Šumava National Park

Flora and vegetation

Regional phytogeographical classification
The whole of the Šumava mountain range lies in the central European province named Central European Vegetation Region of the European Temperate Belt.

The Předšumaví foothills and the lower elevations of the Šumava mountains belong to the Mesophytic phytogeographical region, which is characterised as a region of zonal vegetation of the central European deciduous forests, ranging from the supra-montane to the sub-montane vegetation belts, with a mildly oceanic climate and the transition to a mildly continental one. The area’s climate is classified as slightly warm.

An exception to the mesophyticum in Šumava is the occurrence of extrazonal cryophilous mountain vegetation – the Oreophyticum - within which hardly any thermophilous species are represented. This occupies the montane and supramontane vegetation belts (up to the sub-alpine outside the Czech Republic). In Šumava, we can determine three basic vegetation zone units – the herb-rich beech forest level, the acidophilous mountain beech forest and the climax spruce forests. However, numerous other natural communities or complete ecosystems have formed and developed azonally as a result of edaphic factors such as high sub-surface water tables, peat formation, high soil scree content and formation of a rocky relief.

On these localized areas we can find peat bogs, alluvial forests, waterlogged spruce forests, relict pinewoods, non-forested boulder streams, talus slope mixed forests, glacial cirque ecosystems, rare remnants of naturally forest-free areas in wetlands and frost-caused forest-free areas, spring systems lying outside the forests and the ecosystems of still and flowing water.

The characteristic vegetation belts are greatly disturbed and scattered as a result of partial deforestation of the landscape and especially the conversion of many natural forest communities into predominantly spruce monocultures.

We can estimate the number of vascular plant species growing in the Šumava oreophyticum and marginally in the Mesophyticum (the current territory of Šumava NP and PLA) to be approximately 1260 taxons. Within the National Park alone, more than 500 species are found, of which 69 are protected species.

The great majority of the significant, endangered and protected species (approximately 80 %) in the Šumava orephyticum are concentrated in the non-forested areas, and especially in the meadow ecosystems. We can estimate that 60 % of the total species diversity and 70 % of the critically-endangered species in Šumava are concentrated on these meadows. Within the national park territory these proportions are somewhat lower.

The current vegetation and flora of Šumava has basically developed over the last 15–20 thousand years during the late Glacial Period and the Post-glacial Period. The consequences of the last Ice Age and several thousand years of the Holocene Period which followed, when the natural environment was completely without human influence, are characterised by the gradual but fluctuating development of a warmer and wetter climate in the area. Most of the large Šumava peat bogs began to develop, as spring wetlands, at the end of the last Ice Age and during the early part of the Holocene period. The non-forested periglacial tundra was gradually replaced by forests of varied types according to the ruggedness of the terrain relief and edaphic conditions. The stabilisation of the climate - and as a result the natural vegetation cover - effectively ended the period of natural flora formation, the composition of which was mostly of local origin.

An important phytogeographical characteristic of every territory is the existence or absence of endemic taxons. Except for the polymorphous gentian (Gentianella praecox subsp. praecox) which is probably extinct, Šumava cannot boast any other endemic species. However the Šumava NP territory is at the heart of the range of four endemic taxons which grow in the wider Czech – German highlands. These are the common monkshood (Aconitum plicatum), the Bohemian polymorphous gentian (Gentianella praecox subsp. bohemica), the rampion Phyteuma nigrum, and a special sub-species of broad-leaved marsh orchid, which was first identified at Horská Kvilda in Šumava in 1982 – the broad-leaved marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis subsp. turfosa).

Like the other comparable central European mountain ranges, Šumava has a certain proportion of glacial relict elements in its flora. These are elements of the flora of the Arctic periglacial tundra pushed to southwards into central Europe by the advancing continental ice sheet during ice ages. In central Europe, these glacial relicts occur in the montane and supramontane vegetation belts and in inversion localities which are climatically classified as cold regions, with at least 40 ice days per year (continuous sub-zero temperatures). In Šumava these species can mostly be found on the raised bogs or in the glacial cirques. According to the extent of their range, these glacial relicts can be sub-divided into arctic–alpine, boreomontane and sub-boreal montane. The only arctic–alpine species which grows in Šumava is the Alpine clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum). Boreomontane species growing on the raised bogs include dwarf birch (Betula nana), deergrass (Trichophorum cespitosum) and the crowberry Empetrum hermaphroditum. The three-leaved rush (Juncus trifidus) grows on the cliffs above Černé jezero glacial lake and on the peak of Mt. Ostrý. Species with a sub-boreal montane distribution are represented by bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia), bog whortleberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), great sundew (Drosera anglica), bog sedge (Carex limosa), Rannoch rush (Scheuchzeria palustris), Alpine deergrass (Trichophorum alpinum), quillwort (Isoëtes lacustris) and spring quillwort (Isoëtes echinospora), interrupted clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum) and many more.

