The vegetation landscape of the upper-Mediterranean floor
The characteristics of the earth substrate, the summer drought, low temperatures of winter make it impossible for the vegetation survival at the volcano summit area.
However, its colonization, albeit conditioned by the peculiar environmental conditions that occur with particular selectivity only at such altitude, allows a higher claim to specialized entities of pioneer life in dry places.
This altitudinal belt, placed between the boundaries of the forest vegetation and the 2,200 m, is indeed, for the typical vegetation of thorny pulvini, the most significant and expressive landscape of the upper-mountain portion of Etna.
The Holy Thorn or Astragalus (Astragalus siculus) gives the dominant note to this particular environment of xerophytic thorny appearance that changes radically at the change of altitude, and at the exposure and the nature of the substrate.
Found in more or less compact or homogeneous formations, so as to form a real band of vegetation, the Astragaleto can come in many forms.
It is a singular entity, even for the landscape and contorted dwarf shrubs appearance, is characterized by the presence of some little fanerofite as Barberry (Berberis aetnensis) and the Southern Juniper (uniperus bemispbaerica).
Other aspects of Astragaleto are those with shrub vegetation of Genista aetnensis, or others where the Astragaleto comes into contact with beech, birch and pine.
The Astragaleto flora, even in its smaller variants, is quite poor but rich in endemic species, this is, species that live only on the slopes of Etna and they are different from species most widely distributed elsewhere.
Etna, endemic species are little more than ten and for the most part only found in this plane of vegetation, some also find refuge among the dense pulvini of the Astragalo.
Frequently between the beautiful pink flowers of the Holy Thorn mix the colorful flowers of the Etna Viola (Viola aetnensis) or the candied flowers of the Cerastio minor (Cerastium minus).
Elsewhere, among the sand and lapilli, outstands the characteristic bearings of Saponaria (Saponaria sicula), with its elegant wreath of pink flowers or red clumps of Romice Etna (Rumex aetnensis).
Above 2400 m, reaching about 3,000 m, only the populations of increasingly sparse Romice Etna, Etna and Senecio Scleranthzis vulcanicus survive resisting the extreme winter cold and summer drought.
Plants sometimes twisted and shaped by wind and snow, scattered clumps in a desert of ash and lapilli, ghostly skeletons of poplars and birches destroyed by lava, valleys, rugged, almost inaccessible, sounds and rumblings from the deep unknown, intense scents from the great flowering of a long spring.
In a few places and in the short span of a modest climb, we can grasp and bring together so many feelings so many and surprising aspects of the plant world, in a gradual and harmonious alternation of landscape sequences and natural interest.
Our Etna is all this, not only the spectacle of fire sometimes destructive, but a harmony of color and ever-changing landscapes, the charm of nature in progress, thrill of sites serene and far from the noise of the city.
It is an open book on the immutable history of nature.
In this book, with humility and a new interest, by outlawing purely personal interests or glory, we can still learn and to teach reading.
We will discover wonderful pages always prevailing, we will learn to appreciate and avoid contaminating them.