The History of Wild Plants

The History of Wild Plants
by Acton Schuwart

It is difficult for us, with a life-span which is no more than a twinkling of the eye in evolutionary terms, to comprehend the gradual but nonetheless cataclysmic changes which have overtaken our planet to produce the life – and the landscape – which we see around us today.

In the early Holocene, the evolutionary trend was towards forest development even in these regions, but its pace was slower and so the chernozem steppe survived.

At its peak it extended into Europe as far as the Sudeten and Carpathian Mountains and even covered valleys in the Alps and Vosges. This glaciation had a reiterant character with alternating warmer and cold periods. Naturally, the encroaching ice caused the radical retreat of the more thcrmophilous Tertiary vegetation (and, of course, the fauna) and its gradual replacement by the cold-loving vegetation of the tundras and cold steppes.

The third principle belt where evolution took its own separate course in the post-glacial period was the Alpine grassland belt, in rugged mountain conditions. Here, perhaps, the evolutionary process proceeded at its calmest, its peak marked by the raising of the upper forest limit during the climatically optimum period some time in the second millenium BC. (The lowering of this limit is a fairly recent occurrence and is due, besides natural causes, in great part to the activities of man.)

The vast spread of forests (closed stands) dates from the mid-Holocene (between 6000 and 4000 BC). At first, the last woodless places continued to be filled in and the amount of beech and fir increased, and it is during this stage that the wealth of species reached its peak.

Later, in the period between 4000 and 1250 BC, beech and fir continued their advance, pushing mixed oakwoods to lower elevations and spruce forests towards the upper forest limit. This period in the central part of the continent is considered to have been the so-called forest optimum, a time of peak evolution of forest communities.

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