a beautiful conifer which is also successfully grown in cities but is very rare and endangered in its natural habitats all over Europe. On Medvednica, it grows in rocky and damp places within beech and beech-silver fir forests. In Horvatove stube and Lipa areas, yew forms a special community – linden and yew forest. The yew tree on Krumpirište, which is more than 1000 years old, is considered to be the most beautiful yew tree on Medvednica!
Two species of lilies that live on Medvednica are strictly protected: the Carniolan lily (Lilium carniolicum) and martagon lily (Lilium martagon). Their beautiful flowers embellish the mountain between June and August. Unfortunately, despite the legal protection, they are often a target of reckless harvesters.
All orchids that grow on Medvednica are also protected. They live in different habitats, so their unusual flowers embellish the mountain meadows, glades and forest edges between spring and late summer. They can also be found in deep forest shade. Unlike tropical orchids which are often cultivated, it is difficult to cultivate European orchids – they don’t like to be moved. They live in symbiosis with certain fungi in the ground which are very sensitive to any fertilizers or fungicides, so in cultivated they die out, causing the orchids to die too.
Orchids are very adapted to insect pollination, especially the Ophrys or bee-orchids species. Their flowers mimic the look of certain insects with their shape, colour, scent and other features. This is also witnessed by their names: early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes), bee orchid (O. apifera), fly orchid (O. insectifera) and late spider orchid (O. fuciflora).
We rarely encounter lilies and orchids on Medvednica so their uniqueness is noticed immediately. However, some other plants which seem abundant are in danger of extinction, so many Park visitors pick them without realising they are contributing to their extinction. Those are primarily plants that flower in early spring, such as the snowdrop, crocus, dogtooth violet, hellebore and anemone. The snowdrop anemone (Anemone sylvestris) is critically endangered and on the verge of extinction throughout Europe.
For this reason we invite people to visit the beautiful flora of Medvednica as often as they can, and leave it untouched in order to be able to enjoy it the next time they visit.
Fungi – a special kingdom
Fungi are an unusual and underexplored kingdom of living organisms. They cannot perform photosynthesis like plants, or move like animals. About 100 000 different species of fungi have been described in the world so far, but it is assumed that their true number is much higher.
There are 81 species of fungi recorded on Medvednica, many of which are rare and endangered, and therefore protected by law. An interesting piece of information is that 21 different species of mushrooms that have so far been observed on Medvednica have not been found anywhere else in Croatia! Their Latin names are: Camarophyllopsis phaeophylla, Cortinarius ionochlorus, Desmazierella acicola, Fomitopsis spraguei, Hygrocybe lacmus, Hygrophorus calophyllus, Mollisia olivascens etc.
Old and dead trees, both standing and lying, are of tremendous significance to the preservation of fungal, animal and plant biodiversity. That is why the management of forests in the Park calls for special measures such as leaving dead trees on the spot, increasing the portion of mature trees, trees with hollows etc.
Mushrooms have been used in cuisine, medicine and even religious rituals since ancient times. The visitors of Medvednica can often enjoy the taste of porcini, chanterelles, parasol mushrooms, oyster mushrooms etc.
Inspired by the call of nature and new social trends, many people decide to pick and consume mushrooms, but this should be done with a lot of caution. Some poisonous and even deadly mushrooms grow in the Nature Park Medvednica! For this reason it is extremely important to be absolutely sure you are dealing with an edible mushroom before you decide to pick it.