The Colli Euganei are a group of hills of volcanic origin that rise, almost like an archipelago, from the surrounding Venetian plains. The Colli Euganei also constitute the first Regional Park to have been instituted in the Veneto (in 1989). For more general information on the area, check the dedicated pages by clicking on the links above; this page concentrates mainly on the area's stunning flora.
Flora: General Presentation
The flora of the Colli Euganei is characterized by a surprising number of species. The diverse origin and composition of the soil; the rugged, uneven and peculilar morphology of the relief (responsible, amongst other things, of contrasting micro-climates); the relative isolation from other mountain groups and the alternate climatic vicissitudes – linked to glacial cycles and the post-glacial period – make the Colli Euganei a complex naturalistic island, where co-exist, in close proximity, both plants typical of hot and arid environments (termophile species), and others with a montane or sub-montane distribution (microterme species). Therefore – on the basis of their nature and the soil composition, as well as in consequence of the climatic differencies – one can distinguish, in the district, the main following typologies of vegetal associations:
– The Mediterranean Scrub is constituted by a thick vegetation, typically with low plants and shrubs, and the dominance of evergreen species, such as Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo), Tree Heath (Erica arborea), Rockrose (Cistus sp.), Terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus), Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum) and Prickly Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). To this type of vegetation is also ascribable Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa), originally from the uplands of Central America, found in areas which are particularly sunny – such as Monte Ceva di Battaglia, Rocca di Monselice and Monte della Madonna near Teolo.
– Fields and Meadows: these are quite widespread in the southern section of the Colli Euganei, on the calcareous cliffs situated between Valle San Giorgio, Baone and Arquà. The latter locality was renamed Arquà Petrarca in honour of the illustrious 14th century Italian poet and writer Francesco Petrarca, who sojourned here in the last few years of his life. The fields are very arid and almost completely devoid of the humus layer, and derive from the abandonment of pastures and unproductive grounds; these habitats are locally known as "vegri" (they are described in more detail below).
In the areas of more recent abandonment, herbaceous species predominate; these are typical of dry climates, such as the plants belonging to the Graminaceae family, while in the areas that have been abandoned for a long time are recognizable shrubs such as Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Sloe (or Blackthorn; Prunus spinosa), Dogrose (Rosa canina), Juniper (Juniperus communis), Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana), Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) and Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum), then replaced by Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens), Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia) and Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus). In these environments lives also the only species that takes its name from the city of Padova (Padua), Haplophyllum patavinum (or Paduan Rue) – an endemic plant discovered in Arquà Petrarca in 1722, and that finds in the Colli Euganei its westernmost point of growth: this is the only area where it grows in the whole of Italy.
– Chestnut Woodland: it develops on volcanic slopes facing north, on siliceous and deep terrain. The undergrowth is constituted by numerous herbaceous species, with early blossomings such as Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), Hellebore (Helleborus sp.), Daffodil (Narcissus sp.) and the rare Martagon- (Lilium martagon) and St. John’s Lily (Lilium bulbiferum) – species typical of more humid climates.
– Termophile Oak Woodland: this formation covers part of the slopes which are exposed to the south, on dry and not very deep soil, with a predominantly calcareous composition. The oak woodland is, by contrast to chestnut, open and luminous, and it presents itself like a mixed scrub, where Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens) is flanked by Judas’ tree (Cercis siliquastrum), Mediterranean Hackberry (Celtis australis), Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis) and Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria), while the soft undergrowth is rich in humus and includes Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Tree Heath (Erica arborea), Juniper (Juniperus communis) and Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare).
– Locust Thickets: this formation represents a vegetal association which is led by a species that was introduced by man at the beginning of the 1600s. Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), originally used as an ornamental species, comes from the shores of North America and it has, over time, substituted the autochtonous chestnut and oak woodland. Locust thickets are quite poor from the point of view of biodiversity and include very few other tree and shrub species, such as Elder (Sambucus nigra) and Blackberry (Rubus sp.); equally, the undergrowth is empoverished by the intense exploitation of such areas.
The Regional Park of the Colli Euganei
Instituted in 1989, the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei (‘Parco Regionale dei Colli Euganei’) extends over 18,694 hectares, thus identifying a vast area of great naturalistic, geologic and historic interest, constituted by a set of hills of volcanic origin formed around 35 million years ago, of which Monte Venda (with its 601 m above sea level) is the highest peak. The morphology is constituted by veritable ‘cones’ with steep slopes (volcanic formations), by elongated elevations with a softer contour (sedimentary formations) and by the alluvial plains that surround the district.
The geological history of this territory, the peculiar morphology of the relief and the climate favour the presence of a surprising number of vegetal and animal species, and make the Colli Euganei a complex ‘naturalistic island’ where thrive, in close proximity, a vegetation typical of hot and arid climates and habitats characteristic of mountainous environments, from Mediterranean scrub to chestnut woodlands, oak woodlands, Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) thickets and meadowland (all these habitats are succinctly described above). Worth mentioning is a precious endemic species, Paduan Rue (Haplophyllum patavinum) – the most important rarity to be found amongst the floral richness of the Colli Euganei. Each different habitat hosts also a peculiar fauna, amongst which is Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius), Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Badger (Meles meles), Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), and the rare Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata). More information on the fauna and geology can be found on the pages dedicated to the Colli Euganei and to the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei.
The varied and articulated landscape and the river courses of the surrounding plains have played an essential role also in regards to human settlements: walled towns, ancient monasteries, mansion houses and grand villas all testify to the fact that, since time immemorial, man has lived in the territory of the Colli Euganei by modifying its natural environment. Inhabited since the Paleolithic, the territory of the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei contains interesting archaeological sites, areas of outstanding naturalistic beauty and ethnographic museums; inside it, the territories of 15 municipalities unite environmental interest with the suggestions coming from ancient hamlets built in stone, several castles, ‘pievi’ (old churches in Roman style, often exercising jurisdiction in Medieval times) and literary trails.
Another aspect that characterizes the protected area is the presence of thermal waters (spas), known and used since the 7th century BC. The frequency of mineral waters and the uniqueness of the landscape make the four spa towns of the Park (Abano Terme, Montegrotto Terme, Battaglia Terme and Galzignano Terme) among the most important at European level. The territory of the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei can also be considered a permanent laboratory in the field of environmental protection and representative of the “Euganean culture”.
The Flora of the Colli Euganei
The floral richness of the Colli Euganei is well-known: the diversity of soil and exposition; the development in height of the relief – albeit modest –; the geological and Palaeo-botanic history have allowed the creation of habitats that are very different amongst themselves; as a consequence, this prompted the development of a particularly composite flora. Numerous are the works that – in more or less recent years – have highlighted the peculiarity of the many habitats, by individuating the most significant aspects and the sites which are worthy of protection, as well as reporting the many sightings of rare or new species for the district that have further contributed to demonstrate the variety and richness of the local flora. However, whichever this richness in reality, it can hardly be witnessed without a complete review of the vegetal species present in the territory.
A first research in that sense had been executed by Auguste Béguinot in his Flora Padovana (1909-14), where his investigations on the flora of this territory reports all the species that have been found in the area of the Colli Euganei, listed previously in his essay “Saggio sulla Flora e sulla Fitogeografia dei Colli Euganei” (‘Essay on the Flora and Phyto-geography of the Colli Euganei’). A century has already passed since the work of Béguinot, during which time radical changes have intervened in the territory that was originally being investigated; thus, it clearly emerges the need for a revision – a re-definition of the actual scenario – as for the local flora. Some authors have carried out this verification with the compilation of a passionate research, which has lasted several years and has been conducted with the utmost scientific rigour. Under a strict botanical profile, this new publication represents therefore a fundamental contribution to the floristic knowledge of the territory of the Colli Euganei, with a list of all the species known thus far. The current page aims at presenting a condensed version of this recent study on the local flora.
