Welcome to Bulgaria Bulgaria is located in South-eastern Europe on an area of 111,000 km2. The prevailing climate is temperate continental, modified locally in higher mountain areas and along the Black-sea coast. The diverse terrain, bedrock and climate determine the presence of mid-European, boreal, steppe, Mediterranean, alpine, Arctic and other plants. There are 3,550 vascular plant species, 52 pteridophytes, 711 bryophytes, and 600 lichen species. Forests cover ca. 30% (3,367,000) hectares of the territory of Bulgaria. Oak and beech forests predominate. The mixed oak forests, containing species typical for the southern and south-eastern part of Europe, such as Quercus cerris, Q. frainetto, Q. pubescens, occupy the lowland and hilly parts of the country. To the south-east, in Strandzha Mt. and along the southern Black Sea coast, a warmer and more humid climate occurs. This area includes one of the most remarkable vegetation complexes in the country – the south-Euxinian type of forest with Durmast oak (Quercus sessiliflora), Standzha oak (Quercus hartwissiana), oriental beech (Fagus orientalis) and unique flowery carpet of periwinkle each May. The coniferous forest belt in the mountains consists mainly of Pinus sylvestris and Picea abies. Abies alba occurs in the lower portion of this belt, and in some areas forms mixed communities with beech considered to be relict from the Tertiary period. The Balkan endemics Pinus peuce (Rumelian or Balkan pine) and P. heldreichii (Bosnian pine) give special charm to Rila and Pirin Mts. Bulgaria possesses a network of strict nature reserves on 80,000 ha. Twentynine reserves exceed 1,000 ha in area and cover 83% of the total reserve area. Sixty per cent of that area is within national and nature parks. The recent establishment of the Rila and the Central Balkan National Parks, and of the Strandzha Nature Park, is of exceptional importance for nature conservation in Bulgaria. The reserves in the first two parks cover an area of 20,000 ha. The third largest Bulgarian National Park Pirin, is a Cultural and Natural Heritage Site under the World Heritage Convention. Bulgarian parks and reserves are included in the UN List of National Parks and Protected Areas. During the field trip we plan to visit sites in the Vitosha Nature Park, Rila and Pirin National Parks, the western and central parts of the Rhodope Mts. Vitosha Nature Park (site 1) is the oldest park in Bulgaria declared in 1934, and the first on the Balkan Peninsula. It covers 26,300 ha. 1,489 vascular plants, 805 fungi, more than 350 lichen species occur here. There are many species endemic for Bulgaria or for the Balkan Peninsula, such as Jasione bulgarica, Minuartia bulgarica, Luzula deflexa, Pinus peuce, Acer heldreichii, Aquilegia aurea, Gentianella bulgarica, Iris reichenbachii, Senecio pancici, Lilium janke, Aquilegia aurea. The bryophytes found up to date in the Vitosha Mt. are 314 species (71 liverworts and 243 mosses), of which 36 species are rare and threatened. A number of bryophytes have their only known locality in Bulgaria in the Vitosha Mt. Calypogeia sphagnicola, Jungermannia confertissima, Lepidozia cupressina, Riccardia incurvata, Ceratodon conicus, Helodium blandowii, Orthotrichum urnigerum, Paraleucobryum sauteri, Pohlia longicolis were reported only from Vitosha Mt. in the past and their localities need confirmation. Sphagnum fimbriatum was recently found at a single locality on the southern slopes of the mountain, and this is the southernmost location of this species in Europe. With its proximity to Sofia, the Vitosha Nature Park allows tremendous possibilities for tourism, biological and nature conservation education. Rila National Park and Rila Monastery Nature Park (sites 2 and 3). Established with a special order of the Ministry of Environment and Waters in 1992, Rila National Park covers an area of 108,000 ha in the Rila Mt. Rila National Park includes the highest mountain on the Balkan Peninsula - the peak of Mousala is 2,925 m above sea level. Rial Mt. has been glaciated during the last Ice age, and numerous (more than 200) glacier lakes occupy the glacier circuses. Bulgaria’s Red Data Book lists 75 vascular plant species as threatened and rare, and 11 are included in the European Red List. The forests of Rila Mt. are mainly coniferous but there are also beech, beech-fir, and oak forests in the lower parts. Coniferous forests begin from at about 1,400 – 1,500 m alt. and consist of Pinus sylvestris, Picea abies, silver fir (Abies alba) and Rumelian pine (Pinus peuce). The sub-alpine belt is occupied mainly by dwarf pine (Pinus montana) and Siberian juniper (Juniperus sibirica). The alpine meadows and pastures are situated above 2,300 m. Apart from the large biodiversity, the Rila Mt. is famous for its