The position and the constitution of the Swiss territory, its climate make the flora and the vegetation of Switzerland very rich and varied.
From the altimetric point of view, four areas of distribution of plants can be distinguished: 1. lower area, which is also that of vines and fruit-bearing trees and goes up to 550 m. north of the Alps and 700 m. in western and southern Switzerland: 2. deciduous forest area: in the north it reaches up to 1350 m. and is that of the beech, in the south it goes up to 900 meters and is the area of the chestnut; 3. Coniferous forest area, ie spruce in the north of Switzerland up to 1800 m., Larch and Swiss stone pine in the Central Alps and precisely in the Grisons up to 2100 m., And in the Ticino Alps up to 1800 m. ; 4. alpine area, which from the limits of the previous area reaches the peaks of the mountains, since it is not correct that the Phanerogams stop at the limit of perpetual snow, since they go much higher.
These areas have undergone more or less profound changes in historical times due to human action, especially following deforestation and in all probability, before this action was felt, the limit of broad-leaved trees must have reached 1350 m. and that of the Conifers from 2000 to 2400 msm It is now worthwhile to examine in particular these areas.
Lower area. – Southern types abound in it which are localized in the region of the Insubric lakes, in the Rhone valley, in the Jura depression where Lake Neuchâtel is located, on the north side of the Alps between the lakes of Thune, the Four Cantons, and Sarnen, of Wallenstadt (at heights ranging between 425 and 560 m.), in the Rhine valley from Lake Constance to Reichenau. In the valleys of the insubric lakes there is a variety and richness of forms that the Lombard plain, although located further south, does not present.
There is a region (between Ponte Brolla and the entrance to the Val Verzasca) whose flora is similar to that of the Mediterranean garrigue: Cistus salviifolius, Erica arborea, Heteropogon Allionii, Andropogon gryllus, Ficus carica selvatico, Celtis australis, which mix types northern, as Asplenium Hondros, Rhododendron ferrugineum, and humid places Carex punctata, Rhynchospora alba and fusca, Montia fountain, Osmunda regalis. In Ticino there are all the Swiss species of Ferns except the four northern ones (two Botrychium, Aspidium cristatum, Cystopteris montana). Numerous southern species find their northern limit in the insubric region and among these: Cistus salviifolius, Erica arborea, Fraxinus ornus, Celtis australis, Quercus cerris.
There are numerous endemic species and the cause of these endemisms is given by the fact that they are mountain plants, whose stations are surrounded on all sides by very deep valleys: especially the Grigne di Mandello can be considered the home of these interesting species and they constitute one of the most important stations for the richness of endemic forms.
Through the Talweg of the Rhône valley, Switzerland is in communication with the Mediterranean flora that reaches the surroundings of Montelimart: as one penetrates the interior, a significant decrease in the southern element is observed. In Sion, in the center of the valley, prickly pear, almond and pomegranate are spontaneously grown on the rocks. The flora of the Geneva region is one of the richest in Switzerland and it is very interesting to see the insensitive transition of the rural flora of Central Europe to the Mediterranean one in the lower part of the Rhone valley. The plain of Geneva is a stage in the migration of many southern species to the north.
Flora marsh and riparian and rich: Purple stagnina, stricta, elatior, pratensis, Lathyrus palustris, Isnardia palustris, Peplis portula, ceratophyllum submersum, Heliosciadium nodiflorum, Oenanthe fistulosa and Lachenalii, Gladiolus palustris, Cirsium bulbosum, Inula vaillantii, Chlora serotina, Mentha pulegium, Samolus Valerandi, Cladium mariscus, Najas minor, etc.
Deciduous forest area. – This zone extends from 550 to 1350 msm in the northern parts of Switzerland; it has been cleared by the hand of men, and where there were vast forests there are grasslands and cornfields and the woods are confined to the hills and hills. Plants from Central Europe and North Asia dominate here, but this flora is heavily modified by the influence of Western elements. The beech forms pure woods up to 1200 m., Mixed with other essences up to 1500 m. approximately: however, while it abounds in certain territories, such as, for example, in the Jura from 400 to 900 m., it is completely lacking in others (in the whole central part of Grisons, in most of Valais, etc.), because it avoids the climate of the great mountain ranges of Switzerland. Carpinus betulus), found only in the lower regions, avoids the Central Alps and does not rise above 800m. s: m.; completely absent in the cantons of Grisons and Glaris; in the vicinity of the Alps it is a shrub, while in the lower Jura it is a beautiful and well developed tree. L ‘ Acer platanoides is isolated in the beech and does not exceed 1000 m. of altitude and is often bushy; l ‘ Ilex aquifolium is an evergreen that only goes so to the north and, while it is bushy shady places, in clearings looks like a small tree. In the area of the beech in some places in Switzerland also grow: Staphylaea pinnata, Evonymus latifolius and in the western part also Acer opulifolium and Ulpinus fed. Fra le erbe che crescono nelle faggete if I can remember: Tamus common, Asperula taurina, Sedum hispanicum, Carex pilosa e polyrrhiza, Melica uniflora, Campanula cervicaria and persicaefolia, Orobus niger, Scilla bifolia, Crepis praemorsa.