The careful exploration – one could even say meter by meter – of the region has led to interesting observations: on one level, well-known species – considered frequent only a century ago – have actually not been found anymore, presumably because of changes in the environment connected mainly to human presence and anthropic activities; on the other hand, numerous species – that were not being reported in the past – have been rediscovered. The presence of some of these species has certainly emerged thanks to a more accurate research, obviously facilitated also by the more modern means of transportation; for other species, however – as for instance some adventitious plants – one has to deem responsible the ever more rapid and drastic changes imposed to the environment by man.
Within this framework, one can thus trace the entire history of the territory of the Colli Euganei, of which are highlighted the changes provoked by the reclamation of wetlands, the different cultivation methods, the mining activities and the variable anthropic impact. Finally, whoever – despite not being a botanist – loves nature, and/or practices open-air activities, will not find in this publication (and on this page) an arid list of species, but a rather detailed picture – almost a photograph, one could say – of the variety, peculiarity, versatility and general richness of the flora of the Colli Euganei; at the same time, this is a plea for an effort aimed at the conservation of this floral heritage, which is not only ours, but also there for the generations to come to enjoy.
This study – and this page – are inspired by a painstaking work of observation and monitoring that has been carried out over the course of the last 20 years by two local scholars, which resulted in the publication mentioned above, that most likely represents the first comprehensive ‘check-list’ for the flora of the Colli Euganei (and surrounding plains) to have appeared to date. With the above-mentioned volume – and the current page – the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei is thus enriched by a precious contribution dedicated to the floral species present in this territory, and can best provide concrete and direct evidence of the biodiversity present in the Colli Euganei district. The list – and the present page – aim therefore to be as complete as possible, and aim to assist in this important task of valuing and protecting the local flora.
Flora of the Colli Euganei and Surrounding Area
The district of the Colli Euganei, for its environmental characteristics and its rich floral heritage, has always been a preferred destination for scholars of botany – both Italian and foreign – since at least the 16th century. Among the first researchers to be remembered is Luigi Squalerno, also known as ‘L’Anguillara’ (1512-70), first Prefect of the Botanical Garden in Padua – the famous Orto Botanico di Padova: an historical institution of its kind, which was founded in 1545 –, who repeatedly collected on the Colli Euganei with a true naturalistic spirit.
Many drawings of plants of the Colli Euganei can also be found in the Codice Erbario by the Venetian ‘patrizio’ Pietro Antonio Michiel (1510-76), now kept at the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, and in the Discorsi by Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1501-77) – a famous doctor from Siena who maintained a close relationship with almost all the famous botanists of his time, amongst whom was Giacomo Antonio Cortuso (1513-1603), from Padova, Professor of Botany and then third Prefect of the Botanical Garden – a careful researcher and connoisseur of the plants of the Colli Euganei and the area around Padova.
The renown of the flora of the Colli Euganei spread far and wide during the following century thanks to the major works of valid botanists who visited the area, amongst whom are to be remembered the Swiss Caspar Bauhin (1560-1624) and his brother Johann (1541-1613), the German Christin Mentzel (1622-1701), as well as the Ligurian scholar Paolo Boccone (1633-1703).
During the 1700s, the district of the Colli Euganei became the destination of more famous scholars and botanists, amongst whom are to be counted Antonio Vallisneri (1661-1730), illustrious Professor at the University of Padova, who first studied the alophyle flora of the Euganean spas, but above all of the Florentine Pietro Antonio Micheli (1679-1737) and the Modenese Giovanni Girolamo Zannichelli (1662-1729) – an ‘adoptive’ citizen of Venice – who both visited the Colli Euganei on several occasions, where they individuated the endemic Paduan Rue (Haplophyllum patavinum) for the first time.
Also to be remembered are Giulio Pontedera, from Vicenza (even though originally from Pisa), Prefect of the Botanical Garden, who illustrated several species of the Colli Euganei; the Veronese Pietro Arduino (1728-1805) and Giovanni Marsili (1727-1795), from Pontebba, who was Professor of Botany and then also Prefect of the Padua Botanical Garden. We still have a Herbarium from him that contains some species whose origin is in the Colli Euganei, amongst which is Laurel-leaved Rockrose (Cistus laurifolius), today disappeared.
The 19th century saw an intensification of the botanical explorations in the Colli Euganei, thanks also to the spread of systematic criteria, of the norms adopted by Linnaeus and the profusion of studies by Italian universities. Among the first explorers to be distinguished are Ciro Pollini (1782-1833), from Liguria, who lived for a long time in Verona and collected several plants in the Colli Euganei. Caspar von Sternberg (1761-1838), from Bohemia, visited the area in 1804 in the occasion of a famous trip of his to the NE of Italy, while Nicolò Contarini (1780-1849), from Venice, collected numerous – and rather interesting – plants of the Colli Euganei, now conserved in his Herbarium kept at the Museum of Natural History of the City of Venice, but who nonetheless gave nothing for printing.
A particular mention is deserved by the abbot Girolamo Romano (1765-1841), also from Padua, who dedicated the whole of his life to collecting plants of the Colli Euganei and the surrounding plains, and who was the first to publish – in three successive editions – a systematic list of the floral species present in the district. Also worth mentioning is Roberto Visiani (1800-1878), born in Sebenico (now Croatia), Professor and then Prefect of the Botanical Garden in Padua, who – when he was still young – collected several species of the Colli Euganei, today conserved in the Herbarium of the Museum at the ‘Orto Botanico’ in Padua.
Other active and untiring botanists who collected several times in the territory of the Colli Euganei include Giovanni Montini (1802-1854), Alessandro Spranzi (1802-1890) and Francesco Secondo Beggiato (1806-1883), all from Vicenza; Giovanni Zanardini (1804-1878), from Venice, and finally Achille de Zigno (1813-1892) and Vettore Trevisan (1818-1897), both from Padua – the latter a particularly tenacious explorer of the district, who published the second list of plants of the Colli Euganei (after the first by Girolamo Romano).
Distinguished were also Pier Andrea Saccardo (1845-1920), from Treviso, Professor of Botany, eminent mycologist and then Prefect of the Botanical Garden, as well as Giacomo Bizzozero (1852-1885), from Vicenza, but an adoptive citizen of Padua – a meticulous and scrupulous gardener of the ‘horti’ contained within the Botanical Garden: all of these scholars collected and reported several species from the Colli Euganei, many of which were then new for the district, and are currently conserved at the Herbarium in Padova.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Professor of Botany (and then Prefect of the Botanical Garden in Padua) Auguste Béguinot (1875-1940) – unsurpassed and meticulous researcher of the plants of the Colli Euganei – published the first systematic list for the flora of the Province of Padova, in which are being included all the species found until then in the Colli Euganei, elaborated with a modern approach and fruit of a scrupulous and organic research. Until his death – and despite not living in Padua anymore – he continued to busy himself with species from this territory, with supplementary lists that went on to complement his flora, in which is reported the presence of more entries that were communicated to him by local correspondents.