cultural and historical heritage. The largest monument of the Bulgarian Renaissance – the Rila Monastery is located in the Rila Monastery Nature Park (site 3). This park is one of the territories in Bulgaria with the highest degree of naturalness and stability of the habitats. About 95% of the forests here are primeval forests. Of special interest are Abies borisi-regis and Quercus protoroburoides. Rila Mt. is the most bryophyte rich area in Bulgaria with ca. 382 (97 liverworts and 285 mosses), of which 150 were found in the Rila Monastery nature Park. Barbilophozia attenuata, Cephalozia loilesbergeri, Cephaloziella hampeana, Eremonotus myriocarpus, Gymnomitrion coralloides, Scapania crassiretis, Cynodontium fallax, C. strumiferum, Dicranella subulata, Dicranum brevifolium, Grimmia longirostris, Plagiobryum demissum, Scorpidium revolvens, Sphagnum riparium, Tortula mucronifolia are known in Bulgaria only from Rila Mts. Pirin National Park (site 4) covers an area of 40,400 ha lying entirely within the northern part of the Pirin Mt. The reserve Bayuvi Dupki-Dzhindzhiritsa was declared in 1934 for the purpose of the protecting the relict forests of Rumelian and Bosnian pine, and the large diversity of plant and animal species. In 1977, the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program consolidated it as a biosphere reserve. The peak of Vihren is the highest point of the mountain and the park, 2, 915 m alt. Pirin Mt. is the other high mountain in Bulgaria that has been glaciated during the Ice age and there are numerous glacial formations – lakes, circuses, glacial valleys, moraines. The mountain is built of granites and marbles, which make its flora especially diverse. The Pirin flora comprises ca. 2,000 vascular plant species and is characterized by high degree of endemism. This mountain is one of the main centers of speciation for Bulgarian flora. Sixty Bulgarian and 54 Balkan endemics are established. Near the Banderitsa chalet grows the oldest tree in Bulgaria, the so-called Baikousheva mura (a Rumelian pine – Pinus heldreichii), whose age is estimated to be more than 1,300 years. Bryophyte flora of the Pirin Mts. comprises 362 species (92 liverworts and 270 mosses). This mountain is the only known locality in Bulgaria for Anastrophyllum michauxii, Cephalozia ambigua, Lophozia decolorans, Marsupella brevissima, Scapania helvetica, S. scandica, Tritomaria exsecta, Brachythecium glaciale, Bryum creberrimum, Fissidens incurvus, Isopterygiopsis muelleriana, Polytrichum perigoniale, Ptychodium plicatum, Syntrichia princeps, Tayloria froelichiana, Tortella fragilis. The Rhodope Mts. covers an area of about 18,000 km2 spread to the east of Rila and Pirin Mts. This mountain is a part of the Thracian-Macedonian massif in the central part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is a large labyrinth of long ridges and deep valleys. The length of the mountain from the east to the west is ca. 230 km. The highest peak is 2,191 m a.s.l. The mountain is divided geographically into western and eastern part, but usually three floristic regions are distinguished: western, central and eastern. The continental and Mediterranean climatic influence, and the mixture of acidic and calcareous bedrock determine the plant diversity. About 70% of the territory of the Western Rhodope Mt. (site 5) is covered by forests of Pinus sylvestris, Picea abies, Pinus nigra, Abies alba. The bedrock in the Western Rhodope Mt. is mostly gneisses and there are developed some of the largest (for the Balkan standards) Sphagnum dominated mires. The Central Rhodope (sites 6, 7, 8, and 9) are predominantly calcareous. Only the highest areas are dominated by gneisses. There are interesting karst regions, 572 caves and stone phenomena like “Wondrous bridges” (site 7) and “Trigrad gorge” (site 6). The vascular flora comprises about 1,780 species, of which 204 were listed in the Bulgarian Red Data Book. Balkan endemics are Alyssoides bulgarica, Saxifraga stribrnii, Sideritis scardica, Lilium rhodopaeum. Bulgarian endemics are Seseli rhodopeum, Sempervivum erythraeum, Viola rhodopaea, Geum rhodopaeum. Haberlea rhodopensis is a species of the Bern Convention. The bryoflora is better studied in the western and central parts of the mountain and comprises about 260 species. There are a number of species, especially on calcareous substrates, known for Bulgaria only from the Rhodopes: Barbula crocea, Cololejeunea rosettiana, Bryum stirtonii, Didymodon ferrugineus, Grimmia muehlenbeckii, Gymnostomum viridulum, Seligeria campylopoda, S. donniana, S. pusilla, Syntgrichia latifolia, but also Sphagnum obtusum in acidic habitats. Grimmia crassifolia has its only known locality in Europe in the vicinity of the Bachkovo Monastery (site 9), which we hope to find.