The most common oak in Switzerland is Quercus pedunculata, which is the most common in central Europe; The Q. sessiliflora, on the other hand, is found less frequently and only in the lower areas. The region richest in oaks grows between the eastern base of the Jura and the lakes of Neuchatel and Bienne below the beech area or in alternating formations with beech forests: these trees are usually found on the slopes exposed to the sun. In oak woods grow: Rosa arvensis, Centaurea nigra, Hieracium boreale, Senecio silvaticus, Melampyrum cristatum, Hypericum pulchrum, Genista germanica and tinctoria, Orobus tuberosus, Luzula albida, Carex brizoides and remote, Aira caespitosa ; however such plants are infrequent here, while they are very common in Germany.
The ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) is common everywhere, in groups or isolated, but never exceeds 1300 m. The elm, the Acer campestris, the lime tree are found throughout the region up to 1200 m.; the first two are mainly linked to the southern climate (Valais, Ticino). The lime is represented by two species, Tilia grandifolia and T. parvifolia: the latter is less common, although it goes further north. The ‘ mountain Ulmus grows isolated in the Jura and Valais, while the’ U. effusa, which is an oriental species, is found only in the canton of Schaffhausen.
In the depressions of the plateau, along the streams and on the edges of the marshes, the Alnus glutinosa grows in bushy or arboreal form. Instead in the valleys of the Central Alps up to 1500 m. It has spread l ‘ A. incana ; in high places it is accompanied with Salix incana and purple, while in the valleys grows along with China triandra, alba and fragilis. The Populus alba and nigra grow in proximity of running waters: the P. aspen is widespread throughout Switzerland, but in high areas it is bushy.
Other trees in the woods are: the cherry, the apple and the wild pear, the Sorbus torminalis which in some places is a beautiful tree of 9-12 m.; also the China air can acquire tree development.
Birches are not as lush in their development as in Germany: Betula verrucosa is scattered in small individuals especially in the lower area. There is also the Betula pubescens and in the Jurassic bogs also the birch of the bogs, which is found in the mountains above 1000 m., In the company of the Pinus montana, and is bushy.
Pinus silvestris also lives in this area, but in Switzerland it is not as luxuriant as in other regions of central Europe: it rarely rises to more than 1500 m., But in the Grisons it also goes up to 1800 m. and it grows along with the pine and P. montanavar. hooked. Some orchids grow in pine forests (Ophrys, Limodorum, Orchis fusca, Aceras), Genista sagittalis, Euphrasia viscosa, Astragalus excapus, Achillea tomentosa, Viola arenaria, Adonis vernalis, Vicia Gerardi, Koeleria gracilis.
In the valleys of the south, up to 900 m., The chestnut tree abounds, especially characteristic of Ticino; however, less abundant is also found in other parts of the Swiss territory.
Coniferous forest area. – It extends between 1350 and 1800 m. and it is made up of woods that have suffered less from the action of man. The most important tree is the spruce (Picea excelsa) which descends into the valleys up to 800 m. and it can also climb mountains above 2000, thus assuming a dwarf form. Another important tree is the silver fir (Abies pectinata), which is the plant of the mountains of the south, while spruce is North: never presents dwarf forms when living high on the bare rocks, as does the P. excelsa. The following herbaceous plants grow in the forests made up of these conifers: Dentaria digitata, Mulgedium alpinum, Lunaria rediviva, Polygonatum verticillatum, Rosa Alpine and abiedina, Goodyera repens, Epipogon gmelini, Corallorrhiza, Listera cordata, Streptopus, Saxifraga rotundifolia, Ranunculus lanuginosus, Petasites albus, Homogyne Alpina, Luzula nivea and flavescens, Achillea macrophylla, Gentiana Asclepiadea, Aconitum paniculatum, Galium rotundifolium, Ribes petraeum, Tozzia alpina, Phyteuma Halleri, Senecio nemorensis, Adenostyles alpina, and in the western part: Campanula latifolia, Pulmonaria montana, Vicia tenuifolia, Mulgedium Plumieri, Aposeris foetida, Rosa montana.