Another important scholar was Ugolino Ugolini (1856-1942), from the Marche, who – Professor of Natural History at the Regi Licei, first in Padova and then in Brescia – was a skillful collector and diligent researcher of the flora and vegetation of the Colli Euganei, and to whom are due numerous sightings of rare or particular species. The many plants that he collected in the Colli Euganei are conserved at the Herbarium in Padua, where are also found the rich collections of the Modenese Adriano Fiori (1865-1950) – assistant at the Orto Botanico in Padua and then Professor in various Italian universities, who collected many plants in the territory of the Colli Euganei (and of Veneto at large), reported also in his famous “Flora Analitica d’Italia” (Analytic Flora of Italy). In the second half of the 1900s there have been further occasional indications referred to the flora and vegetation of the Colli Euganei.
Purpose of this Page
As anticipated earlier, this article is in accompaniment to a new research carried out on the flora of the Euganean district, finalized to the compilation of a floral catalogue that can be considered as complete and up-to-date as possible. To this goal have been dedicated – over the course of about 20 years – numerous botanical explorations in the whole territory of the Euganean hills, foothills and surrounding plains. The present page and the publication are the result of this long, painstaking research, which – it is hoped – can represent a new starting point in order to deepen the knowledge of the flora and vegetation of the Colli Euganei at large, as well as serving as stimulus for further research efforts.
However, during the course of this study, problems of systematic collocation of some critical entries – and of revision of the scientific nomenclature – have consistently been posing themselves. More than once, in fact, the consultation of the most recent treatises on botany was not enough in order to find satisfying answers to some issues that have emerged, and recourse to the work of specialists was deemed necessary. Despite that – in some cases at least, as for certain specific categories – a good enough level of definition was not arrived at; as a consequence, the name of a small number of entries is still accompanied by the term ‘aggregatus’. Problems have been encountered also at the level of sub-specific categories, as the research that has been carried out so far has not been providing sufficiently secure results to be able to affirm with a reasonable degree of certainty the sub-specific belonging of certain vascular elements.
The House of the Park ‘Casa Marina’ and Monte Venda
The village of Galzignano Terme is situated in the middle of a wide valley, at the base of the south-eastern slopes of Monte Rua (416 m; described below), at the border between the Val Cingolina and the ‘calto’ Pavajon. It is one of the four spa centres of the Colli Euganei. Worth mentioning, in the territory of Galzignano Terme, is the Historical Garden of Villa Barbarigo, at the bottom of the small valley of Valsanzibio – a successful example of ‘Italian Garden’ with wonderful ancient trees, delightful paths filled with allegorical statues, water games (‘jeux d’eau’) and a renowned maze. The nearby lovely wetland reserve of Cà Demia is a very interesting site of ornithological interest.
‘Casa Marina’ is situated in a strategic position in the middle of the Euganean Hills, at the foot of Monte Venda (601 m), in one of the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei’s most stunning areas, right below the old ruins of the Olivetani Monastery. The building, which is managed by the Park Authority, is a traditional farmhouse converted into the Nature Education Centre of the Park – a place where you can come to know more about the surrounding environment, the local flora and fauna, the history and the human activities, and is also the starting point of various paths in this section of the Colli Euganei. ‘Casa Marina’ is a hostel, Visitor Centre, educational Library and the Park’s Documentation centre; it also hosts a laboratory of Natural History and an observatory, and is equipped to welcome schools, groups and disabled. The grounds can also be used as campsite on request.
Monte Venda Trail (in brief). This path starts from ‘Casa Marina’; along the route, you will be able to enjoy beautiful views, cross old chestnut woodlands with some ancient, majestic specimens of ‘maronari’ (fruiting chestnut); pass a small pond which forms after heavy rain, with thickets of Poplar (Populus sp.) and European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), and the remains of an old charcoal-burning site. Distance: 5 km – Difference in altitude: 50 m – Mean walking time: 3 hours – Degree of difficulty: none; suitable also for the disabled – Best season: spring, autumn.
“G. Lorenzoni Trail” on Monte Venda. The starting point for this panoramic path is also ‘Casa Marina’; along the northern flank of the mountain a short, steep climb leads to a fork: there, you can choose between a short alternative route which will take you to the ruins of the Olivetani Monastery – originally a hermitage, then converted into a Benedictine Monastery in 1229 – or continue on the naturalistic trail. Distance: 6 km – Difference in altitude: 250 m – Mean walking time: 4 hours (5 hours including the detour to the ruins of the Olivetani Monastery) – Degree of difficulty: some stretches are difficult and require attention; this path is suitable for people with at least some walking experience – Best season: spring, winter.
Monte Venda Trail (in More Detail)
The name of this small mountain derives from a Celtic-Gaelic root: vindos-, meaning ‘white’, ‘beautiful’.
The first part of the trail on Monte Venda (601 m) crosses a section where one can notice a characteristic outcrop of Euganean marl – the most recent sedimentary rock among those present in the Colli Euganei (about 40-45 million years ago), of a strongly clayey nature. Intersperesed with this, are large veins of volcanic rock (trachyte) that cross the mountain from the north to the south-east, while the rest of the trail is mostly on volcanic soil, where rhyolite prevails. Worth mentioning, also – on the southern slope of Monte Venda – is an enormous landslide of natural origin.
The Monte Venda trail crosses environments with distinct micro-climatic conditions. The south-facing side is characterized by termophile formations that can be attributed to Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens) scrub, with Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus) and Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), as well as Sub-Mediterranean maquis with the presence of Sage-leaved Rockrose (Cistus salviifolius), Prickly Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), Tree Heath (Erica arborea), Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) and Clustered Broom (Cytisus hirsutus).
Over the ridge that separates Monte Venda from Monte Vendevolo, Chestnut (Castanea sativa) takes over and strongly conditions the woodland, which can thus be defined as “chestnut woodland on magmatic soils”. Worth noticing, also – in the area of the so-called ‘Castagneti di Baderla’ (Baderla chestnut groves) – is a depression in the terrain where, during the rainy season, an ephemeral small lake forms which conditions the vegetation composition, with Poplar (Populus sp.), European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and, in the area of the ex-rhyolite quarry, the presence of a rarity for the area – namely Whitebeam (Sorbus aria).
Worth mentioning is Boletus aereus, also known with the name of ‘Black bolete’ – an edible mushroom of a brownish-black colour, with a pleasant smell and a sweet taste. It prefers sparse, mixed woodland composed of oak and chestnut. Interesting, also, is Lepista inversa – a toadstool with variable yellow-orange-brownish colour, widespread in humid and shady woodland under broadleaved tree species.
Monte Venda, thanks to the presence of different habitats, hosts numerous animal species. In particular, along the trail, it will be relatively easy to spot birds – such as European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) and Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) – rather than bumping into animals that tend to come out only in the evening or at night, like Beech Marten (Martes foina), Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) and Fat Dormouse (Glis glis). In the fresher locations, it is also possible to spot Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and other small amphibians. The ground level is dominated by many invertebrates such as Common Snail (Helix pomatia) and reptiles like European Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis), Green Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus var. carbonarius), Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and the rarer, more elusive Viper (Vipera aspis).
History and Art
The ancient inhabitants of Monte Venda and of the surrounding territory have left numerous traces on the land; some of these – like the ruins of the Olivetani Monastery – are immediately observable; some others have to be discovered amongst the folds of the rocks, the shapes of the landscape and place names. A boundary marker stone dating to the Roman age – over which is carved a Latin inscription – sets forth the ancient subdivision of the Colli Euganei district into ‘Agro patavino’ (the area under the jurisdiction of Padua) and ‘Agro estense’ (jurisdiction of Este), and is currently being conserved in the “Museo Nazionale Atestino” (National Archaeological Museum) in Este. Another evident trace of the unity between man and its environment is constituted by the remnants of charcoal kilns, set up for the producton of sweet charcoal, identifiable in the numerous clearings where the earth still keeps a blackish colour.
