::: Flora and vegetation of mountain Orjen :::

High mountain:

Orijen is the highest mountain of the coastal Dinaric orogen. In other words this is the only high mountain of Dalmatia. The term was defined by Carl Troll (German geographer). High mountain geomorphology, climate and vegetation characteristics differ significantly from other areas and lower mountains.

Sl. 1. Mnogobrojni cirkovi pod Orjenom i Buganja gredom sa severa
(Numerous cirques under Orjen and Buganja Greda from the north)

The high mountains are the Alps, Pyrenees, Caucasus, Himalayas, Rocky Mountains and so on. Balkan Mountains partiallly meet the definition of a high mountain, requiring the following attributes:

1. mountain rises above the snow border that allows the formation of glaciers, or that such existed during the Pleistocene.

2. alpine vegetation habitat above the forest limit area.

3. that between the forest, and (if exists) snow line, solifluvidijal processes are present.

4. that terrain is characterized by steep slopes and that the relative relief energy is greater than 500m.

The alpine vegetation area on Orjen masiff is formed on all the major peaks and ridges. Solifluvidijal processes, as a result of daily freezing and defrosting of soil were observed mainly on the northern slopes of Jastrebica, Buganja Greda, Reovačka Greda, Pazue and in the Pavlovića valley below Zubački Kabao. Rock creeps are the most striking consequences of these processes. Relief energy that reaches the absolute value of 1893 m and 650 m relative to the horizontal distance of 1 km, would also correspond to the classification of Orjen as high mountain.


The only thing that could took away Orjen recognition as the high mountain is the lack of glacier. It is known that glaciers in the Balkans are non-existent. But it wasn't like this 20 000 years ago. Glaciers, with its large mass and energy have shaped the mountains like Prokletije, Durmitor, Pirin, Rila, Prenj and Orjen. Great German geographer PENCK (CVIJIĆ teacher) in 1899 found that during the Pleistocene Orjen masiff layed 700 m above the snow limit. Huge glaciers developed, coming down to the edge of the Bay of Kotor. Glaciers have left a number of  cirques, moraines, rock waves etc. Glacier waves are formed in the Reovackom and Dobri valleys. They had a length of 10 km and ended with a large terminal moraines. Subra Amfiteater is the geomorphic evolution of specific types of avalanche cirque. Such cirques can be found in the western Alps, the Caucasus and the Himalayas.

Sl.2 Pleistocenska glacijacija zapadne strane Orjena prema Vrbanju
(Pleistocene glaciation on the west side of Orjen masiff, towards village of Vrbanje)

According to a survey of Orjen masiff glaciation, ice mass has reached a size of 109 km ² and a thickness of up to 350 m. The former glaciers still affect the ecology of Orjen. The reason is the fact that the region of Orjen belongs to the most prominent non-tropical karst. Such quantitative and qualitative developed karst has "unfavorable" features.

First, today's subtropical climate, which is predominant on the Orijen masiff, doesn't allow the formation of drainage systems with small and big rivers. The whole amount of precipitation sinks and is lowered by the gravitational force to a depth of barrier layers. The consequence is aridity of the area.

The second is slow and weak soil development. Except for terra rossa which is of fossil origins and was formed several million years ago, on a compact limestone under subtropical climate, there is no deeper soil. Only when there is a strong translocation such as slips, deep soil layers are formed. Pure limestone as Dinaric, with more than 95% CaCO3, disallows that residual minerals, of which there are very few, remain as unlimited base in land evolution.


If the initial substrate is not compact rock, but more like a rock creep or sediment composed of broken stone, these are better conditions for pedogenesis. Such sediment exists on Orjen masiff where the glaciers were. Moraine deposits are not subject of karstification by  capillary absorption they hold considerable amounts of water. The reason why moraines are not subject of karstificationa is their big primary porosity, which causes that corrosion processes that create a real karst, such as cracks, holes etc, can not form. Undoubtedly, moraines are the best base for pedogenetic evolution of karst.

