La Flora della Calabria Greca
The Greek Calabrians, like all other rural populations, have always cherished the local flora as an important resource. Besides cultivated plants or those providing wild fruit, herbs and vegetables, many have also been used to supply material for making baskets, beams, pack-animal accoutrements, musical instruments (or parts of them) utensils, textiles etc.. Many popular place names refer to the local flora, like agromilìa (wild apple), agrappidìa (wild pear); spartusa (place of the broom); calamaci (place of reeds); savùccio (elderberry); spòlasso (gorse); vrica, brica (tamarisk); camarda (thorny bush); zidestro (holly); acatti (place of thorns); maratha (wild fennel); caredia (walnut); fucidà (place of thistles); ambeli ( vineyard).
The vegetation here is extremely variable, as it differs according to the area’s different altimetry belts, which may be summarily classed as mountain, hillside and coastal.
The mountain belt (from 1,000-1,200 metres above sea level to Montalto’s altitude of 1,956) is the domain of the beech (Fagus sylvatica) forest. The beech is frequently found alongside the silver fir (Abies alba ssp. Apennina) especially on the steeper slopes where the soil is not so deep. This is an important presence because of its high wood yield and because it is an ecotype resistant to acid rain. On the Ionian coast, at altitudes below 1,500-1,400 metres, the beech forests are replaced by Calabrian pine (Pinus nigra ssp. Calabrica), a long-living species that may thrive for over four centuries and reach gigantic proportions, as several specimens damaged by lightning have shown. Sometimes within this altitude belt, small isolated groups of southern oak (Quercus petraea ssp. Austrotyrrhenica) may be found.
The oak is very important in the Graecanic Area, as names like velanìdi (oak) and dendro (wood par excellence) reveal. On the hills, above the 1,000-metre level, chestnut (Castanea sativa) groves are widespread. The cultivation of this particular species, both in its fruit-bearing and thicket variety, goes back centuries and has always made an important contribution towards the livelihood and survival of the Greek Calabrians. In recent decades, the abandonment of the countryside has led to a reduced demand for woodland commodities, while the spread of a dreaded parasitic fungus has destroyed many chestnut trees, though a campaign for the recovery of this species is being conducted at present. Below the 1,000-metre level we find Hungarian oak (Quercus frainetto) sometimes associated with the holm oak (Quercus ilex). At lower levels, forests consist of southern oak (Quercus virgiliana) important for the acorns it provides to feed pigs.
Before leaving the woodland environment, we need to recall the presence of mushrooms, which, besides being a fundamental component of the ecosystem, represent a source of extra income for a number of local families. Degradation (fire, grazing) of the forest areas has favoured the spread of sclerophyllous shrubs that are highly resistant to drought and wind (rockrose, mastic, myrtle, heather, etc.). The arboreal heather, an evergreen plant, several metres tall, provides the briar root from which quality pipes are made. This Aspromonte variety of heather is in great demand by Italian and English pipe manufacturers, because of its close and, therefore, highly prized grain.
The Ionian coastal belt slopes gently seawards and in some places is actual badland (Palizzi Marina) dominated by perennial steppe grasslands. The area’s white gravel riverbeds are often covered with the white and pink blooms of the oleander and the green of the tamarisk.
Broom, with its bright yellow flowers, covers the district’s steep slopes in spring. Its extremely robust branches contain fibre which, separated by maceration, becomes the thread which, in the past, was woven into rustic textiles. Among the many rare botanical species present in the area there is the Pteris longifolia, a fern typical of the Tertiary-era. This plant, the leaves of which can reach lengths of up to two metres, grows wild in some isolated valleys. With its large serrated leaves, it is found in moist, shady areas along the banks of some of the local rivers, giving one some idea of what the landscape may have looked like in ancient times. Another rarity is the small Phoenicean juniper or Arâr, found on the left bank of the Amendolea River, near the mouth, a rare testimony of the forest vegetation that once covered these clayey hills.
The species was known to local the local Greek-speaking population as cletho or clecaro, and used to manufacture beams for the construction of roofs and floors, exploiting the valuable technological characteristics of the wood. What strikes one is small size of these trees (eight metres at most) although their estimated age is about 200 years.
Although cultivated, we need to mention two species typical of the Amendolea area: the jasmine and the bergamot. It is still possible to be overpowered by the sweet, intense scent of the jasmine, a flower used in the perfume industry. The bergamot is cultivated in the same area. Almost the entire world production of this citrus fruit is concentrated in this narrow strip of land. Its principal by-product, obtained from the fruit, is essential oil of bergamot, used as the key component of many perfumes and recently appreciated also in confectionery, cosmetics, and as a beverage.
The Graecanic area’s vegetation with its multicoloured palette, indicative of an amazing biodiversity, ranges from the dark greens of the forests, the humid beech and sunny pine forests at higher altitudes to the polychromatic blossoms of the Mediterranean scrub that covers the slopes.
Source: Guida Naturalistica della Calabria Greca – Alfonso Picone – Rubbettino Editore – Collana Parco Culturale della Calabria Greca.