The Landscape and the Views
From the Chiesetta degli Alpini (the small chapel of the Alpini) towards Rifugio Re del Venda, it is possible to admire the nearby summit of Eremo di Monte Rua (416 m), and – along the trail – one can also see the peaks of the main ‘mountains’ contained within the Colli Euganei, amongst which are Monte Fasolo (301 m), Monte Cecilia (199 m), Monte Cero (409 m) and Castello di Calaone (316 m).
From the car park next to Eremo di Monte Rua (Monte Rua Hermitage) one can walk along the walls of the ancient religious building, and thus enjoy a 360° panorama around the region. The area of Monte Rua is described in more detail below.
It is possible, too, to climb Monte Rua from the village of Baone, from where several trails start, which also allow wide views – while the roundtrip of Monte Cecilia allows the visit of the ruins of the castle located on the summit. Monte Cecilia, despite its modest height, represents a magnificent terrace open on the Venetian plains and the surrounding hills of the Colli Euganei, such as Monte Ricco (330 m), Monte Castello di Calaone (316 m), Monte Venda (601 m), Monte Lozzo (324 m), Monte Cero (409 m), the towns of Este and Monselice, Calaone and several other villages.
The Area of Monte Rua
The ridge of Monte Rua (416 m) forms a natural divide for the vegetation, which consequently features completely different characteristics on the two sides. The sunnier southern slopes of this hill allow typical Mediterranean flora to grow, displaying an abundant presence of Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo), Tree Heath (Erica arborea), Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens) and Sage-leaved Rockrose (Cistus salviifolius), while in the undergrowth we find different plants belonging to the Caryophyllaceae (Pink) family, with scented flowers, such as Carthusian Pink (Dianthus carthusianorum), Fringed Pink (Dianthus monspessulanus) and Rock Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides).
The cooler northern side displays an almost exclusive presence of Chestnut tree populations (Castanea sativa), together with Elder (Sambucus nigra), Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and Hazel (Corylus avellana). We find a particularly important presence of several glacial relics, with valuable species that include Silver Birch (Betula pendula), the small Alpine Barrenwort (Epimedium alpinum) and Beech (Fagus sylvatica). In particular, the latter manages to reach the upper limits of the slope on this side of the hill, where it mixes in an extraordinary way with the higher line reached by the Mediterranean flora present on the other side (exposed to the south), thus forming a unique cohabitation of its kind, with a mixture of vegetation typical of marine coastlines and species found in the Alps and Alpine foothills.
In the cool undergrowth of chestnut trees, where several sites experience continuous percolation of moisture, we find one of the most precious species present in the territory of the Euganean hills: Belgian Gagea (Gagea spathacea). Traces of this plant were only re-discovered a few years ago: it had disappeared in 1895 – the same year when it was recorded for the first time by Adriano Fiori, a botanist from Modena (read above). Its importance is emphasized by its inclusion in the Red List, which contains all the species that are at risk of extinction in Italy.
From the summer season until the following winter, many trees and shrubs in the different habitats of the Colli Euganei show themselves full of berries and fruits – all very different in terms of colours and shapes. Some of these – such as Chestnut and wild Blackberry (Rubus sp.) – are known to man for their use as food, but many others represent a fundamental source of nourishment for animals, which – by feeding on them – contribute to the dispersal of seeds.
In the undergrowth of chestnut woodlands, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) produces red fruits which are very appreciated by birds – in particular Thrush (Turdus sp.) – and by some rodents such as Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), Fat Dormouse (Glis glis) and European mole (Talpa europaea). Also quite sought after are the fruits of Medlar (Mespilus germanica) and the drupes of Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas), while carefully avoided are the acidic berries of Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and the poisonous seeds of European Spindle (Euonymus europaeus), as well as the elliptic drupes of Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus).
In the woodland formations dominated by Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens) one can notice, inside the thickets of Dogrose (Rosa canina), the red fruits – technically called cinorrhods, and commonly known as rosehip – which are sought after by rodents and birds after the sweetening of their pulp, prompted by frost; equally appreciated are the pear-shaped fruits of Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis), Sloe (or Blackthorn; Prunus spinosa) and Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana), as well the dark berries of Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), which – however – are toxic to humans.
Where the south-facing woodlands slope down into the Mediterranean scrub, Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) dominates: this is an evergreen shrub or small tree, whose edible fruits – of a bright orange-red colour – stand out among the green foliage in winter, appearing at the same time as the white blossoms. The red, poisonous berries of Black Bryony (Dioscorea communis) – a climbing herb – can be seen trailing down trees at the end of the vegetative season, still firmly attached to the branches.
At the margins of the Mediterranean scrub and in the grassy clearings appear – often forming impenetrable thickets – wild Blackberry (Rubus sp.), which give out sweet purple fruits ideal to make jams and in fruit salads. More defiled, one can also find Juniper (Juniperus communis), a conifer whose aromatic minute cones – of a deep violet colour – are displayed on the branches of female plants. In the field hedges, and at the margin of cultivations, grow spontaneously Chinese Lantern (or Bladder Cherry; Physalis alkekengi) – with bright orange edible berries contained inside a papery husk of the same colour, with a very characteristic, unmistakable shape. Near it, one can find an ‘invasive’ species which has long made itself at home in the Colli Euganei, American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), whose dark purple berries are not edible to man, but are very much appreciated by Blackbird and Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Equally sought after by birds – but not edible to humans – are the dark, blackish berries of Common Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), which grow in coppice woods and at the woodlands’ margins. In the fresher locations the sweet, juicy fruits of Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) rarely make their appearance too.
A Floral Amble in the Colli Euganei
The inspiration for the following section comes from the small Botanical Garden at ‘Casa Marina’ (described above), where are represented all the main habitats that can be found throughout the Colli Euganei.
1) The ‘Vegri’ – Arid Fields with Termophile Shrubs.
By walking in the southern part of the Colli Euganei, often the view gets lost in the discontinuous slopes covered by fields, for the sporadic presence – within them – of sparse shrubs and small trees. The chromatic composition varies from the coloured and lit-up tones due to the explosion of blossoms of the herbaceous layer in spring to the pastel tones of the other seasons, following the summer drought and the autumnal and winter renewal. The word ‘vegro’ – in the common jargon of the area – indicates a rather unproductive agricultural environment. Once, these places were intensively cultivated, while today the ‘vegri’ have become habitats populated by many spontaneous plants. The ‘vegri’ develop on calcareous soils on the southernmost slopes of the so-called ‘Monti Padovani’ (another name for the Colli Euganei), and occupy around 1% of their overall surface. From an ecosystem point of view, these environments are very rich in biodiversity, and represent a habitat of priority interest within the framework of the E.U., which has classified them as “Semi-natural Grass Formations and ‘facies’ covered in shrubs on calcareous substrate (Festuco-brometalia), with the presence of orchids”.
The ‘vegro’ is characterized by the diffuse and dominant presence of some species belonging to the Graminaceae family, typical of dry environments, amongst which prevail Meadow Brome (Bromus erectus) and the perennial bunchgrass Brachypodium rupestre, to which are also associated the Sedge Carex halleriana, White Wormwood (Artemisia herba-alba), Amethist Sea Holly (Eryngium amethystinum) and Koeleria pyramidata. The shrub component is characterized by the widespread presence of Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum), Terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus) and Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria). Without the intervention of man, the natural tendency is for the evolution of these environments first into shrubby habitats and, subsequently, into woodland formations dominated by Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens) and Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia).
