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Forest resources of the archipelago

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Common for many islands of the archipelago pines, birches and firs often alternate with oak- and silver-fir woods. Here one can also see plantings, which have been brought from different parts of Russia. All the plantings are 100-150 years old, that’s why they look like a botanic oasis on the severe northern mountains. The gardens, which were created by the monks, make the view even more impressive.

Making a cruise around Valaam, it is easy to see that almost all of its islands are planted with coniferous forest. Only the smallest island, which are opened to the wind, do not have woods at all. Still some bushes and herbs can be found here. Among the larger islands there is one woodless too, it is called Golyi. All the islands of Valaam are situated in-groups and seem to be under the control of the main island. However, Golyi island is situated alone 5 kms away from the other islands. Still it is not almost empty – the half of the island is planted with willow, service and other trees. There are four old pines and a few birches on the island too.

Almost 80% of the archipelago’s area is covered with woods. Woodless lands are used as fields, meadows and inhabited areas. The most typical feature of Valaam forests is that here coniferous woods prevail. This is common for taiga woods, which are not spread in Karelia.

For a long time people have not influenced the look of Valaam woods. The records of the monastery say that "the shallow soil often was the reason for the self-destruction of the forests. No matter how high and big the trees were, the wind could easily uproot them. Monks do not need to use the trees for fire".

Still some trees were uprooted for the needs of the monastery building. However, this happened only after large fires and it was necessary to get the permit of the church authorities for this. From the end of XVIII century there was no need in the timber because stone building started on Valaam. It is also known that in this period monastery brought some timber from the mainland.

The woods were injured during 1918-1939, when the archipelago belonged to Finland. In this period some war fortresses were built in the different parts of the island so the forest there was uprooted. The traces of these cuttings can be seen on Emeljanovskie islands. In the beginning of the 30-ies it was planned to sell the woods of the monastery to timber merchants. The monastery was against this but could do nothing. In the late 30-ies lots of Valaam woods (more than 300 hectares) were uprooted, still young birches and fir were planted there.

In 1959 the forests of the island were recognized as especially valuable. In 1965 a nature reserve was organized here. A new chapter in the history of the archipelago started in 1979, when Valaam got the status of historical, architectural and nature museum. In 1981 Moscow University drafted a scheme of events for renewal of the woods and creating tourist infrastructure. The further development of the woods planting was made by Kiev wood organization, which had worked with reserves of different types. We have already mentioned that coniferous plantations prevail on Valaam – they cover 94% of the area covered with woods. The most common tree is pine. This species has high ecological plasticity and is able to grow even in the most difficult conditions: on the rocks, in the sands or waterlogged soils. There are lots of stone benches, steep rocks and boulders on Valaam. Hills cover almost all the shores of the island and can be often seen in its heart. Pine is growing on all the hills. It is easily seen from the water, while one is sailing by the cliffy shores of Valaam. Here one can see three zones of different color: taupe zone of rocks, bronze zone of pine trunks and green zone of the treetops. The combination of the colors is very pleasant – it is possible to admire the scenery endlessly.

When one becomes closely acquainted with the pines growing on the rocks, one will be surprised with their extraordinary firmness and strength. We are used to the thought that a tree needs soil for growing. Soil on Valaam is very thin and sometimes there is no soil at all. However, pines are growing and feeling themselves quite good. Average height of a pine growing on rocks is about 15 meters, some trees grow up to 20 meters high. This phenomena can be explained with the statement that rocks of Valaam are rich with mineral substances and are subjected to crushing, forming, according to the words of A, Andreev, "red powder, which is favorable for flora". This author says: "Stones of Valaam fall under the influence of meteors, they are covered with cracks and can decompose to red soil. Though there is no soil on the eminances, flora of Valaam finds its nutrition in the stone cracks". Growing down to the stone cracks, pines get both enough nutrition and safe support for resisting the strongest winds. Firtrees and birches also grow on rocks. Both species are more fastidious to soils. However, birch and fir-tree in particular are adapted to rocks. While pine roots try to grow into any stonecracks, fir-tree roots just creep along its surface. That’s why in these conditions fir-trees are often uprooted by winds and can stay on rocks only under the protection of pines. Fir-woods can form only in the inner parts of the island. It is possible to say that this kind of fir-woods is typical for Valaam only because of a high fertility of the soils, which are developing on the rocks of Valaam. However, even here the area of fir-woods if not large; fir-plantations cover 5.6 hectares, which is 40 times less than in similar pineries. Still, in spite of their suitability to any conditions, life of trees on rocks is not that easy. They grow slow, almost unwillingly. Their trunks become more and more sturdy, their brushwood becomes bent and crowns look flattened. Trees never form compact groups and stand far one from another. In their struggle with the wind, each tree is able to stand up for itself. Their life is long – up to 250-300 years and more. These are the oldest plantations on Valaam.