The larch (Larix decidua) is the characteristic tree of the Central Alps: it grows in the mountains of central Switzerland and, with one exception in the east, avoids the Jura and the lower Alps. It goes up to 1900 m. in the Valais, 2100 in the Engadine, in the Grisons it goes up to 2300 m.
The Pinus cembra is the tree of the upper areas and is difficult to form large associations. Among the characteristic plants of the larch and cembrane area are: Rosa pomifera, Linnaea borealis, Melampyrum silvaticum, Lychnis flos jovis,Sempervivum arachnoideum, Vaccinium vitisidaea, Rhododendron ferrugineum, Viola pinnata, Ononis rotundifolia, and to the east Laserpitium Gaud ; in the Upper Engadine: Achillea moschata, Senecio abrotanifolius, Phyteuma hemisphaericum, Chrysanthemum alpinum, Androsace obtusifolia, Azalea procumbens. Vascular cryptogams are completely missing.
The Pinus montana var. uncinata forms forests only where the soil is rocky and there it assumes shortened and tortuous forms: generally in the E. it is a decumbent bush and in the W. it has a beautiful tree shape, while in the intermediate zones there are all the transitional forms.
Sorbus aucuparia, Acer pseudoplatanus and Taxus baccata are also found in coniferous forests. Among shrubs can remember: Ribes petraeum and alpinum, Lonicera alpigena and nigra, Salix grandifolia, Sambucus racemosa, several beautiful species of roses (R. Mollis, Reuteri, rubrifolia, coriifolia, abiedina, Alpine), as well Juniperus nana, Sorbus Chamaemespilus Alnus viridis, Pinus pumilio, which grow at the upper limit of the tree vegetation.
The flora of the edges of the woods and paths is quite rich and consists of numerous Legumes and then Linaria italica, Dapne alpina, Plantago serpentina, Galium tenerum, Verbascum montanum ; in Lower Valais, Asplenium Breynii, higher towards the upper limit Geranium aconitifolium, Linnaea borealis, Equisetum pratense, Astrantia major, Viola pinnata, Geranium bohemicum and different roses, among which leads the R. pomifera with all its varieties and hybrids.
Alpine area. – In the high Alpine region of Switzerland there are 294 species of Phanerogams: of these 64 are circumpolar, 26 instead inhabit only certain territories of the circumpolar zone; of the 64 species circumpolar 14 they are common in all the Alps (Silene acaulis, Dryas octopetala, Saxifraga oppositifolia, aizoides, stellaris, Erigeron alpinus, Azalea procumbens, Myosotis alpestris, Polygonum viviparum, Salix retusa and herbacea, Phleum alpinum, Poa alpina, Juniperus procumbens); 28 are very scattered without being so common; 11 are found scattered only in the Central Alps. Finally, the following are to be counted among the greatest rarities of Swiss flora: Draba incana, Saxifraga cernua, Alsine biflora, Potentilla nivea, Tofieldia borealis, Thalictrum alpinum, Juncus castaneus, Carex Vahlii.
In the distribution of alpine plants – examining the whole of the Alpine region – we observe the greatest irregularity due above all to the special conditions of the territory: some districts of the Alps are poor in species, while others are extraordinarily rich. The alpine flora explains all the polychrome magnificence of its flowering in the time of the melting of the snows, that is, in the month of June: we then observe a range of colors ranging from white to soft pink, to yellow of various shades, to fiery red, to purple, blue, lilac.