Among the numerous valuable plants, the endemic Paduan Rue (Haplophyllum patavinum) dominates – a species that in Italy is found exclusively in the area of the Colli Euganei. Of great visual effect, either in open fields or among the shrubs, is also the blossoming of wild, spontaneous orchids, with numerous species – some frequent, some others rarer and more localized; amongst them are Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia), Butterfly Orchid (Orchis papilionacea), the sub-endemic Adriatic Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum adriaticum), Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) and another sub-endemic, Lake Garda Ophrys (Ophrys benacensis).
2) Human Landscapes: Grassland, Fallow Ground, Spud Cultivations, Ruderal Environments and Hedges.
Man, with his work, intervenes in the surrounding environment, modifying it and adapting it to his own needs. By going along a country lane, and walking among the cultivations – or, more easily, even in a courtyard – between the end of winter and the following autumn one can notice several herbs or plants that will grow nearly anywhere, but that will disappear afterwards almost without leaving a trace. Often, these plants spread in populations, so that it is necessary to contain their exuberance; amongst them, we cannot help but noticing Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Common Chickweed (Stellaria media), Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), Common Purslane (Portulaca olearacea), Chamomile (Matricaria camomilla), Hairy Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis), Slender Wild Oats (Avena barbata), Fat Hen (Chenopodium album), Wild Lettuce (Lactuca serriola), the Hawksbeard Crepis sancta, Dovesfoot Cranesbill (Geranium molle), Cockspur Grass (Echinocloa crus-galli), Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum), False Nettle (Lamium maculatum), Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta), Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima), Yellow Sternbergia (Sternbergia lutea) and Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis annua).
These are usually called ‘invasive plants’ (more on them below); nevertheless, were it not for the action of man, who ploughs, uses hoes, spades and other tools – therefore renewing every year the surface of the soil, and thus favouring seed dispersion – all these species characterized by an annual cycle would be quite rare in nature. It is precisely by virtue of the human activities that areas favoured for the proliferation of more or less familiar and known species are being created. Together with these grow other plants connected in a particular way to the presence of man, and encouraged by his activities. Many of them can be observed thriving more or less throughout the year, such as Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), Hoary Cress (Lepidum draba), Common Daisy (Bellis perennis), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Alpine Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), White Campion (Silene latifolia), Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris), Wild Chicory (Cichorium intybus), Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), Common Vervein (Verbena officinalis), Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris), Curly Dock (Rumex crispus), European Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans), Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), Field Bindweed (Convolvolus arvensis), Short-fringed Knapweed (Centaurea nigrescens) – and many more.
Beside autochthonous species, coming from all sides of the planet thanks to the incessant activity of man, several foreign introductions have affirmed themselves too – some are present since time immemorial, while some others have arrived in more recent times. Some can be seen almost anywhere; amongst them are Common Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus), Horseweed (Conyza canadensis), Virginia Mercury (Acalypha virginica), Johnson Grass (Sorghum halepense) and Common Field-Speedwell (Veronica persica). Some of the so-called ‘ruderal’ plants (growing on rubble) can choose as their abode the cracks in an old wall, or piles of earth and debris. Some other of these ‘weeds’ can grow in pots, in cracks of old buildings and on pavements, in gravel pits and even in piles of manure. In a nutshell, in any place where man interferes with the natural environment with his activities there will be ‘weeds’: where once carts (and today tractors) used to pass; wherever there are fragments of earth without grass – and not left to free evolution – these plants will present themselves consistently. If, instead, the soil is never worked at, the plant cover changes naturally within the space of a few years, and tree and shrub species take over. Even a road or an abandoned railway, an old quarry or the banks of a canal can be colonized again – within a few decades – by woody vegetation.
3) Woodland Clearings and Termophile Edges.
These environments are being found by walking through the sunnier hill slopes, in areas where the land opens up inside of termophile (warmth-loving) woodlands dominated by Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens) and Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), or among the thickets of Tree Heath (Erica arborea) and Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo). Characterised by a scarce depth of the soil that limits the development of tree species, these habitats are mostly populated by herbaceous plants with a late spring or summer blossoming. The trachytic, rhyolitic or latitic-basaltic substrate, which reveals the volcanic origin of the Colli Euganei, and was formed between 50 and 34 million years ago, favours the development of a vegetation that loves acid or neutre soils.
The main cover is constituted by plants belonging to the Graminaceae family, amongst which are to be distinguished the bunchgrass Chrysopogon gryllus, Upright Brome (Bromus erectus), Bohemer’s Cat’s-Tail (Phleum phleoides) and Silver Hairgrass (Aira caryophyllacea). The more showy blossoms are those of Carthusian Pink (Dianthus carthusianorum), Fringed Pink (Dianthus monspessulanus), Brown Knapweed (Centaurea jacea), Squarrose Knapweed (Centaurea triumfettii), Woolly Yarrow (Achillea tomentosa), White Dittany (Dictamnus alba), Sweet William Catchfly (Silene armeria) and also of two splendid orchids, Long-Lipped Serapia (Serapias vomeracea) and Butterfly Orchid (Orchis papilionacea). Valuable species are also those linked to the Leguminosae (Pea) family, amongst which are Subterranean Clover (Trifolium subterraneum), Pale Clover (Trifolium pallidum) and Slender Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus angustissiumus).
Where the rocky component of the soil predominates, some plants typical of the ‘casmophyte’ vegetation (growing on rock) show themselves: these emerge from cracks in the bedrock, and are particularly adapted to the scarcity of substrate, to conditions of stress linked with the absence of water and to significant changes in temperature (thermal excursions). Amongst them, one can notice – for their elegant blossoming – White- (Sedum album), Blue- (Sedum reflexum) and Spanish Stonecrop (Sedum hispanicum), as well as Cobweb Houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum). The uniqueness of these environments also consists in the fact that they allow the presence of species not frequently found in the Euganean area, and of some plants which are rare in the whole of Northern Italy: amongst them are Piedmont Bedstraw (Cruciata pedemontana), Spanish Catchfly (Silene otites), Hoary Alyssum (Berteroa incana), Wall Whitlowgrass (Draba muralis), Sardianian Garlic (Allium sardoum), Rocket Larkspur (Consolida ajacis), the firy Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria) and Purple Mullein (Verbascum phoeniceum).
4) Sunny Siliceous Cliffs and Detritic Soils.
On the Colli Euganei, the flora of the cliffs colonises mainly the arid sunny slopes of the Monte Ceva group, Monte della Madonna, Rocca Pendice and Monte Pirio – almost exclusively on vulcanite. In other sections of the Colli Euganei, this type of flora only appears here and there, on rocky outcrops of limited extension. It settles on very superficial soils, poor in humus and rich in gross detritus, originated by the evolution of the main bedrock, which is mainly of trachytic and latitic type, where strong irradiation and seasonal drought determine a marked selection in the species that are able to occupy such environments – very challenging for the life of plants.
The species that settle in the cracks of the rocks – the so-called ‘casmophytes’ – demonstrate an elevated specialization as for their peculiar morphological adaptations. The root systems of some of these plants enter deep into the cracks of the rock in search for water, while – often – the trunk and the leaves are quite leathery, hairy or covered in a waxy layer, in order to limit water loss due to transpiration. Even the very death of the plant – or of parts of it – is being used for the creation of precious humus, in order to guarantee the success of future generations. These are mostly species that blossom in spring – and with their maximum development in the late spring season, before the oncoming summer slows the process down.
