Russia Flora and Fauna

Flora and vegetation. – The vastness of the Russian territory, albeit limited to the European part only (for the Asian part see Siberia), is such that it includes the most diverse botanical regions and therefore its flora and vegetation assume various features. Three main zones or regions can be distinguished in the domain of Russian flora: 1. polar arctic or glacial region; 2. forest region; 3. region of the Pontic steppes and the Caucasus.

The first region borders the north of Russia and includes territories that remain covered with snow and ice for several months of the year; this region can also be said of mosses and lichens due to the great abundance of these plants which form the main covering of the soil. The trees are represented only by stunted birches and creeping willows which form bushes no higher than 1 meter, sometimes even a few centimeters. Among the lichens there are Cladonia rangiferina (the reindeer moss) and some Cetraria. Phanerogams are represented by the genera: Salix (polaris, reticulata, arctica), Ranunculus, Draba, Alsine, Potentilla, Saxifraga, Pedicularis among the Dicotyledons; Carex, Juncus, Luzula, Eriophorum among the Monocotyledons. These are generally perennials: Koenigia islandica is one of the rare annuals in this region. Of the Graminaceae, the one that goes further north is the Phippsia algida. In wet valleys, for water courses are green grasslands and shrubs in fleshy fruits: Vacciniun uliginosum, V. vitis idaea, Empetrum nigrum,Rubus arcticus, Russia chamaemorus, Oxycoccus palustris.

The forest region of Europe, which includes all of northern Europe (except the glacial region) and a large part of central Europe, is widely represented in Russia, of which it crosses the territory with a line that goes from the Prut to Kiev, Kursk and Kazan ′. Pinus silvestris, Sorbus aucuparia, Prunus padus dominate throughout the region, reaching through the northern Asian region of forests to the Amur basin. However, some special regions can be distinguished, namely:

a) region of the Conifers, characterized by Picea excelsa and obovata, Abies pectinata and sibirica, Larix sibirica, with which Pinus cembra is mixed, which is more widespread in central Europe;

b) Quercus pedunculata region, which includes all of central Russia and is characterized by: Alnus glutinosa, Betula alba, Ulmus campestris and montana, Acer pseudoplatanus, Tilia parvifolia, Prunus avium, Fraxinus excelsior, etc., trees that reach, but not they cross the Ural Line;

c) beech region; the trees that live in this region are: Quercus sessiliflora, Carpinus betulus and orientalis, Pinus silvestris and laricio, Ulmus campestris and montana, Fagus orientalis, Tilia grandifolia and intermedia, Acer monspessulanum and Semenovii, Arbutus andrachne, Celtis australis, Vitex agnus – castus, Juglans regia, Fraxinus sogdiana and potamophila,Laurus nobilis, etc.

The third region is part of what in phytogeography is called the region of the Pontic steppes and the Caucasus and includes southern Russia. It is a region with a continental climate with very cold winters and very hot summers, so the vegetative period is shortened from about 15 April to 15 July. Here perennial species abound with underground reserve organs (bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, etc.) which allow to make the most of the shortness of the period favorable to vegetation. This region is surrounded in its northern part by Scots pine: two areas can be distinguished. A sandy one with trees only along the waterways (alders, willows and poplars); the herbaceous vegetation consists especially of bushy grasses such as Stipa pennata, capitata,Lessingiana, Richteriana ; Pollinia gryllus ; Bulbous Poa ; Festuca sulcata ; Koeleria cristata, plants with tightly rolled, leathery, often prickly leaves that make for poor grazing. This improves when the previous ones are added: Festuca ovina and some Leguminosae, Labiate and Compote. However, the steppe terrain is not uniformly covered by vegetation, it presents considerable intervals that are completely naked. The proportion of the species of the various families in the steppe is extremely variable: some investigations carried out in areas of the Russian steppes have given the following figures: Stipa capillata (1000); S.pennata (300); Triticum repens and Medicago falcata (140); Artemisia austriaca, Achillea millefolium and Gerberiana (120); Vicia cracca (80); Pyrethrum millefoliatum (20); Linosyris villosa, Inula germanica, Salvia pratensis, Salsola kali (10), from which we can see the enormous dominance of the grasses over all the other plants of the steppe.

The other sector of the steppe region is located towards the Caspian, where alongside a spring flowering of Tulipa and other Gigliacee and Iris there are vast territories of a marshy and brackish character with predominantly halophilic vegetation: several species of Artemisia, Haloxylon ammodendron, Salsola kali and arbuscula, Calligonum, Nitraria, zygophyllum, to which are added thorny shrubs of the genera Astragalus, Oxytropis, Acantholimon, Acanthophyllum, etc.