Other pineries do not differ much from rock ones. They are drawn towards the lakeside and cover small areas direct behind the rocks. In the heart of the island one can often see ericaceae pineries, which are growing on flat areas with dry sandy soils. This wood is also characterized with low productivity. The height of pines is no more than 20 meters. However, their appearance is different. Their trunks are thin, but straight, crowns are of oval shape. There are few plantations of this kind – they take about 9.3%. Ericaceae pineries are very rich with mushrooms. Here one can find ceps, brown cap boletus and greenfinch. They are also very favourable for beekeeping. These woods are usually growing under the bed curtains of ling, which is one of the best bee plants. Bees gather 200 kg of honey from a hectare of ling. Ling honey is reach with albumen and mineral substances, it has pleasant odor and tart taste. Whortleberry pineries grow on plains or small eminencies with brown soils. This kind of wood is characterized with a higher productivity. The height of pines is 20-23 meters. A fine-grain high-quality timber is made of their trunks. Along with pines, fir-trees and birches also grow here, they make up to 20-30% of the woods. These forests mainly grow in the southern part of the island and often take considerable areas in the pineries – up to 19%.

In the ground of the whortleberry pineries there are 49 species of herbs and brushes, which is almost twice as much as in eicaceae pineries. Whortleberry prevails here. However, its harvest in the forest is not very large. It is better to gather berries in thinned out stands. Whortleberry is a light-requiring plant and it adapts to dry soils very good. That’s why it grows in all kinds of "dry" forests, including rock forests. The most spread on Valaam is bilberry kind of forest. It takes about 64% of the area covered with woods. Bilberry mainly grows in fir-woods (85%) and makes more than a half of the area of pineries. This kind of wood grows on gentle slopes and peaks of low rocks, which is especially typical for fir-plantations.

This kind of forest is a moist one. The soils are humid but not in large excess. Along with the rich soils, it makes favourable conditions for growing of trees and herbs. Here one can often see pines and fir-trees up to 25 meters high, many trees grow up to 28-30 meters. Some bilberry forests look like real groves. Pines there are high with straight trunks and small crowns. It makes a very pleasant view. There is a special name for this kind of forest – red-forest, which means red, beautiful forest. Forest yield in these plantations is 300-350 m3 per a hectare. But this is not a limit. Fir-plantations are also characterized with high productivity – up to 370-390 cubes of timber per a hectare.

However, talking about Valaam it is not the first thing to name its cubic capacity. The thing is not only that the forest is under especial protection. People simply need to leave some places on the Earth, where they will be able to admire the primitive beauty. There are not many such places left nowadays. Reserves are made for another aims and people can’t visit them free.

Bilberry forests of one breed, or as they are called pure bilberry woods, are very rare. Usually pineries are diluted with fir-trees, birches and aspens, fir-plantations – with birches and pines. The portion of each breed in the plantation may be different. Difference of forms of herbs and brushes is also typical for Valaam. There are about 90 species of herbs and bushes in pineries and 70 in fir-plantations. Bilberry does not always prevails, often its place is taken by cereals.

Even more productive types of forests can be met on Valaam. These are grass and oxalis ( about 3%) forests, overmoist forests (less than 1% in pineries and 3 % in fir-woods). These plantations make Valaam woods even more various. Over moist areas were drained in the times of the monastery, some ditches still serve as a drainage system. Nowadays they are being renovated. All together pineries take 59.4% of the Valaam area covered with forests, fir-woods – 34.4%. Still it may seem that there are much more fir-woods here. The thing is that fir-trees can be met under the curtains of pineries. Some pine plantations have so many fir-trees that it is possible to mark out a special pine-and-fir-tree woods. This woods make about 15 %. Light-requiring pine can’t grow under the curtains of fir-woods. Still sometimes it can be met in the fir-woods. That happens if pines started growing on that area earlier or at the same time as fir-trees and are not covered with its curtains. That’s why pines in the fir-woods are always of old age, while fir-trees, which grow in pineries, can be of different age.