The ascent to Monte Ceva guarantees an extraordinary show – in particular in the first week of June: the candid whiteness of White Stonecrop (Sedum album), the pink flowers of Cobweb Houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum) and the yellow of Dwarf Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa); the diffused reddish colour of Sardianian Garlic (Allium sardoum) – which contrasts with the grey of Fescue grass, Festuca rupicola – make up for the ascent, and make the heart rejoice: just the elevated peaks of the Dolomites can offer such intense and fulfilling visions. Less showy but equally attractive – among the succulents – are Blue- (Sedum reflexum), Goldmoss- (Sedum acre), Spanish- (Sedum hispanicum) and Tasteless Stonecrop (Sedum sexangulare). Of great effect are also Rocket Larkspur (Consolida ajacis), Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor), Perennial Lettuce (Lactuca perennis), Common Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) and German Iris (Iris germanica).
More unassuming, but equally capable of revealing themselves to whoever is not in a hurry, are Rock Campion (Silene rupicola), Hoary Alyssum (Berteroa incana) – which can blossom during the winter too – and the delicate Yellow Alyssum, Alyssum alyssoides. Crowning the rock cliffs are also a splendid Larkspur (Delphinium fissum), Carthusian Pink (Dianthus carthusianorum), Woolly Yarrow (Achillea tomentosa) and Squarrose Knapweed (Centaurea triumphetti). Very rare in the whole of Northern Italy – but well represented here – are the tenacious Small Hairy Fern (Cheilanthes maranthae), able to colonize small discontinuities on the rocky crags, and the gracious Annual Fern Anogramma leptophylla, which hides in tiny clefts of rock, in half shade. These plants are accompanied – in small sunny crevices – by the minute Forked Spleenwort, Asplenium septentrionale.
Elsewhere in the Colli Euganei, it is rather difficult to encounter situations such as the ones just described; however, in some selected spots, also in less exposed locations, one can still admire – both in the east and in the central and northern sections of the area – splendid views where grow some beautiful plants such as Hog’s Fennel (Peucedanum officinale), Sharp Awned Feathergrass (Stipa bromoides), Red Valierian (Centranthus ruber) and Common Houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum). Rare and localized in the eastern trachytic walls of Rocca Pendice and on the Pirio – albeit hundreds of kilometers away from its typical area of diffusion – prospers the light, airy Irish Spleenwort (Asplenium foreziense).
5) Mesophilous Woodland with Dominance of Chestnut Trees.
The development of woodland formations in the Colli Euganei is greatly influenced by many components, such as aspect, availability of water, nature of the substrate, steepness of the slopes, type of soil, and – last but not least – human activity. This latter factor is decisive in influencing the development of the tree cover on the volcanic rock types of the so-called ‘Monti Padovani’, transforming the autochthonous woodlands into the actual chestnut groves.
Chestnut trees, probably introduced in Roman times for the production of fruits, have played a significant role in the local rural economy – besides for food purposes – also for the making of the so-called ‘tutors’; that is, the poles used in combination with vine for support, as well as for timber production (both for construction and heating purposes). The capacity of chestnuts to produce suckers, and their rapid growth after coppicing, have favoured the diffusion of this tree in the whole area of the Colli Euganei, to the point of getting to substitute – at least partly – the original vegetation that composed the autochthonous woodlands. Today, however, the local chestnut populations are suffering, because of cancer of the bark – a particularly aggressive fungal parasite (Endothia parasitica) that first appeared in these woodlands in the period straddling WW2, which prompted a slow decline of many plants. The only way to manage the woodland that still allows its conservation is in fact precisely coppicing; for this reason, it is quite rare to see in the Colli Euganei mature chestnut woodlands.
The tree species that accompany chestnut are quite numerous: in the fresher locations appear Sessile Oak (Q. petraea), Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), Wild Apple (Malus sylvestris), Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigatus), Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), Lime (Tilia cordata), Hazel (Corylus avellana) and Silver Birch (Betula pendula); False Box (Staphylea pinnata) and Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) – although rarer – are present too. In the more exposed locations the chestnut groves are enriched by other tree species, amongst which are some that typically populate termophile woodlands; these include Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens), Tree Heath (Erica arborea), Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia) and Wild Pear (Pyrus pyraster). The accompanying herb layer (or undergrowth) is particularly rich in the fresher, less steep areas where humus accumulates. Amongst the flowering plants are characteristic: Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), the small Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum), Woodland Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), Liverwort (Hepatica nobilis), Green Hellebore (Helleborus viridis), Wild Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris), Dog’s Tooth Violet (Erythronium dens-canis), Alpine Epimedium (Epimedium alpinum), the rare Martagon Lily (Lilium martagon), Wild Garlic (or Ramsons, Allium ursinum), Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) and some orchids, such as Spotted Orchid (Dactyloriza maculata) – and numerous others.
The presence of shade and the humidity of the soil also allow for the exuberance of numerous ferns. Some species prevail everywhere; amongst them are Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), the Polypodys Polypodium interjectum and P. vulgare, Common Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), which often accompany Soft Shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum) and Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina). Less frequent are Narrow Buckler Fern (Dryopteris carthusiana), Broad Buckler Fern (Dryopteris dilatata), Hard Shield Fern (Polystichum aculeatum), Black Spleenwort (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum) and Hart’s Tongue Fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium). Very rare appears to be Brittle Bladder-Fern (Cystopteris fragilis). In the sunnier locations – especially at the margins – grow flowers such as Fringed Pink (Dianthus monspessulanus), White Violet (Viola alba), the Hawkweed Hieracium racemosum, Black Bitter Vetch (Lathyrus niger); various species of orchids are present here too, amongst which are Lesser Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera bifolia), Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera clorantha) and Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata). The ferns that are more adapted to these latter, warmer conditions include Common Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), Western Black Spleenwort (Asplenium onopteris) and, above all, Southern Polypody (Polypodium cambricum). Among the shrubs are frequent Dyer’s Broom (Genista tinctoria), Juniper (Juniperus communis), Scorpio Senna (Hippocrepis emerus) and Common Heather (Calluna vulgaris).
6) Humid Areas and Wetlands.
In the Colli Euganei the presence of water does not characterize the landscape, but a trained eye can perceive the silent and centuries-long work that has modeled the land to form the ‘calti’: deep furrows which cut through the slopes and inner valleys (described in more detail below). The climate of the Colli Euganei is characterized by a marked summer drought; this, together with the geologic characteristics of the relief – constituted for the greatest part of impermeable sedimentary and clayey-marly volcanic rocks, to which must be added the slopes’ inclination –, limits significantly the presence of surface water, so that the springs often disappear during warm and dry periods. This is at the basis of the fact that perennial streams, in this area, seem to be present in very low numbers; amongst them are Rio Malo, Rio Calcina, Rio Contea, Rio Fontanafredda, Rio Molini, Calto Pendice, Rio Giare and Calto Callegaro.