In some parts of these Caspian steppes the saltiness of the ground is such that it does not allow the development of any vegetation and the soil is then completely bared.

The vegetation of hydrophytes is perfectly identical to that of central Europe.

The black soils of southern Russia (Č ernozem) rich in humus accumulated for centuries are extremely fertile, and agriculture is practiced here, especially the vast cultivation of cereals. Their spontaneous vegetation is particularly abundant: Adonis vernalis, Linum flavum, Salvia verticillata, Phlomis tuberosa, Scabiosa ochroleuca, Potentilla alba, Dianthus capitatus, Scorzonera purpurea, Centaurea ruthenica, Astragalus austriacus, Iris furcata, etc.

The Caragana frutescens covers the southern part of the Urals to the Prut north of Odessa and does not exceed this limit: generally lives on the heights associated with other bushy plants: Cytisus biflorus, Prunus chamaecerasus, dwarf Amygdalus, Spiraea crenata and hypericifolia. On the banks of the waterways birch, alni and lean lime trees grow and, in the areas with little grass, some rare group of Pinus silvestris grows.

As for the Caucasus, the northern slope belongs from the phytogeographical point of view to the European steppe that goes as far as the forest area, while the southern slope presents the characteristics of the Armenian steppe.

In the deciduous forests of the Caucasus there are elements of the flora of northern Europe, such as Fagus, Carpinus, Quercus, Betula, Tilia, Ulmus, Fraxinus, Populus, Acer platanoides, and alongside these some resinous ones such as Abies pectinata, Pinus silvestris, Taxus baccata, which are also characteristic features of central and northern Europe; there are also some Mediterranean elements such as Castanea sativa, Quercus pubescens, Acer Lobelii, Amus cordifolia. Furthermore, the presence of Rhododendron ponticum, caucasicum, flavum, shows the evident derivation from the ancient arctoterzial flora of the eastern Mediterranean, which is still represented today in the territories extending between Tibet and Altai. The similarities with the oriental flora and that of the western mountains of Asia proved by the presence, on the southern slope of the mountain, of Juniperus excelsa and F. foetidissima ; except for some groups of Pinus silvestris and in the west the presence of oaks and hornbeams, there are no trees in the forest region of central Europe.

According to A. Engler, the flora of Russia belongs to the boreal floristic kingdom and precisely to the districts: arctic, subarctic or coniferous and Middle European. And the latter is divided into the provinces: Sarmatic, Pontic and Caucasian.

Fauna. – The fauna of Russia includes elements constituting the fauna of north-eastern Europe, the Siberian and the Caucasian. Among the Mammals there is a greater diffusion of Chiroptera with many species of night bats, mumps. Among the Insectivores we must mention the hedgehog, various species of shrews (crocidure, Sorex, Crossopus), the European mole. Among the Carnivores we will mention some forms typical of Siberia and among these the alpine dog, the sable, which is confined to the eastern Siberian regions, the LutreolaSiberian; other forms belonging to more southern faunas that are found in Siberia such as the tiger, the snow leopard and still other species common to Russia proper, such as the lynx, the wild cat, the fox, the wolf, the brown bear, many martens, the ghittone. The Siberian seal lives in Lake Baikal.

The Ungulates are represented by the characteristic reindeer, of which many varieties are distinguished, from the roe deer, the elk, the yellow-rumped deer. For the Rosicants, represented by numerous species, we will mention the hare, the lagomids, the long-tailed spermophilus, the economical mouse, which stores in its burrows of edible roots, as well as many species of squirrels, dormice, voles and the hamster. There are many representatives of the class of Birds and among these various tits, thrushes, larks, the snow bunting and the Lapp bunting, the common and banded crossbills, the cardinal, various nutcrackers, jays, the Siberian crow, the beaked bunting, the hoopoe, various owls, tawny owls, the sea eagle, the gray partridge, the capercaillie, the francolin, various doves, palmipeds including the common swan, the falcata duck, the seagull, the seagull, the golden grebe. The Reptiles are not too richly represented; among these we will mention theLacerta vivipara, the marsh viper, the tropidonote. The Amphibians have a small number of species. We will mention the green frog, the common frog, the tree frog, various toads and newts.

Freshwater fish are represented by a rich number of species and among these are pike, carp, salmon, trout, sturgeon, lamprey.

The entomofauna includes very interesting groups from the zoogeographical point of view. We will mention, among the Beetles, the Carabidae group which can be considered, due to the number of species represented there, as characteristic of Eurasia. And for the Orthoptera the group of small Acridî of the steppes, widespread in Russia and Siberia.

Among the terrestrial molluscs we will notice the Arionids and many species of the genus Helix.

Russia Fauna