Biodiversity and beauty
In a country like Italy whose flora has a greater number of species than any other European nation, the province of Cuneo is one of the richest areas of plant biodiversity. The most decisive contribution to this great floral heritage is provided by the Maritime Alps. If we consider the entire Alpine chain, only the Julian Alps at the other end of the range, can compare. Our sector in particular has been called main centre of endemism thanks to the presence of numerous plant species that grow exclusively in this area. The reasons for this amazing wealth are numerous.
First of all, the extreme south-western arm of the Alps is a meeting point for the most diverse species and explains the current juxtaposition of alpine, subalpine, Apennine, Mediterranean and Middle-European species.
The geographic location of the Maritime Alps played a fundamental role for its biodiversity being situated in a peripheral position in the Quaternary glaciations, which elsewhere had the effect of cancelling all traces of previous events. During the glaciations the peaks of these mountains, being so close to the sea, remained free of ice, creating providential shelters for a large number of plants which today would have disappeared.
In this refuge function an important role was played by the abundance of highly selective apparently hostile environments, such as cliffs and debris that offered a suitable environment for species that in a more "normal" situation would have been overwhelmed by more aggressive plants.
Added to this is the effect produced by the vicinity, sometimes in the space of a few hundred meters, of calcareous and siliceous substrates, capable of guaranteeing favourable conditions for botanical species inseparably linked to one or the other type of substrate to grow.
Another important contribution was made by the morphology of the territory: the continuous alternation of ridges, valleys, gullies and precipices, has in fact given rise to an infinity of microclimates, under whose influence the different species have been able to establish themselves and spread.
The Maritime Alps Park thus faithfully reflects the correlation between the wealth of physical environments and the variety of the biological population. Within its borders the peculiarities on show translated into numbers give us a flora of about two thousand species of higher plants – add another five hundred units when mushrooms, liverworts, mosses and ferns are taken into consideration – equivalent to about a quarter of the entire Italian flora.
You can see the Park's plants along the paths, or in the Botanic Gardens Valderia in Terme di Valdieri. The garden hosts more than 500 plant species, distributed in fourteen environments representative of the Maritime Alps' ecosystems.