Sl. 3 Vrh Vucjeg zuba sastavljen od jako ubranih mezozojiskih sedimenata
(Vučji zub peak is composed from very folded Mesozoic sediments)

On the Orjen masiff, high woods grow solely on such substrates. The pine forested moraine near village of Kameno is one of these locations as well as all the other moraines of all 17 Orijen glaciers, of which four go down to Vrbanj field. On the other coastal mountains such freezing did not happen and there are no qualitatively similar habitats.

Other existing land belongs to the mountain black soils (buavica, rencine). Mountain black soils are rich in humus. Because of the shallowness they are not favorable for the forests. Laboratory tests of Orjen land showed that land in the moraines have a pH of 4.5 (acidic) to 7 (slightly basic). It is well supplied with nitrogen and has a sufficient amount of clay. Clay is a crucial factor in soil nutrient content. The depth of the soil is greater than 1 m which makes it easier for vegetation to come to water during the summer drought.

Climate and vegetation:

Ledeno doba je imalo još jednu veliku posledicu. Za više od 2 miliona godina koliko je trajalo, izmenio se živi svet. Biljke i životinje, koje se nisu mogle prilagoditi teškim uslovima promene klime su isčesele. Tako živi svet na Orjenu još uvek nosi pečat dobijen u vreme glacijacije. To je razumljivo ako se realisuje da se ledeno doba završilo samo pre 10.500 godina. Zadnji glečer se sa Orjena povukao pre 15.000 godina. Ostale su neke biljke koje su inače iz arktičnih krajeva našle utočiste na najvišim vrhovima. Takve glacijalne relikte nađene na Orjenu su Dryas octopetala (retko na Jastrebici), Leontopodium alpinum (naveden u literaturi), Hieracium villosum, Betula pendula (tek 2002 nađena na Veljem letu).

Ice age left another big trace. As it lasted for more than 2 million years, it changed the living world. Plants and animals that could not adapt to difficult conditions of climate change have become extinct. Thus, the flora and fauna of Orjen still bears the mark obtained at the time of glaciation. This is understandable if you realize that the Ice Age ended only 10,500 years ago. Last glacier retreated from Orjen 15,000 years ago. Some plants that are otherwise from Arctic found refuge on the highest peaks. Such glacial relics, which were found on Orjen are Dryas octopetala (rarely found on Jastrebica) Leontopodium alpinum (listed in the literature), Hieracium villosum, Betula pendula (found in 2002 on Velje ljeto peak).

Sl. 4 Klimatski diagram Crkvice (1930- 1961)
(Climatic diagram of Crkvice (1930 - 1961))

Jako istureni teren daje muniki mogučnost za opstanak. U nižim zonama submediteranske vrste zamene bukvu. Te šume su bogatije vrstama ali zbog blizkosti naselja jaće devastirane. Javor gluvači, beli i crni grab, cer, makedonski hrast i druge stvaraju šume bogate žbunima. Najlepše su razvijene kod Knežlaca i u Jasenovom dolu. U prizemnoj flori dominiraju termofilne biljke a naroćito ima mnogo vrsta orhideja, divlju lalu i šumaricu.

With forced lifting of water vapor up the cold Dinarides in winter, condensation occurs and results in the heaviest rainfall in Europe. Snow cover is present in Bijela Gora region for more than 140 days. Closeness to the sea causes dominance of beech forests. On deeper soils beech prevents other trees to settle. Only in some colder parts of the Bijela Gora fir manages to compete. Fir is the only exception because it is able to grow in a very shadowed places and has a longer life span than beech. The old fir trees reach the age of more than 300 years and Bosnian pine trees (Pinus heldreichii) over 500 years old are not uncommon. Very vertical terrain gives the chance for the survival of Bosnian pine. In the lower zones, sub-mediterranean species replace beech. These forests are richer in species but more devastated  due to the proximity of villages. Maple, white and black hornbeam, oak and other species create shrub rich forests. Best examples are near Knežlaz and Jasenov valleys. The ground flora is dominated by thermophilous plants and in particular there are many species of orchids and wild tulips.

Vegetation zones:

Zonacija je redosled vegetacionih formacija koje se menjaju na vertikalnom i horizontalnim profilu. Na Orjenu u 4 klimazonalnim visinskim pojasima ima šest vegetacionih formacija koje spadaju u dve velike evolucione grupe: mediteransku i evrosibirisku. Vegetacione klase su obeležene svojim latinskom imenom, a stub na levoj strani pokazuje kojoj klimatskoj zoni pripadaju.

