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Flora and vegetation of the Breite Plateau

General information

The Breite Ancient Oak Tree Reserve is a wood pasture with veteran Pedunculate Oaks (Quercus robur) and Sessile Oaks (Quercus petraea). The trees cover approximately 7% of the entire surface of the plateau. Breite is one of the largest habitats of this type in Europe, and the largest in Central and Eastern Europe. The uniqueness of the Breite Plateau is given by its large number of veteran oaks which are real natural monuments. The protected statute of the Breite Reserve aims to conserve the rich cultural-natural heritage represented by these veteran trees and their habitat.

In the Middle Ages, the forest was thinned and, further on, the distance between the existing or planted trees was set to be optimal for ensuring maximum fructification. The acorns were used as food for pig herds, and the mature trees provided shadow for grazing animals (sheep, goats and cattle). As such, the mixed forest of Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea), Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur), beech (Fagus sylvatica) and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) was transformed into grassland with scattered trees on the plateau. This habitat was maintained through scything, grazing and controlled forest thinning interventions designed to prevent the reforestation of the area (invasion of hornbeam Carpinus betulus and willow Salix spp.). The wide spaces between the trees on the Breite allowed trees to develop a wide crown, much wider than it would have been in forest conditions.

The veteran trees on the Breite Plateau have respectable sizes and ages: most trees have 400-500 cm in circumference, but those with a circumference of 500-600 cm are also well represented. The height of the trees varies between 16 and 35 meters, most of them having 20-30 meters. Most trees are 350-450 years old. It is a remarkable fact that the oldest trees are estimated to be about 800 years old – like the citadel of Sighişoara! Over 450 trees can be considered ancient or veteran based on their biometric and morphologic characteristics. Their value is even greater if we consider the fact that many of them still bear fruit.

The health of those trees is, sadly, not the best. Having ancient ages, they are very sensitive to modifications in their environment. Many of these threats are represented by various human activities e.g. changes in the hydrological regime of the plateau induced by drainage ditches, vandalism, burning or cutting them down. The human-caused changes expose the veteran trees to natural processes such as storms, extreme droughts and diseases. Nowadays trees with a full crown (destroyed less than 20%) are scarce in the reserve; in most cases their crown is destroyed up to 35-40%, or even up to 95%, and exceptionally up to 100%.

Veteran trees and trunks fallen to the ground are, however, key structures that contribute to increasing the biodiversity on the plateau. They benefit many different organisms, from moss, lichens, fungi to insects, birds and numerous mammals, especially bats.

Fungi, Lichens and Moss

Up to present, these organisms have been studied less than other groups on the Breite plateau. However, preliminary data shows a great diversity of species which is due to the presence of scattered or clustered ancient trees. As such, we have identified both species that are specific to open areas and species that are characteristic to the forest habitat (due to the surrounding forest, to the veteran trees and fallen trunks and branches).

The Breite Plateau is well known to locals as it is home to 30 species of edible mushrooms (fungi). The most appreciated are: the horse mushroom (Agaricus arvensis), the penny bun (Boletus edulis), the black trumpet (Craterellus cornucopioides), the beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica), the parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), the brittlegills (Russula atropurpurea) and the charcoal burner (Russula cynoxantha).

Besides the above, we have identifed several species of non-edible mushrooms. Most of those grow at the bottom or on the trunks of ancient oaks and on the fallen decomposing branches, such as the sulphur polypore (Laetiporus sulphureus) and Trametes sp. The bottom and trunks of ancient oaks and the fallen branches are also home to most of the lichens and moss species that were identified on the Breite, such as: Cladonia sp., Parmelia sp., Peltigera canina, Lobaria sp., Bryum sp., Isothecium sp., Marcantia polymorpha, Mnium undulatum, and Polytricum commune etc. This points out once more the great importance of ancient oaks as habitats (both the live trees and the dead wood).

Superior plants

470 species and sub-species of plants were identified on the Breite, which is an impressive number considering that the Romanian Flora comprises approximately 3,800 species and sub-species (Ciocârlan 2009). This means that the 133 hectares of the plateau foster 12,5% of the plants acknowledged at national level.

Mesophyll vegetation grows here, demonstrating the wetland character of the plateau. The numerous xerophile species present in the more open areas of the plateau and in the southern parts (which were more humid in the past) reveal the interventions made to dewater the plateau (drainage ditches) and the drop in precipitation level (frequency) in the past few years.

The flora of the Breite is valuable due to its general character as well as to the association of species that possess varied characteristics. Breite fosters several species that are rather exceptional in this region, such as the mountain species Potentilla erecta or Hieracium aurantiacum. Breite is home to the following species included in the Red National Conservation Lists (Oltean et al. 1994 and Boşcaiu et al. 1994): Dactylorhiza incarnata ochroleuca (Rare - Oltean et al. 1994), Listera ovate (R - Oltean et al. 1994), Orchis morio morio (R - Oltean et al. 1994), Platanthera bifolia (R - Oltean et al. 1994), Pinus sylvestris (R - Oltean et al. 1994, planted on the Breite), and Gentiana pneumonanthe (Vulnerable – Boşcaiu et al. 1994).

Along those mentioned above, we would also like to point out several species that are special due to their aspect. The common bistort (Polygonum bistorta), identified in the highly humid South of the plateau colors the pasture in pink during spring and in early summer. Another species that prospers in springtime is the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). The pale color of the devil's-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis), which abounds in the Center-West part of the plateau, and the blue splendor of the marsh gentian (Gentiana pneumonanthe) embellish the landscape of the reserve in autumn days. The nettle (Urtica dioica) prospers in the areas where grazing is practiced and where animals rest under the trees.

The presence of the great burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) on the plateau is highly important because this plant hosts the larvae of the butterfly species Maculinea teleius, which is protected at European level being listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive.

We are, however, concerned by the expansion of certain adventive weeds that are extremely aggressive, such as the giant goldenrod (Solidago gigantea), the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the path rush (Juncus tenuis), the Canadian horseweed (Conyza canadensis), and the cutleaf (Rudbeckia laciniata). Another negative aspect that requires active management measures such as controlled grazing, scything and regular tree thinning is the regeneration and expansion of hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and willow (Salix spp.), as a consequence of the natural succession of the forest.

Vegetation

The formation of the vegetation on the Breite plateau was largely influenced by the thinning of the forest. The low permeability of the soil determined a meadow-creation process resulting in the formation of mesophyll pastures.

The Agrostio stoloniferae - Dechampsietum caespitosae association covers most of the plateau. These two dominating species – creeping bentgrass and hairgrass – determine the character of the summer vegetation on the plateau.  In the wetter Southern parts these two species are more scarce, and in turn we can observe here the great burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis), the meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), the common tormentil (Potentilla erecta), the purple betony (Stachys officinalis), the lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum), the yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris), and the sedges (Carex elata, Carex ovalis etc).

In the highly humid areas, such as the drainage ditches, we can observe the Epilobio palustri-Juncetum effusi and the Lythro salicariae-Juncetum effusi-inflexi associations. The drainage ditches from the South of the plateau also foster the Caricetum vesicariae association.
Scirpetum sylvatici was observed in the Southern and the wet North-Eastern parts of the plateau.
Breite fosters the Natura 2000 Habitat “6510 – Lowland hay meadows“  (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis).

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Flora and vegetation of the Breite plateau - images and descriptions4.41 MB

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