A special group of boreal elements are the species with a so-called boreal-sarmatic distribution range, which migrated to central Europe during the Ice Ages from eastern Europe. In Šumava these included moor-king (Pedicularis sceptrum-carolinum) which is now extinct in the area, as well as the bilberry willow (Salix myrtilloides), labrador tea (Ledum palustre), the stitchwort Stellaria longifolia, the Siberian leopard plant (Ligularia sibirica) and the small-reed Calamagrostis phragmitoides. The great majority of these species is only found in the Upper Vltava basin in the southern section of the NP and illustrates the unique phytogeography of this territory within the context of the whole of the Šumava range.

A notable feature of the Šumava flora is the relatively high proportion of alpine elements. They probably began their migration to Šumava during the last Ice Age and this migration continued in several waves long into the Post-Glacial period. During the early phases of this immigration a large number of species, which are now characteristic of the fragments of sub-alpine communities in the glacial cirques, certainly arrived here along with species which now have an optimal range on secondary forest-free areas at higher elevations. These species include rock bent-grass (Agrostis rupestris), brown or Hungarian gentian (Gentiana pannonica), the willow Salix appendiculata, the Alpine lovage Ligusticum mutellina, Alpine cat’s tail (Phleum rhaeticum), the ragwort Senecio subalpinus and many more.

The last wave of Alpine immigration, which took place in conjunction with the spreading of the beech complex during the Atlantic period 6–8 thousand years ago brought southern species north to Šumava, but exclusively from the south–east via the Novohradské hory mountains, and included forest and non-forest plant types. This immigration wave mostly only reached the SE section of the Šumava range and as a result, the current forest flora of SE Šumava is more closely related to that of Novohradské hory than to the forest flora of NW Šumava. In this way the flora of SE Šumava was enriched by species such as trifoliate bitter-cress (Cardamine trifolia), the chervil Anthriscus nitida, mountain currant (Ribes alpinum), white false-helleborine (Veratrum album), aconite-leaved (or white) buttercup (Ranunculus aconitifolius), and probably the spring crocus (Crocus albiflorus), which presently grows in localities scattered throughout the whole of Šumava. Some of these Alpine migrants can also be found in the NW section of Šumava. Such species include mountain tassel-flower (Soldanella montana), Austrian leopard’s-bane (Doronicum austriacum), large white buttercup (Ranunculus platanifolius) and broad-leaved meadowgrass (Poa chaixii). Dozens of other more common species growing in Šumava today are also of Alpine origin, including hairy small-reed (Calamagrostis villosa), purple coltsfoot (Homogyne alpina), the rock-cress Cardaminopsis halleri and arnica (Arnica montana). Rare or less common species of Alpine origin include perennial cornflower (Centaurea montana), orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum), clasp-leaf twisted-stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius), nodding willowherb (Epilobium nutans) and others.

The north–western section of the Šumava mountains and its Předšumaví foothills, in contrast to SE Šumava, is relatively rich in sub-Atlantic elements, which decline in quantity as we move in a south–easterly direction. These sub-atlantic species include opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium), sharp-flowered rush (Juncus acutiflorus), heath rush (Juncus squarrosus), fir clubmoss (Huperzia selago), hard fern (Blechnum spicant), heath bedstraw (Galium saxatile) and others.

Natural Forest Vegetation
Herb-rich beech forests and fir forests were basic zonal vegetation units of Šumava naturally occurring in all areas of Šumava and reaching elevations of 1000–1050 metres above sea level. These natural growths comprised a mixture of spruces and beech, with a smaller percentage of firs accompanied by sycamore, maple and wych elm. The floral element of these communities was quite varied, with 30–50 species present in the herbal layer including: sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), asarabacca (Asarum europaeum), herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia), and frequently nine-leaved toothwort (Dentaria enneaphylos). We can also find baneberry (Actaea spicata), the endangered mezereon (Daphne mezereum) or martagon lily (Lilium martagon).

Acidophilous mountain beech forests originally formed a belt of various widths between the herb-rich beech forests and the climax spruce forests and reached up to 1300 metres in places. These communities were only widespread in the areas of the Šumavské pláně plateaux and the Královský hvozd forests and very few stands with a natural species composition have survived. These forests are poor in flowering species and only undemanding acidophilous species are found in the herbal layer, such as hairy small-reed (Calamagrostis villosa) and great wood-rush (Luzula sylvatica), and the only plants which migrated here from the herb-rich beech forests are purple lettuce (Prenanthes purpurea) and whorled Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum verticillatum).

