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Inside the Rodopi Mountain Range can be found a rich variety of ecosystems of the Balkan Peninsula. Almost 60% of the European species can be met here and this consist the main reason that the Rodopi Mountain Range is one of the most important regions of Europe.
This noteworthiness variety of ecosystems is mainly due to its geographical position, the geological composition and also the fact that the Rodopi Mountain Range was not covered with ice during the last glacial period. That has resulted in the Rodopi Mountain Range to be a resort for many species from central and northern Europe and nowadays to be their southern border of expansion. Inside the RMRNP are growing the biggest, the most productive forests of Greece and the least degraded natural ecosystems of Europe. For this reason many animals which are under a special management can be found here like the Brown Bear (Ursus arctos L.), Chamois (Rupicapra
rupicapra ssp. balcanica L.), Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus L. - Pic. 1), Grouse (Tetrastes bonasia L.) etc.
Nomos Dramas is the most wooded of the Greek provinces. The central Rodopi mountains in particular, extending along the Bulgarian border north of Drama and Paranestion, are densely forested with deciduous oaks on the lower slopes, and Fagus sylvatica, Pinus sylvestris, Picea abies and occasionally Betula pendula and other deciuous trees at higher altitudes. Formerly summer pastures of the semi-nomadic Sarakatsani people, the area has been virtually uninhabited since World War II and was rather inaccessible until the nineteen seventies when forest roads were constructed. With Greece and Bulgaria now both members of the European Union, restrictions on the border areas have been lifted. A relatively good road leads from Sidironero to the “central forest village” at Elatia, turns east to Stravorema and Frakto and then south, descending eventually to Paranestion. There is a whole system of side roads and walking trails, but distances are fairly great and it is better to go well prepared. Recently constructed dams in the Nestos river, at Thisavros and Platanovrysi NW of Paranestion have created extensive artificial lakes.
Haberlea rhodopensis, a rosette plant of the family Gesneriaceae related to Ramonda serbica and Jankaea heldreichii, is locally gregarious on shady rock walls at relatively low altitude north of Paranestion. Species such as Asplenium trochomanes, Cardamine impatiens, Geranium macrorrhizum, Notholaena marantae, Symphytum ottomanum, and Vincetoxicum hierundinaria are found in the same area.
The upper parts of Rodopi receive large amounts of snow in the winter, spring is late, and the best time for a visit is mid-summer.
At Elatia and Frakto and further north towards the Bulgarian border are extensive forests dominated by Picea abies, the southernmost extension of this widespread Euro-Siberian timber-tree. The area north of Frakto (Partheno Dasos or Virgin Forest) was designated a Natural Monument in 1980; it is a natural part with magnificent old trees up to 60 m tall. From near Frakto access is blocked for motor vehicles and it is a long but very rewarding walk to the upper and central parts of the protected forest. The whole area has a distinctly Nordic flavour, forest roads and tracks often being lined with Epilobium angustifolium and the delicious Rubus idaeus (wild raspberry), sometimes even Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry) and V. vitirs-idaea (cowberry).
Wet meadows at Elatia and Frakto are rich in central European or boreal species such as Aegopodium podagraria, Angelica sylvestris, Carex pallescens, C. rostrata, Deschampsia cespitosa, Filipendula ulmaria, Juncus effuses, Lysimachia punctata, Parnassia palustris, Potentilla erecta, Scirpus sylvaticus, Stellaria graminea, Telekia speciosa, Trifolium spadiceum and Valeriana officinalis. Some rare and local species are also found in this area, notably Lathraea rhodopaea and Soldanella rhodopaea, both early-flowering.
The central parts of the Virgin Forest by the Bulgarian border at 1,700-1,900 m are well worth the relatively long walk. In meadows and by brooks in openings of spruce forest are a number of interesting species, otherwise very rare in Greece. They include Aconitum lycoctonum, Anthemis orbelica, Campanula cervicaria, Cardamine amara, Carduus personata, Centaurea nervosa, Chamaespartium sagittale, Gentianella ciliate, Geum rivale, Hypochoeris maculate, Melampyrum sylvaticum, Moehringia pendula, Platanthera bifolia, Polygonatum verticillatum and Ranunculus platanifolius. This is also home to Lilium rhodopeum, one of the rarest of lilies, described as late as 1952 and occurring only in a few places on both sides of the border; it is cultivation at Copenhagen Botanical Garden but shy-flowering with 1-2 (rarely more) nodding flowers up to 12 cm in diameter; the recurved segments are a bright lemon yellow.
Source: Arne Strid («Wild Flowers of Greece»)