The stations where alpine plants grow are: grasslands, dry or wet pastures, where grasses, ciperaceae, legumes, some compotes, lamiaceae, etc. abound; peat bogs; Alpine lakes where live several Potamogeton (P. pusillus, marinus, praelongus,alpinus), Ranunculus aquatilis, Sparganium natans ; rocky slopes where they grow: on the slate and granite Alnus viridis and Rhododendron ferrugineum, on the limestone Pinus montana and Rhododendron hirsutum, on all terrains the beautiful Erica carnea, Juniperus nana, Daphne mezereum, Sorbus chamaemespilus. At the edge of the snow live decumbent bushes of Azalea procumbens, Juniperus nana, Arctostaphylos alpina, Salix retusa, reticulata and herbacea. There are also rocky walls of various kinds and breccias, which house various characteristic species, among which the Leontopodium alpinum should be mentioned in the first place, therefore on the highest peaks of the glacial and subglacial zone live: Erytrichium nanum, Androsace glacialis and helvetica, Anemone vernalis, Phyteuma pauciflorum, Potentilla frigida, Draba Wahlenbergii, frigida e tomentosa, Juncus trifidus, Sesleria disticha, Trisetum subspicatum, Kobresia Bellardi, Carex rupestris, Hutchinsia alpina var. affinis, Petrocallis pyrenaica, Saxifraga muscosa and bryoides. On the edges of the snow patches grow: Crocus vernus, Soldanella alpina and pusilla, Primula integrifolia, Anemone vernalis, Gagea Liottardi, Ranunculus alpestris, Alchemilla pentaphylla. Along the streams live large plants such as Pedicularis recutita and foliosa, Petasites niveus, Aconitum napellus, Cirsium spinosissimum, Adenostyles alpina, Caltha palustris, or cushion-forming plants such as Saxifraga aizoides and stellaris. Among the most beautiful alpine plants in this area are: Eryngium alpinum, Delphinium elatum, Columbine alpina. In the sandy areas that lie in front of the glaciers of the granite chains and on the edges of the streams grow: Carex incurva, Equisetum arvense and variegatum, juncus alpinus and arcticus, Campanula cenisia, Tofieldia borealis, Gentiana tenella, Epilobium Fleischeri, Pleurogyne carinthiaca. Finally, near the high mountain dwellings and the stables where manure residues abound: Urtica dioica, Lychnis diurna, Geum rivale, Ohenopodium good Henry, Polygonum bistorta, HEMP, Lamium, Achillea, Sorry ulpinus, Allium Cepa.
Among the shrubs of the Alpine area, the most important are the rhododendrons that go from the forest region to the subnival area: then there is the Alnus viridis which in the transalpine part of the Grisons and in the Valtellina is found in an interesting form (var. Brembana); many mountain plants grow among the bushes of this alno, such as Astrantia maior, Digitalis ambigua, Pimpinella magna, Centaurea montana, Trollius, Ranunculus aconitifolius, Aconitum variegatum and lycoctonum, Luzula verna, Lilium nartagon, which otherwise could not rise so high and then some alpine plants such as Pedicularis recutita and Achillea macrophylla.
The Pinus pumilio lives in all stations rocky shallows; the dwarf Juniperus grows from 1800 to 2500 m. of height; the Upside is widespread in the Alpine area and in its midst grow: Arnica montana, Gnaphalium dioicum, Arctostaphylos uva – ursi, Lycopodium, and higher Arctostaphylos alpina and Empetrum.
While blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) abound in the wooded area, Vaccinium vitis – idaea and uliginosum are widespread in the Alpine region. L ‘ Erica carnea often grows along with Polygala chamaebuxus.
The willows, scattered, hardly gathered in formations: Salix hastata, Hegetschweileri, arbuscula, myrsinites, lapponum, glauca, Caesia, and there are many forms arctic reduced and decombenti as: China serppyllifolia, reticulata e herbacea.
In the distribution of alpine species, considerable altimetric variations are observed: some often descend to incredibly low limits, while others reach very considerable heights, as occurs, for example, at Piz Linard, where between 3250 and 3417 m. grow Androsace glacialis, Ranunculus glacialis, Silene acaulis var. exscapa, Cerastium glaciale, Gentiana imbricata, Saxifraga bryoides and oppositifolia, Draba Wahlenbergii, Chrysanthemum alpinum, Poa laxa. Among the Cryptogams, the nival species par excellence is the Protococcus nivalis, unicellular alga that determines the phenomenon of red snow.
In Switzerland, for many plants, the lines that mark the northern or southern, eastern or western limits of their distribution intersect. A considerable number of Mediterranean species stop on the secondary peaks of the insubric region; another group advances as far as the Valais and the eastern crest of the Jura, a third group is scattered on the north side of the Alps and in the Rhine valley. Other northern marsh plants go as far as the north side of the Alps without penetrating the upper and lower areas of the chain. Properly speaking, Alpine plants have distinct districts in the Alpine region.
The statistics on the flora of the various regions of Switzerland show that it is richer towards the south than towards the north, as Haussmann had already observed for the flora of Tyrol.
Historically, the different altitudinal zones have plants from different eras.
The warmer lower zone presents the residues of the tertiary flora combined with the representatives of the recent Mediterranean flora. In the middle zone (from 500 to 1250 m.) There is a more recent flora that has covered the plain after the retreat of the glaciers, but some species are linked with those of the glacial period. In the cold peatlands of the plateau there are glacial species. In the area of the Conifers and in the Alps there is the vegetation of the last glacial period, and in the same alpine area there is a richer flora after the time of the great glaciers and represented by the numerous alpine endemic forms.