9 Bushy South Alpine forest with Black Hornbeam and Manna Ash

Adapted by: P. Schildknecht & C.A. Burga, Geographisches Institut der Universität Zürich, 2008.

Photo: 1. G. F. Lucchini, 2. A. Riva, 3. G. F. Lucchini

The seeds of the black hornbeam are reminiscent, in shape and size, of the fruit of the hops, hence the German name “Hopfenbuche” and French “Charme houblon”, which literally translated mean Beech hops and Hornbeam hops.


Illustrations: Flora der Schweiz und angrenzender Gebiete; Band 2, 1970; Hess, Landolt und Hirzel, Birkhäuser Verlag. Under permission from Springer Nature.

Bosco cespuglioso sudalpino

This type of wood is characterised by a low and often intermittent arboreal layer, which generally does not exceed 15 meters in height. The dominant tree is the black hornbeam, sometimes accompanied by the manna ash, the downy oak and, to a lesser extent, the hackberry.

The species of shrubs are particularly numerous, altogether totalling around twenty, among which the common laburnum, the privet, the butcher’s broom and the field larkspur. This heat-loving (thermophilic) and drought-resistant wood is characterised by the presence of rare herbaceous species, such as the Christmas rose, and sub-Mediterranean species, such as wild asparagus, the costmary and the violet limodore, with which alternate, in more open areas, other herbaceous species characteristic of thin and thermophilic wood margins, such as the bloody crane’s-bill, the St Bernard’s-lily and the masterwort.

The scrubland with black hornbeam grows on soils rich in carbonates, as indicated by the presence of numerous plants that prefer this type of soil, and is present in Switzerland only in the south of the Alps.
In particular, it grows in the hills of southern Ticino, as well as, more precisely, in the southern valleys of the Grisons. On Monte Caslano it colonises the dolomitic soils of the steep, warm and dry southern slopes.

On the dolomitic soils of this wood there are also some particular mushrooms. There we find Mediterranean thermophilic species such as the Caesar’s mushroom, one of the most appreciated edible mushrooms, or as the Goliath webcap, of remarkable size and bearing, which is also among the most valuable edible species and sought after by connoisseurs. But there grows also the Satan’s bolete, with its bulging stem and corpse smell. There are also rare mushrooms such as the Gilded bolete and the Leucopaxillus macrocephalus, a species in danger of extinction: in Switzerland it has only been found at four Ticino sites, for which our canton has a particular responsibility for its conservation.

In the past and up to the 1950s, the hornbeam scrubland was regularly coppice grown and intensively exploited for the production of firewood.

Photos: 1, 2 , 3, 5, 6, 7, 8.  Museo cantonale di storia naturale, 4. Elvezio Römer,