Romania - trip report

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#1)  Romania - trip report

Postby Darian Copiz » Sat Aug 22, 2015 7:23 pm

August, a year ago (2014), I took a trip with my family to Romania. Although seeing trees was part of my intent for the trip, it wasn’t as much the group’s intent, and I ended up only having limited time to explore. As a result, I made almost no measurements – only two. However, those measurements, pictures, and a little description may be of some interest.

Prior to the trip I did some research and came across a variety of maps showing areas of virgin and old growth forest. It should be noted, that these labels don’t necessarily have the same meaning we associate with the terminology in the U.S. In some cases, the term “old growth” may be very similar to what we consider it, but often both of these terms refer more to natural forests with minimal disturbance from man. One area we visited was the Prahova Valley, in the mountains north of Bucharest.  A map showed a relative abundance of virgin forest on the slopes of this valley. However, this was an ancient trade route since before Roman times. Additionally, the name of one town in the valley, Busteni, is translated as “logs.” Although it is now a resort town, the name seems a clear indicator it was originally a logging village. These considerations are a caveat to the attributed age of the forests.

I measured the heights of two Picea abies on the grounds of Peleș Castle in Sinaia, a town south of Buşteni. Sinaia was founded as a monastery in 1695 (named after Sinai in Egypt). In the late 1800s, Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen lineage selected an area near the monastery to construct a summer retreat (the castle). My family was visiting here because of our connection to the area, which started with my great grandfather who worked as a painter in the construction of the castle. Access to the castle was along the little valley directly to the south, which was lined on both sides by carriageways. However, it appears the forest in the narrow interior of the valley was left relatively intact. This is where I saw some tall spruce. I measured two trees from the carriageway on the south side of the valley. I got 148.6’ for the first one, and 150.1’ for the second. I didn’t measure the trunks, but would guess they were in the 18-24” dbh range. This was a very small taste for the species, growing in a somewhat preserved, but fairly open, less than pristine woods. I also saw it as a dominant component of the forests on the Bucegi plateau, just to the west. I would be interested in what some of the undeveloped, densely forested valleys running east from the plateau would produce.

Peleș Castle

Valea Pelesului, south of Peleș Castle

This Picea abies (in center of picture), along Valea Pelesului, was 150.1 feet tall. I measured another nearby at 148.6 feet. A bit of Peleș Castle is just visible on the left edge of the picture toward the bottom.

Forest of Picea abies, along Cheile Urşilor on the Bucegi plateau. The lighter green colored, more feathery trees on the slope to the left are Larix decidua.

Picea abies, in Cheile Urşilor on the Bucegi plateau

Picea abies in Valea Horoabei on the Bucegi plateau. A nearby chalet used to provide lodging for hikers, but it has since been "transferred" to a private owner. Some visitors to the area have found trash dumped nearby.

Picea abies on the Bucegi plateau

Picea abies on the Bucegi plateau. Despite being in a heavily visited national park, a section of forest adjacent to these trees had been clear cut, and the access road was severely eroded.

North of the mountains is the Transylvanian plateau. We visited some of this area also, a region where much of the farming is still traditional (maybe not for long though) and some pastures have very nice trees. We visited one of these pastures, the Breite Plateau, which is a well-known grassland with ancient oaks on a rise above the medieval city of Sighișoara. At one time there was a proposal to develop a Dracula theme park on the site, but fortunately nothing came of that. When we were there, we came across few other people – a shepherd with his sheep and dogs, and another visitor who pointed out what is supposed to be the largest and oldest tree on the plateau. He said the tree is estimated to be 800 years old. The website for the preserve also mentions 800 as an estimated age for the oldest trees. As you can see from the picture, this large tree is a double-trunk. I expect the age estimates are based on ring counts and extrapolated for the diameter of the tree. Since it’s a double-trunk though, it seems halving the estimate is reasonable. Nevertheless, it is still an impressive tree. Other oaks in the grassland were also large and picturesque, with the gnarled branches characteristic of older trees. The oak species are Quercus robur and Q. petraea, however I did not look closely enough at them to differentiate. I suspect that those with a greater amount of powdery mildew may be Q. robur.

My mother stands under an oak that has been estimated to be 800 years old. I think this is a Quercus robur, and would guess the age may be more in the 400 to 500 year old range.

An old oak (either Quercus robur or petraea) on the Breite plateau outside Sighișoara

Many of the old oaks on the Breite plateau are in decline. There are few young and medium aged oaks to replace them.

We also hiked through other pastures in Transylvania, with trees not quite as majestic, but still significant. These included more oaks, but also beech, Carpinus betulus, and Betula pendula. One grove of birches (B. pendula) was particularly interesting, because of the trees' contorted form and roughly ridged bark.

Betula pendula with rough ridged bark on a hillside pasture southeast of the village of Micloşoara

Carpinus betulus on a hillside pasture southeast of Micloşoara

A grove of oaks (Quercus robur and/or petraea) on a hillside pasture southeast of Micloşoara

Romania is known for having some of the best, and most extensive forests in Europe. It also has many areas of traditionally maintained agricultural landscapes with beautiful open grown trees. I was only able to see a tiny bit of this. It is definitely a place I would like to return. There is some urgency to this, as the forests are being logged, both legally and illegally, and as the agricultural practices become increasingly industrialized. Next time I’ll try to take some more measurements.

A pasture southeast of Micloşoara

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#2)  Re: Romania - trip report

Postby Will Blozan » Sat Aug 22, 2015 8:11 pm


Excellent post! Very nice to see more numbers from Europe and also to know you are still with us...

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#3)  Re: Romania - trip report

Postby Larry Tucei » Mon Aug 24, 2015 9:28 am

Great post. The Castle is way cool! You shot some really good photos. The big Oak is awesome! What a beauty!! Larry
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#4)  Re: Romania - trip report

Postby Bart Bouricius » Tue Aug 25, 2015 8:25 am

Fine post.  Thanks for showing us areas in Europe that still have some nice natural forest left.  My impression is that Eastern Europe still holds most of the undiscovered gems, as Western Europe, with it's huge population has pretty much logged and developed any areas that might have still contained impressive sized native trees other than lawn and roadside trees, which tend to be short and fat.
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