Because of a complex relief on Valaam pineries often alternate with fir-woods. However, pineries are mainly growing in the central, southern and western parts of the archipelago. Fir-woods grow in its eastern part. The most productive fir-plantations are located on Baevskie islands, especially on the island of Bolshoi Baennyi. The average height of fir-trees here is 30-32 meters. Their trunks look like columns 40-50 cm in diameter. We’ve already mentioned that recently there have been no man’s influence on the woods of Valaam that’s why lots of old wood massifs are growing here. More than 70% of all pineries of Valaam are older than 160 years, a quarter of them belongs to old trees 200-260 years old. Some pine are 300 years old and more.

Fir-woods are younger than pineries. The oldest fir-plantations here are 180 years old. It is known that a pine and a fir-tree are of the same longevity. The absence of old fir-woods of valaam can be explained with the thing that they are easily uprooted by wind. However, most of them (72%) are older than 100 years.

There is lots of birch and aspen on Valaam. But they rarely form plantations. Birch-woods take only 5.1% of all the area covered with forest, aspen-woods take even less of the area. Birch-woods are divided into two kinds of forest: grassy and bilberry, which take 2.9 and 2.2 % of the area covered with woods correspondingly. Both of these types are characterized with high productivity and well-developed cover of herbs and bushes, which includes about 60 plant species. Birch-woods are younger than coniferous forests: their average age is 46 years, the oldest are 70 years old. Still some birches are 100-150 years old. Birch-woods mainly grow on desolated agricultural tenures and faded lands.

Though the woods of Valaam are not monotonous, birch-plantations only beautify the landscape. The main purpose of Valaam forestry specialists is to emphasize small birch-woods and to make them easy of access. A considerable place in the forests of Valaam belongs to alder-tree. It is divided into two kinds: black and gray. Black alder of Valaam belongs to the northern edge of its natural habitat, so the conditions for its breeding here are not very favourable. This is a hygrophilous species exacting to soils, but not bearing with stagnant moistening. It grows on the shores of all inner lakes of Valaam and in moist hollows, where it forms plantations together with birch and aspen-tree. All together it covers 12 hectares.

Black alder has brown fissured trunk and dark-green crown. The trunk is usually straight. The height of alder here is no more than 15-18 meters, still in other places it grows up to 35 meters. Alder wood is of red color and is valuable in furniture industry. Gray alder is less exacting to soils and can be seen almost in all types of forest, but mainly in light areas. The color of its rind is gray, crown is dark-green. Its height is no more than 15 meters. Gray alder forms small plantations on the borders of agricultural tenures. Their overall area is about 4 hectares. This species is short-lived. It rarely lives up to 40-60 years, but some trees can grow till 100 years. The best firewood is made of alder, its sprigs are good for fish smoking.

Both kinds of alder are primroses. During its flowering alder is very beautiful: its branches are covered with long dark catkins with a light clouds of yellow pollen. Later alder is decorated with green knobbles, which become black by autumn. The main part of seeds falls off before the winter, but some seed are kept in the knobbles till the spring. Redpolls and siskins eat alder seeds during winter. Visiting Valaam, on can’t miss its maples. They grow mainly in plantings, but some can be seen in the woods. Maple as well as black alder is in the northern part of its natural habitat. It is very exacting to soils. On Valaam maple grows mainly in the bilberry kind of forest under the curtain of other plantings. Old maples can be rarely seen, their height is no more than 12-15 meters. Instead the thickness of their trunks if considerable. Near the farmland of the monastery a maple, which becomes double half a meter above the ground, grows. Its trunks are 45 and 47 cm in diameter. The diameter of the crown is 15 meters.

Maples are especially beautiful in autumn, when their leaves are colored. Maples of two colors grow on Valaam: yellow and red, but there are many transitive colors. At this time even the air around the maple seems to be colorful. Speaking about the maples of Valaam, we can’t miss a so-called maple of Damaskin. According to the legend, it was planted by the superior of Valaam monastery near his hermitage on Konevskie lakes. Damaskin died in 1881 being 86 years old. The maple outlived him for 104 years and dried out in 1985. At this time it was at least 130 years old. Next year a young maple was planted at the same place. The maple of Damaskin was quite large: trunk of 58.5 cm in diameter and height of 22 meters. At the height of 3.5 meters above the ground it was divided into four trunks. By the year of its death only one trunk was alive.

Linden tree can also be seen in the forests of Valaam. It usually grows in the groups, which testifies to its stem origin. On Valaam linden blossoms late – in august, its seed grow ripe badly. The height of old lindens in the woods is 20-23 meters with the trunks of 30-40 cm in diameter. In plantings there are lindens of a larger size.