Zoning is the order of vegetation formations that change on the vertical and horizontal profile. Orjen has four climate height zones with six vegetation formations that fall into two major evolutionary groups: Mediterranean and Evro-siberian. Vegetation zones are labeled with their Latin name, a column on the left shows the climatic zone where they belong.

ME= meridional (subtropical zones, including supra-mediterranean belt)

NE= nemoral (temperate, deciduous zone)

BO= boreal (end of the taiga, larch zone)

AL= alpin (end of the tundra, alpine grassland zone)

na slici ispod su izdvojene jelove formacije. Jelka je najvrednije drvo šumskih kompleksa i prisutna je samo na severnom delu Orjena u Bijeloj gori (Sl 6). Tu sa bukvom naseljava morene.

shown below are extracted fir formations. Fir is the most valuable timber tree and is present only in the northern part of Orjen in the Bijela Gora. There it inhabits the moraines with beech forest.

Sl. 5 Vegetacijski profil kroz Orjen sa izdvojenim jelovim kompleksima
(Vegetation profile through Orjen with fir complexes isolated)

Within the forestal zone fir inhabits openings or very broken and vertical rocks, together with bosnian and black pine. Above the forest is alpine area which is most prominent to the wind (bora, scirocco). Some munika trees survive on the highest peaks. The Alpine area is the environmentaly most critical zone. With a variety of adaptations flora manages  to withstand strong winds, low temperatures, increased solar radiation and short vegetation period.

Comparative analysis of the Velebit and Orjen masiff showed that Orjen is the most diverse coastal mountain Dinarides. it is centre of Illyrian endemism and some plants are strictly limited to this range.

The picture below was taken in April at Bijela Gora under Pazua and Medjugorje. Glacier influence is most noticeable in appearance of these two distinctly glacial shaped tops. A cirque is formed between them. Forest areas with beech and  fir settle deep soils on moraines. Above the dense forests,  individual groups of fir and munika settle between the rocks. The highest parts are under the snow or if the landscape does not allow retention of snow, towering alpine cliffs are inhabited with specialized vegetation. Snow has a positive effect on vegetation. It protects it from harsh frosts and allows retention of water sediment in the vegetative period. Spring is characterized by various types of saffron (Crocus dalmaticus), meadow procjepak (Scilla litardierei), Muscari bortryoides, Erythronium dens-canis, Njezna kockavica (Fritillaria gracilis). When the beech forest leafs bloom spring is perfect, but in a slightly higher brighter fir and especially munika forests this happens later. This zone includes significant Alpine species, which with their diversity decorates the landscapes. In subtropical regions the difference between northern and southern exposure is most pronounced.

Sl. 6 Jelovo-Bukove šume na Bijeloj gori
(Jelovo-beech forest on Bijela gora)

Southern exposures are drier and warmer and northern are wetter and colder. Mediterranean elements are present exclusively on the southern exposure. Forests of primeval character can be found in inaccessible areas with large beech, fir and munika trees. Fir is particularly interesting. The population of the Bijela Gora is somewhat different from other populations of the Dinaric, except perhaps those on Biokovo. In the Pleistocene there was a hybridization of the two Balkan species of fir, European and Greek. Hybrid populations are particularly present in Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece. More detailed studies of Orjen fir population were not conducted. Fir specimens were taken to the Botanical Institute Bajrojt. Rainforests with fir remained partially on Gvozd and along the ridge from Gumbar to Velje ljeto. Unfortunately at the beginning of 60-es felling began in the Bijela Gora, and substantial parts were devastated. The rest should be protected as soon as possible  because of its aesthetic value and genetic potential.

