The Belverde holm oak
The main feature of the Belverde area is the tall-trunked holm oak, with specimens of considerable size located on the large blocks of travertine in the caves.
The presence of holm oak seems to date back to around 4,000 BC, when the climate was warmer and wetter than it is now. This is demonstrated by the large quantity of holm oak leaves, as well as boxwood, laurel and privet, found in Belverde travertine.
The holm oak is an evergreen oak native to Southern Europe and typical of coastal areas, and thanks to numerous factors it has remained here to the present day, even though the climate conditions are not ideal. Up to the Roman period, the mitigating action of the Chiani swamp affected the climate, while today the most important factor is the high permeability of the soil. The travertine’s numerous surface fractures mean that rainwater does not remain available to the plants, because it quickly penetrates into the subsoil.
The undergrowth, typical of evergreen woods, has butcher’s broom, goosegrass, Asplenius major, daphne and others, but also sporadic black hornbeam trees, lesser maple and from Hungary, manna ash.
The holm oak can therefore be considered a “castaway” wood outside its natural environment.
There is also interesting vegetation on the limestone rock, the so-called “cliff” of Belverde, characterised above all by perennial plants with woody stems at the base that penetrate into the rock. These plants generally have small, robust and furry leaves, typical adaptations to an environment with low water availability.
In the sunniest areas we can find Venus’ navel, fig, rustyback, asplenium and common lion’s mouth. Maidenhair is found in the most shaded and moist areas. Finally, among the species that live on top of the arid and sunny limestone cliff, we find small low shrubs and short-lived plants with colourful flowers including globularia vulgaris with blue flowers, wild carnation with pink flowers, Apennines rock rose with white flowers and helichrysum, an aromatic plant with a pleasant smell, whose yellow flowers dry without changing their appearance.
Among the fauna, present above all in the cliff area, are hoopoes, blue tits and Aesculapian snakes. This snake is harmless to humans, reaches 2 m, loves dry and sunny places, and easily climbs up trees to prey on bird nests, even though it feeds mainly on small mammals. In the holm oak forest it is easy to identify hedgehog spines, fox excrement, and the bluish feathers of jays.