In the vicinity of the springs of these streams – because of the strong incline of the slopes – the hygrophilous (water-loving) vegetation is represented by an extremely limited number of species; amongst them are Wavy Bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa), Smallflower Hairy Willowherb (Epilobium parviflorum) and the grass Pendulous Sedge (Carex pendula), as well as a very rare plant, Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis). Where the slopes become softer – and in the sections closer to the plains, at the foothills of the Colli Euganei – permanent pools have formed, together with small waterfalls that allow the proliferation of a certain number of species that love fresh, slow-flowing waters. Amongst these are: Water- (Veronica anagallis-aquatica) and European Speedwell (Veronica beccabunga), Watercress (Nasturtium officinale), Floating Sweet-Grass (Glyceria fluitans), Great Manna-Grass (Glyceria maxima), the Cuckooflower Cardamine matthioli, Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), Lesser Water Parsnip (Berula erecta), Green Figwort (Scrophularia umbrosa), the orchids Loose-Flowered Orchid (Anacamptis laxiflora) and Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris). In the first section of the plains – still nor far from the Colli Euganei – one can see thriving plants such as Marsh Horsetail (Equisetum palustre), the bunchgrass Shortawn Foxtail (Alopecurus aequalis), the rare aquatic Four Leaf Clover (Marsillea quadrifolia), Marsh Spurge (Euphorbia palustris), Water Iris (Iris pseudoacorus L.) and various species of Pondweeds (Potamogeton sp.), amongst which is the rare Berchtold Pondweed (Potamogeton berchtoldii).
The natural wetlands found at higher altitudes – with still or percolating water – are very rare, given the peculiar geology of the Colli Euganei. Those that can be seen are largely due to the action of man; for example, pools along the trails, small water reservoirs, pools left by ex-quarry works or those due to hydraulic-forestry management. Nevertheless, these small areas of wetland host some plant species which are of great interest for their rarity: they include Water Purslane (Ludwigia palustris), Brown Bent (Agrostis canina), Divided Sedge (Carex divisa), the grass Ectrosia leporina and Hyssop Loosestrife (Lythrum hissopifolia). Localised in areas with subterranean percolation is Black Bog-Rush (Schoenus nigricans). At higher altitudes (always relative in the Colli Euganei), one can find also some unusual presences for the area even among the tree species: Narrow-leaved Ash (Fraxinus oxycarpa), Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa), White Poplar (Populus alba), Grey Willow (Salix cinerea) and Apennine Willow (Salix apennina).
7) The ‘calti’
‘Calto’ is a term typically used only in the area of the Colli Euganei, where it indicates a stream, a ditch, a small gorge among the rocks, excavated by water – perhaps a long time ago. By walking in the woodland one can intuit the discreet presence of these furrows within the hilly landscape when one notices a marked depression in the ground that develops along the line of maximum incline. Considering their physical aspect, the ‘calti’ are articulated with a central dip (‘impluvium’), which was created by the prolonged erosion caused by the action of water, which dug the central stream bed and also the banks, where, in general, pioneer vegetal species can settle. In these environments, a good amount of shade and a discreet atmospheric humidity remain throughout the year, so that the plants that most benefit from this situation are the ferns, able to prosper in this type of environment with several species.
Amongst them, can be observed Scaly Male Fern (Dryopteris affinis), Narrow Buckler Fern (Dryopteris carthusiana), the Polypody Polypodium interjectum, Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-foemina), Western Black Spleenwort (Asplenium onopteris), Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), Hard Shield Fern (Polystichum aculeatum), Soft Shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum), Hart’s Tongue Fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium) and the rare Brittle Bladder Fern (Cystopteris fragilis). Localised only in a couple of stations in the Colli Euganei is the very rare Royal Fern, Osmunda regalis.
Other species also thrive here, and amongst them can be counted: Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), Purple Cransebill (Geranium purpureum), Wood Fescue (Festuca heterophylla), Wood Melick (Melica uniflora), the Stonecrop Sedum cepaea and Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), which illuminates the ‘calti’ with its generous spring flowering; present too are Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) and Plowman’s Spikenard (Inula conyza). Among the tree and shrub species are found – often tenaciously anchored to the meager slopes, amidst the visible presence of rock spurs – Aspen (Populus tremula), Goat’s Willow (Salix capraea), Elderflower (Sambucus nigra), Hazel (Corylus avellana) and Norway Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus). Where the streams’ beds offer more space between the banks Alder (Alnus glutinosa) can grow – even with specimens of noticeable dimensions. In the locations with a more southerly aspect Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens), Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus) and European Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) can also appear.
8) Vineyard, Orchards and Olive Groves.
Some areas of the Colli Euganei are landscaped with terraces, dedicated in part to the settlement and conservation of fruiting plants and olive cultivars belonging to typical varieties characteristic of this territory. The choice to cultivate on terraces is a very ancient solution, which carries a historic memory, and was adopted in agriculture in order to render fit for cultivation those lands which are situated in particularly steep locations.
This type of land management also allows a more effective contrast to the erosive action due to meteoric agents. The cultivation of fruiting trees (usually mulberry, pear and apple) has always been present in the majority of farms of the Colli Euganei; very often, these plants are situated in close proximity to the homes and border the fields, planted in rows, inserted in hedges or ‘married’ to the vineyards. Amongst them, there are also some fruiting plants that have risked extinction because of the introduction – in modern fruit farming – of new cultivars selected in function of their higher productivity in intensive implants and for the commercial size of the product, but these new introductions are more delicate and susceptible to diseases. On the one hand, the autochthonous varieties manifest positive aspects such as increased tolerance or resistance to parasites (fungi and insects), intensity of aroma and flavour, and prolonged conservation of the fruits. On the other hand, generally speaking, the old varieties present external characteristics of lesser quality (for colour, shape and size), and a minor productivity also, which make them more difficult for commercialization.
The olive groves are composed of the varieties of Olive (Olea europaea) typically planted in the territory of the Colli Euganei. The Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva that is being produced in the so-called ‘Monti Padovani’ has been awarded the D.O.P. Veneto – Euganei – Berici trademark, and is much appreciated in the national panorama for its low acidity and the excellent organoleptic characteristics, which are the result of soil composition, the prevalent sunny aspect of these hills and the local climate, which is particularly favourable for growing olive trees. The autochthonous varieties are Rasera, Marzemina, Matosso and Riondella; these are flanked by other varieties of more recent introduction, such as Leccino and Frantoio.
The areas dedicated to vineyards host ancient varieties of vine (Vitis vinifera), recuperated in collaboration with the “Centre for Research for Viticulture” in Conegliano and the local wine consortium ‘Consorzio Vini DOC Colli Euganei’. Amongst the dark vine varieties we find Cavrara, Corbina, Corbinona, Corbinella, Pattaresca, the bastard Marzemina Nera and Turchetta, while amongst the white vine varieties we have Serprina, Pedevenda, Pinella, Dorona and also some varieties of white muscatel (‘Moscato Bianco’). The cultivation of these vines is finalized to didactic knowledge and the valuing of ancient colours and flavours; besides, the proposition is that of conserving, studying and verifying the characteristics of the different autochthonous vine varieties, so that their compatibility with the soils of the Colli Euganei can be tested, and – starting from the obtained results – useful advice can be given to whoever wishes to expand the enological offer of the Euganean area. The vineyards have been implanted by envisaging the use of chestnut poles and by maintaining the traditional grass cover under the vines. During the nursing phase, the particular technique of the ‘doppio capovolto’ is adopted. All interventions in the cultivations are carried out by using techniques of eco-compatible agriculture, with a low environmental impact. In order to observe all the various autochthonous varieties of vine and olive, it is also possible to visit the ‘Campo sperimentale agricolo’ (experimental field), which has recently been created by the Regional Park of the Colli Euganei in the locality of Chiesa Vecchia, in the municipality of Galzignano Terme.
9) Traditional Spontaneous & ‘Invasive’ Species of the Cereal Fields.