Climax spruce forests are the natural forest community at elevations above 1200 metres, only covering the highest Šumava peaks and ridges. The tree layer is formed of the original Šumava ecotype of spruce with scattered rowans, and the undergrowth is usually dominated by hairy small-reed. The moss layer, with characteristic species: broomfork moss (Dicranum scoparium) and the haircap moss Polytrichum formosum, is typical for these stands. Important indicative species are liverworts of the Barbilophozia family, especially the pawwort Barbilophozia lycopodioides and common pawwort (Barbilophozia floerkei). The majority of the undergrowth belongs to the wide Calamagrostio villosae-Piceetum association. In more favourable localities, such as in the glacial cirques and on concave slopes and terrain, tall-herb spruce forests have formed with the dominant Alpine lady-fern (Athyrio alpestris-Piceetum association within the realms of the Athyrio alpestri-Piceion community). Large areas of natural climax spruce forests have been conserved on the Plechý – Třístoličník ridge. Elsewhere, only small fragments remain at Pramen Vltavy, on the western slopes of Mokrůvka, in the glacial courses on the slopes below the summits of Špičák and Plattenhausen and on the upper SE slopes of Lakaberg within the Šumava NP territory. Outside the NP’s boundary, fragments of climax spruce forest can be found on the eastern slopes below the summit of Mt. Boubín and scattered along the border ridge of Královský hvozd.

Azonal vegetation
In the Šumava NP, these communities include waterlogged spruce and fir forests, which cover large areas adjoining the peat bogs and the contact spruce forests found directly on the bogs. Valley alder forests (or alder–spruce forests), with grey alder being the dominant species, reach into the lower sections of Šumava along the larger rivers or streams. Talus and ravine forests are deciduous or mixed growths with a high proportion of maples and wych elm in the herb-rich beech forest belt, from which the flora differs only in having a higher representation of certain species in the undergrowth. Relict pine and pine–birch forests only grow on small areas of rocky headlands and boulder fields, especially in the Vydra river valley or in the Losenice valley. The most important azonal vegetation formation in Šumava are the peat bog communities.

The numerous Šumava peat bogs can be divided into two types:
Minerotrophic peat bogs or transition bogs – these form the vegetation complexes of peaty meadows and spring area peat bogs and are mostly found in culturally forest-free areas. Their formation depends indirectly on the traditional cultivation of the landscape and direct contact with the spring water systems to which they are tightly bound.
Oligotrophic (ombrotrophic) peat bogs or valley raised bogs – found on the alluvial plains in the the old valley of the Vltava system. Also, mountain raised bogs (slatě) found on the Šumavské pláně plateaux areas.
A common characteristic of the vegetation of both types of peat bog is the dominant population of hybrid-forming pine species from the Pinus mugo – Pinus rotundata sub-group and also hybridisation with Pinus sylvestris.

Edaphic vegetation complexes of the glacial cirques
The azonal communities of the glacial cirques are comprised of sub-alpine, short-stemmed grass and shrub communities, dwarf pine growths on the rocks, tall fern alluvial plains and tall-stemmed sub-alpine grasslands at the foot of the rock cliffs.

Edaphic vegetation complexes on the Šumavské pláně plateaux
The complicated but extremely valuable vegetation complexes on the Šumavské pláně plateaux include the highest concentration of edaphic elements within an extremely-varied mosaic of climatic climax localities - such as acidophilous mountain beech forests and climax spruce forests. However, these natural forest types have mostly been replaced by spruce monocultures or clear-cut areas which are difficult to reforest. These complexes are formed predominantly of peat bogs in various stages of the peat-forming process, including living peat bog localities around springs, peaty and waterlogged spruce stands, talus spruce forests, forest-free taluses, rare natural wetlands and forest-free meadows on defrosted areas (meadows around sub-Alpine springs).

Edaphic vegetation complexes in the Hornovltavské kotliny basin
The complicated complex of aquatic, wetland, marshy and peat bog vegetation in the Upper Vltava river basin includes communities of surface and underwater plants of flowing water, tall and short-stemmed wetland sedge stands, riverine reedbeds, tall-herb riverine wetlands, bankside and marshy tall-herb stands, extensive shrub stands of willow spiraea, peaty birch stands, as well as scattered marshlands and valley bogs with Swiss mountain pine.

Vegetation of culturally forest-free areas
Deforested meadow communities of anthropogenic origin are a very significant, valuable and integral part of the modern Šumava landscape. Most of these forest-free areas are not of natural origin, from the viewpoint of a geobotanical reconstruction of the natural vegetation, but often show a near-natural character. Often they are wet, waterlogged and peaty meadows or meadow peat bogs. However, we can also find tall-herb alluvial meadows, mesophytic meadows and pasturelands (bent-grass meadows, mountain hay meadows and meadow bistort mountain meadows), semi-xerophytic grassland communities and shrub communities on heathlands and stony waste ground.