The well being of each forest depends on its undergrowth. A forest without an undergrow is a forest without the future. On Valaam all trees, but linden renew successfully. It may seem that there is no reason to worry. But it is not true. Valaam forest was hurt by elk. It is known that in the 30-40-ies there were few elks in these forests. Since the 50-ies its livestock increased and soon it came to Valaam. Nowadays there are so many elks on the island that the balance between the need of this animal and the food for it got broken.

Zoologists say that 3-4 elks are able to get food per a hectare of forest during winter. So the forests of Valaam (taking into consideration their area – 2886 hectares) are able to feed only 11 elks. However, in the 70-ies there were 40-50 of them here. The ecological balance was broken, which caused that young pines and other trees were eaten by elks and never grew high. The fir-tree was lucky enough, for elks do not like it very much.

Though the harm the elks did to Valaam was evident, for a long time this animal was not hunted for and experienced the right of a protected animal. In the late 1979 the hunt for elk was permitted m but it was ineffective and in 1985 there still were 15 elks on the islands, which was 3-4 times more than acceptable.

The result of this situation is that fir-trees prevail on all the islands. It is possible that soon all the pines will be removed by fir-woods, which is not good for Valaam because fir-trees are easily uprooted by wind. At the whole undergrowth becomes poorer. For example, rowan-tree easily renews in all kinds of forests. There are 2-3 thousands trees per hectare in dry woods and up to 7-10 thousand in the more productive ones. However, almost all of these plants are nibbles by elks and can’t grow above the snow level. Nowadays old rowan-trees can be seen on Valaam, their bearing is weak. Young trees, in their turn, are destroyed by elks.

Juniper is as spread on Valaam as rowan-tree. However, it is also nibbled by elks and is getting dry. In 1971 about 65% of the juniper was announced dissatisfactory for it was dried. It was recommended to uproot it. Old juniper was divided into two layers: the lower layer up to 2-2.5 meters high (zone accessible for elks) consists of gray brushwood, the upper one is brightly green. The berries of juniper are good for health.

There are lots of willows on Valaam (there are three kinds of them here: gray, goat and five-staminal). Honeysuckle also grows here. It is a 2-meter high bush with white and yellow flowers. Honeysuckle bears bright-red berries, which are poisonous for people, but good for birds. Another berry bush – cotoneaster grows on dry soils and can be often seen on rocks. Daphne can be rarely met on Valaam. It is a 1.5 meters high bush with flexible stalk and 3-4 side branches. It blossoms after the snow melts with beautiful lilac flowers. Its berries are also poisonous for people. It is also important to name bird cherry tree and red currant. Both of these bushes can be seen on Valaam rarely because they prefer rich and moist soils.

What are the functions of the forest in Valaam nowadays? The most evident, but not the main one is their recreational role. Valaam is becoming one of the largest centers of excursion tourism on the European North, and its forests are used for recreation. From this point of view the value of the forests is increasing due to its landscape advantages. Unfortunately, when too many tourists come to certain parts of the islands, it hurt the nature. taking care and upkeeping of plantations are the main purposes of the forestry specialists in Valaam.

The last thing is especially important because the forests of Valaam are, first of all, protection forests. In spite of a complex landscape, thin soils and large quantity of precipitation, forests of Valaam help people to live there. This was first understood by our ancestors. In the historical essay "A word about the monastery of Valaam", which was issued in 1888, the role of the forest was the following: "The only riches of Valaam is its forest, but it is not a product for selling. It decorates the island and protects it from storms for people of the island take care of it and do not use their axes. When trees become mature they are uprooted by storms, so this are storms, but not axes, which harvest fire-wood and keep the island green".

Nowadays, when thousands of tourists visit the island, these words are even more urgent. Severe storms of Ladoga harm the forests day by day. So people’s help to the forests must increase. It is also imporatnt to remember that the forests of Valaam is a very reach source of a gene pool, the importance of which will also be increasing. There are lots of historical and architectural monuments on Valaam. They fit the ensemble and represent a single architectural complex. V. Ryvkin, who have studied the island for years, says: "A symbiosis of the unique nature and distinctive architecture can be seen on Valaam. This is the unique phenomenon in the history of our culture". In general, the forests of Valaam are a real phenomenon on the map of our country. The main purpose of both forestry specialists and people is to save them for future generations.