This forest is dominated by larches (Larix decidua). Remarkably, it also includes arolla Pines or Swiss pines (Pinus cembra). Because it allows light to penetrate, a dense undergrowthcan be found on the forest floor especially saplings and sub-shrubs. Do you think you know what they are?
Saplings are young trees; they have an elongated stem, or trunk. They will grow into trees. Here are a few examples:
- The Arolla pine (Pinus cembra) is a conifer that grows at high altitudes. Its needle shaped leaves are attached in groups of 3 to 5 . The timber is strong and of good quality and therefore has been overexploited. Because of its slow growth rate it nearly became extinct due to lack of renewal. Its seeds are dispersed principally by the spotted nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes).
- The larch (Larix decidua) is the only Swiss conifer whose leaves fall in winter. Its light green leaves are soft and needle-like, 2-4cm long, and grow in tufts of 35-40 from short woody knobs, or shoots, on the twigs unlike…
- ... The spruce (Picea abies), which has short angular tough needle shaped leaves attached singly around twigs. This common tree is grown for its timber.
- The rowan or mountain-ash (Sorbus aucuparia) bears compound leaves and orange-red berries that birds feed on in winter. Thrushes enjoy feeding on them and while they are feeding they are an easy prey for fowlers (professional bird catchers).
Shrubs are woody plants that can reach 4 to 5 metres in height when mature. When they are under 0.5 metre high, they are called sub-shrubs. Those around you are typical of a sand barren context : they must withstand soil acidity caused by pine needles that take a long time decaying. See if you can identify some of them:
- The bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and the lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) provide food for black grouses (Tetrao tetrix), ptarmigans (Lagopodus muta), and rock partridges (Alectoris graeca), which are all endangered species.
- The shrubby milkwort (Polygala chamaebuxus) bears pretty bicolour flowers that come in a range of colours including creamy white tipped with yellow, red, purplish and even pink.
- The rhododendron (Rhododendron ferrugineum),
whose leaves seem « rusty » on their under side is also referred to as
the Alpine Rose because of its large hot pink fragrant flowers.
It takes several centuries for a forest of this type to reach maturity.
Text : Céline Vuitton et Mirko D’inverno, field botanists