Sl. 7.       Veliki primjerci jele u Bijeloj gori

Sl. 7.       Veliki primjerci jele u Bijeloj gori
(Large specimens of fir in Bijela gora)


Orjen flora has been studied since 1835. At the beginning, foreign researchers improved the knowledge of the floristic richness. 170 years of research have not revealed all. Inaccessible terrain and only excursion visits did not give results as provided by detailed research. So even today one can find a new specie for science, as is the case with one iris specimen. Hitherto not described species were recorded: Acer heldreichii - mountain maple, Saxifraga Frederic-Auguste, Paeonia mascula - Peony, Betula pendula - Birch. Wide diversity of flora is a consequence of the position between the two floral provinces, the Illyrian and the Adriatic, and favorable climatic and geomorphological conditions. Considerable range height allows retention of glacial relicts. On the other side on the lower and southern regions Tertiary relicts of ice age have survived. In special circumstances, provided by poor rocky  habitat, they have succeeded to avoid strong competition from "generalists". These are Amphoricarpus Neumayer, Moltkia Petrea, Corylus collurna , Pinus heldreichii, Acer heldreichii, Paeonia mascula, Taxus baccata.

Sl. 8   Retke Biljke i životinje ekosistema Orjena: Saxifraga frederici-augusti i Acer heldreichii dosad su bile nezabeležene, pri vrhu Veljeg leta (1603m)  najinteresantnijie fitocenose sa perunikom i božurom, jelovo-bukove zajednice su sklonište divljači.

Sl. 8   Retke Biljke i životinje ekosistema Orjena: Saxifraga frederici-augusti i Acer heldreichii dosad su bile nezabeležene, pri vrhu Veljeg leta (1603m)  najinteresantnijie fitocenose sa perunikom i božurom, jelovo-bukove zajednice su sklonište divljači.
(Rare plants and animals of Orjen ecosystem: Saxifraga frederici-augusti and Acer heldreichii have so far been unrecorded,  near the top Velje ljeto (1603m) the most interesting fitocenose with iris and peony, fir and beech communities are wildlife shelter.)

Florni inventar Orjena nije u celosti poznat i može se samo predpostaviti priličan broj. Lovćen koji nije toliko raznolik i bogat vrstama kao Orjen drži oko 1300 taksona viših biljaka. To je u neku ruku minimum koji zbog klimatskih, geoloskih i geomorpholoskih slićnosti možemo očekivati na Orjenu. Kartografsko prikazivanje ekositema Orjena Sl. 10 je početno urađeno satelitskom klasifikacijom. Treba doduše snimiti na terenu fitocenoške zajednice. Taj posao bi tražio višegodišnje ulaganje značajnih institucija zemlje. Dosad za to nema puno perspektive ni interesovanje zvaničnih strana. Sopstvene rezultate fitocenološkim snimajnem u Bijeloj gori biće publikovani iduće godine. Za sada je to i jedini moderni rad koji obuhvata vegetaciju Orjena. Ne treba da ostane tako.

The pisture below shows a copy of the new type of iris along with smaller Iris reichenbachii. Specimens of so far unnamed iris were sent to botanical gardens in Prague and Zagreb. It should be carried to Belgrade and Bajrojt. The expert team will work on taxonomy of these plants with most modern methods. So far there are only two known sites on Vučji zub and Velje Ljeto. Probably there are more on the south side of Reovačka greda, but it remains to be confirmed. The plant is otherwise real alpine species and belongs to a group of blue Iris pallida. Orjen floral inventory is not entirely known, and we can only assume approximate number. Lovćen masiff, as a less diverse and abundant with species, holds approximately 1300 taxon of higher plants. It is a minimum, due to climatic, geological and geomorphologic similarities, we can expect at Orjen. Cartographic representation of Orjen ecosystems was initially done with satellite classification. Phytocenose communities  should be recorded on field. This work would seek multi-year investment of significant institutions of the country. So far, there is not much perspective or interest of the official parties for it. Our results of phytocoenological research of the Bijela Gora will be published. For now, this is the only modern work that includes Orjen vegetation. It should not remain so.

Sl.9 Nova forma Perunike sa Orjena (levo Iris reichenbachii, desno novi takson)(A new form of Iris from Orjen (Iris reichenbachii left, a new taxon right ))

The classification of vegetation based on satellite image

Sl. 10      Klasifikacija vegetacije na basi satelitskog snimka

Pavle Cikovac

design by INS