A priceless heritage

Texts by Saverio Bonani

In brackish wetlands the flora is numerically poor and as monotonous as ever, but highly specialized to be able to live in a hostile environment, which can be considered almost "extreme." The plants develop very effective adaptations, and this flora is called "halophilous," a word born from the union of two words of Greek origin (alos = salt and filè = friend).

Dissolved salt in water is the major agent of specialization against the flora, which defends itself with appropriate arrangements selected over millennia to regulate the water balance. Many of these herbaceous species have a "succulent" appearance, that is, more or less fleshy, typical of a succulent plant. Particular tissues in the leaves and stem store water for use during seasonal periods characterized by dryness.

The fleshy texture can be assessed by sight, but even better by touch, simply by breaking off a twig or stem. These plants thus look similar to those living in deserts, where water is extremely rare. Another strategy implemented by the flora is to cutinize the tissues (thickening and rich in light-colored hairs) to hinder evaporation and transpiration of water.

Soils that have emerged permanently or for most of the year are characterized by the presence of circulating water, where the concentration of sodium chloride reaches even higher values than those measured in open water, creating high osmotic pressure. Thus, halophilic species are plants that are simultaneously adapted to arid and salty soils and exhibit varying degrees and modes of adaptation to this combination of limiting factors.

The flora of these permanently or for a good part of the year flooded wetland environments consists mainly of herbaceous and fruiting plants, with an often inconspicuous appearance to the human eye, but peculiar, adapted to a variable environment in relation to the constantly changing water level and salinity. In contrast, typical shrubs and trees are less frequent, as they need to have a more ecologically evolved territory and anchor their roots in less water-rich and more stabilized soil.

Species reported in Cannevié Valley

Reptiles that live stably linked to the aquatic environment. Those present in Italy are moreover dulciacquicolous, so the environmental conditions of brackish water wetlands are not very favorable to them. For this reason, the herpetological fauna in Valle Cannevié is represented by few species.

Rurality, light and warmth

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