The spontaneous species that are traditionally associated with the cereal fields have always been identified by man as an enemy against which to ‘fight’ (the so-called ‘weeds’), and so they have progressively lost their space – almost to the point of disappearing from the traditional agricultural landscape, as a result of the advent of modern techniques of intensive cultivation and the systematic application of chemical herbicides.
‘Invasive’ species – or ‘weeds’ – however, are derogatory terms with which have commonly been misnamed all those presences that seem to appear spontaneously inside the cultivated fields. Today many of these plants are being valued again in the light of a more universal attention given to ‘biodiversity’, which poses as a priority the conservation of those species that have unfortunately arrived almost at the verge of extinction from our agricultural landscapes. But their history is, in fact, an integral part of our human history, as these plants have always accompanied the agricultural crops since they arrived here, at the beginning of the domestication of cereals and legumes, taken for the first time from Asia Minor to Europe around 7,000 years ago.
To these ‘archeophytes’ are to be associated also the new so-called ‘neophytes’, the reference point usually accepted for the latter being the discovery of America in 1492: these species were introduced to Europe and Asia from the New World, and they contemplate such extensive crops as corn and soya bean. Among the numerous plants that vegetate on the cultivated lands besides crops, the more and better known are the poppies (Papaver rhoeas; P. argemone, P. dubium); once appreciated locally, and known with lots of common names, they were collected at the beginning of spring for the edibility of the plant in its juvenile form. Other species which are quite widespread in association with the cultivation of winter cereals are: Yellow Bugle (or Ground Pine, Ajuga chamaepitys), Field Buttercup (Ranunculus arvensis), Venus’s Needle (Scandix pecten-veneris), Common Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Grey Field-Speedwell (Veronica polita) and Common Wild Oat (Avena fatua). In order to underline the stress to which are subjected many species that traditionally accompany wheat and barley fields, it is worth pointing out that some of these plants appear in the Regional Red List, and also in the local Red List for the Colli Euganei: some of them are seriously threatened, and at risk of extinction too; amongst these, we should at least mention Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis annua, A. flammea, A. aestivalis), Common Corncockle (Agrostemma githago), the Cornflower Cyanus segetum and Apulian Poppy (Papaver apulum).
10) Aromatic and ‘Officinal’ (Medicinal) Plants.
With the term ‘aromatic plant’ are indicated those species that contain substances with a pleasant smell (aroma), rich in essential oils, whose biological function is thought to explicate a defense against phytophagous agents, to which they appear as repellent – but the flowers of these same species are also attractive for insects, and act as a defense for the plant towards herbivorous animals. A medicinal (or ‘officinal’) plant, on the contrary, is a vegetal organism used in pharmaceutical workshops (‘officina’) for the production of medicinal specialties.
The use of plants for ‘officinal’ or aromatic purposes is well known, and was developed as a science since the most ancient civilizations – from the Egyptian to the Greek, Roman and Chinese. In the Colli Euganei, the monks – in particular the Benedictines of the Monastery in Praglia and at Monte della Madonna – have always been the traditional depositaries and custodians of this ancient art, and are experts in the study, collection and use of plants for medicinal purposes. Inside the convents, to this day are still conserved an active pharmaceutical workshop (‘officina’), a shop and the lands destined to the cultivation of those species that are more commonly used.
Among the better known plants are Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), cultivated on stony and arid ground: famous essences can be derived from its volatile oils, which have calming, antiseptic and insecticidal properties. Besides, lavender’s showy and prolongued summer blossoms are very much appreciated by bees and easily identified by these in virtue of the strong smell they emanate. Mint (Mentha sp.) is one of the most complex genera in the vegetal realm, in virtue of the easiness of crosses among its species and thanks to the numerous varieties that represent it, which entail the development of numerous hybrids. All the species of mint possess the same medicinal properties, because of the presence of menthol – an alcohol that is being extracted from the essential oils contained within this genus, which has analgesic and antiseptic properties, and is an effective stimulant for the stomach.
Some other species are also being found spontaneously in the Colli Euganei – such as Oregano (Origanum vulgare), which lives in the warmer woodlands and in the sub-Mediterranean scrub, whose flower heads carry out an effective stimulating action on the nervous system. Besides, its exsiccated leaves are well known as a spice and condiment – not least as a fundamental ingredient of Italian pizza, as well as of many other dishes. Wild thyme (Thymus sp.) can be found too in its natural state in the so-called ‘vegri’ (described above), in the sub-Mediterranean scrub and in the driest locations of the Colli Euganei, where it is quite easy to identify just by its smell – as these plants emanate a strong odour to the touch. In the ‘vegri’ also appear Common Rue (Ruta graveolens), with which can be aromatized a grappa typical of the region, and Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum), quite widespread as an ornamental plant in the gardens, and used in cookery to season several dishes. Wild Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is common as a wild species in the ‘vegri’ and in most Mediterranean sections of the Colli Euganei; this plant is also quite well-known in cookery, and some of its varieties are a vegetable produce too. Lastly, let us remember the presence of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – a spontaneous herb that is very commonly found along the Italian coastlines, universally known for its aromatic uses in cookery and which also possesses digestive and anti-depressant properties.
11) Field Hedges.
The laying of hedges – and their presence in the Colli Euganei – has always been traditionally associated with agricultural practices and with the management of cultivations, and it represents a strong characterizing element in the local landscape. With the advent of modern agricultural practices, both intensive and extensive – geared at raising the productivity of the countryside – a radical transformation of the landscape has taken place, in particular over the plains, with the progressive destruction of the field hedges. Today, the laying of new hedges is under way again, due to the recognition of the ecological value of this ecosystem which, however artificial, is characterized by the multiple variety of life forms present inside it, which populate it at all levels, thus contributing to raise the overall biodiversity.
The semi-natural hedge represents an important occasion for numerous nesting bird species, which find in the particular disposition taken by the vegetation an ideal habitat where to live. Their feeding is guaranteed by the berries, fruits and seeds of the plant species present in the hedge – but also by the insects that thrive inside it. Many of the insects that populate these environments carry out a fundamental role as pollinators, in regards to the surrounding cultivations; additionally, bees – thanks to their industriousness – are able to obtain honey from the plants that live in the hedge, producing a precious and wholesome food for every generation.
From simple observation, one can notice how the plants in a hedge are arranged on three levels, each of them different in height: the herbaceous level, closest to the ground; the middle level, with the presence of several shrub species, such as, for instance, Common Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana); finally, at the top, the tree level is represented by such species as Field Maple (Acer campestre, sometimes also known as Hedge Maple), Mediterranean Hackberry (Celtis australis), Cherry (Prunus avium) and Field Elm (Ulmus minor).
The hedges also carry out an important function as providers of shade and wind-barriers, thus limiting water loss due to the evaporation of the surrounding soils. The more recent agricultural practices use the hedges also as bounday markers, in respect to the traditional drainage system: ditches, canals and rivers are delimited by them; hedges are also important in the activity to assist with natural depuration, and for their capacity to intercept and transform substances contained in the soil, with the consequent transormation of polluting discharges; they are often being referred to as ‘buffer wooden bands’. The presence of different plant species in a hedge is reflected also at the level of the soil, as the terrain is occupied and colonized at different depths by the root systems, with the important result of naturally consolidating the structure of the banks of the ditches or the slopes – wherever present –, in regards to the erosion provoked by water. In season, many hedge species also represent an important food source for their abundant production of fruits and edible berries. At last, one cannot leave out the fact that many hedges represent, too, a viable resource for the production of wood biomass to be destined to domestic uses, obtained by appropriate pruning shifts.