Natural vegetation of the sand ridges in the Kiskunság area

The flower of the Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphecodes) imitates a spider, it is a plant of lacustrine steppe meadows, strictly protected. (Zoltán Vajda)The western part of the county is a sandy region with a slightly undulating surface, wide sand ridges and wetter groves stretching northwest-southeast in between them (which are called wetlands here). The one-time sandy oak forests were cut down before the Hungarian Conquest. These oak forests used to form mosaics with lowland grasses as climatic and soil conditions did not allow natural evolution of close forests. The autochthonous vegetation type, the forest steppe is a wonderful dynamically changing assemblage of grassland and forest of which very small, hardly recognisable patches have remained. Unfortunately, on the basis of present law, forests should not be left thinning, the afforestation of grasslands should be prevented, this is why the existance of forest steppes is not justified, although their scenic and natural importance is invaluable. The Spring meadow saffron (Colchicum vernum) blooms in March, and marks the place of one-time forest steppes. (Zoltán Vajda)In our county, the memorial forest of Ásotthalom resembles this special biotop the most, although oak forests are secondarily but naturally substituted by White Poplar (Populus alba) groups. In the forest of Pusztaszer and in Ásotthalom we can still find beautiful gigantic old Pedunculate Oaks (Quercus robur) reminders of the one-time sandy oak forests. These trees are sure to have been planted, because maps dating from the end of the eighteenth century indicate extensive grasslands without a single tree to be found. The undergrowth of one-time oak forests cannot be found under oaks today but occur in grasslands and some species (eg. Cloth-of gold crocus) survived in acacia groves. These so-called forest steppe species include: the Spring meadow saffron (Bulbocodium vernum), the Cloth-of gold crocus (Crocus reticulatus), the Yellow Iris (Iris variegatus), the Spring adonis (Adonis vernalis), the Silver Speedwell (Pseudolysimachion incanum), the Sand Colchicum (Colchicum arenarium), the Sand Iris (Iris arenaria) and the White Grape Hyacinth (Muscari botryoides). In bigger forest patches, genuine forest plants occur, like the Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), the Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum latifolium) and the Red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra).

The vegetation of clearings in sand forest steppes are (Astragalo austriacae-Festucetum sulcatae), (Festucetum vaginatae) and sporadically (Pseudolysimachio spicatae-Salicetum rosmarinifoliae) communities.

The Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) appears on sand banks emerging from wetlands. (Zoltán Vajda)The pretty, colourful stands of close sand steppes rich in species, remained on smaller sand ridges inside wetlands because the wider sand ridges are cultivated. Chrysopogon gryllus is common in grasslands and is often accompanied by fescues: Festuca pseudovina and Festuca rupicola-these two are hard to tell apart in the field. The following steppe meadow species are relatively common: the Hungarian pink (Dianthus pontederae), the Meadow Clary (Salvia pratensis), (Centaurea sadleriana), the Hungarian Milfoil (Achillea pannonica) and the Meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris). This area is quite rich in valuable species. Among these are steppe species mentioned above, which used to belong to the undergrowth of the one-time forests. Stands today bear a relation to fen meadows, which is marked by the following orchid species: the Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), the Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphecodes), the Bug orchid (Orchis coriophora),the Military orchid (Orchis militaris) and the Timball orchid (Orchis Timballii).

The Cloth-of-gold crocus (Crocus reticulatus) is one of the first flowers appearing in early spring, nowadays it occurs in acacia groves but originally it is characteristic of forest steppes. (Csaba Barkóczi)As a result of grazing, the community is transforming into sandy pasture (Potentillo-Festucetum pseudovinae) several sensitive species are disappearing, and disturbance tolerating weed species are appearing instead of them. Overgrazing was common even in the 1960s, nowadays, however it is the lack of grazing and mowing that causes problems.

Open sand steppes are formed in dry, often heavily undulating sandy areas with low contents of organic matter. Nowadays on most of these areas we find tree plantations, mainly of pine and acacia. Open sand meadows remained along cuttings of cultivated forests on smaller, not afforested, steep-sided dunes. A characteristic meadow species is the Hungarian fescue (Festuca vaginata) which is sometimes substituted by the Sand feather-grass (Stipa borysthenica). There are many open sand surfaces among the big tufts of these two species. The community comprises of species which are adapted to extremely dry, often shifting (moving), loose sand: the Alkanet root (Alkanna tinctoria), Onosma arenaria, the Sand cinquefoil (Potentilla arenaria), the Sand stonecrop (Sedum hillebrandtii) and the Rock Garden Plant (Alyssum tortuosum). The nice, white Alpine Dianthus (Dianthus serotinus) and the yellow flowered (Erysimum diffusum) appear in the summer aspect. In autumn Polygonum arenarium and Kochia laniflora are common and the Sand saffron (Colchicum arenarium), the Sand violet (Syrenia cana) are in flower. Water conditions of low-banks (wetlands) between wide sand ridges, is much better: these areas are close to the level of underground water which allows for the development of marshes, fens, wet meadows and alkaline fields. In case of the development of an impermeable layer or in case of periodic draught, salts carried by underground water accumulate hence alkaline fields develop. If the level of underground water is continuosly high, there is waterflow from the deeper layers and there is no salt accumulation, hence fens and swamps develop. The Sand Colchicum (Colchicum arenarium) is a Pannonian endemic species and blooms at the same time with the Autumn crocus. (Zoltán Vajda)Though the vegetation map shows swampy and alkaline patches separately, they may also occur together in one wetland. Moors have few species, dominant species can be: the Common reed (Phragmites australis) and different sedge species (Carex acutiformis, C. riparia, C. divisa, C. hirta). Moors becoming alkaline are common with the dominant Sea Club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus). Characteristic and quite valuable communities of wetlands are fen meadows (Succiso-Molinietum). The dominant species are the Blue Moor-grass (Molinia hungarica) a long grass with bluish panicle , which flowers at the end of the summer, and different sedge species (Carex panicea, Carex acutiformis, Carex flacca). The Common Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis), the Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica), the Saw-wort (Serratula tinctoria) and the Banate Knapweed (Centaurea banatica) are also characteristic. Marshy or alkaline meadow species often appear as well. On the basis of their appearence even, mown stands and marshy, fresher, not mown stands (which show transition to reeds) can be separated. Gentiana pneumonanthe is a kin species of alpine gentians, it grows on fen meadows. (Sándor Vadász)Besides the Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica) -which occurs in quantities of several thousand turfs –in certain areas the Butterfly Iris (Iris spuria), the Superb pink (Dianthus superbus), Gentiana pneumonanthe, the Marsh orchid (Orchis laxiflora ssp. palustris), the Early marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata) and the Marsh Helleborine orchid (Epipactis palustris) are valuable species. The Marsh sword-grass (Gladiolus palustris), the Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) and the White Hellebore (Veratrum album) are only recorded from a few habitats. Unfortunately seriously degraded, completely dry, weedy stands also occur but these are not typical.

On the bare alkaline surfaces the salt 'blooms'. The extremely halphyte Lepidium crassifolium lives here. (Katalin Margóczi)Solonchak alkaline fields also occur in some wetlands (eg. Tanaszi-semlyék, Lódri-szék, Csipak-semlyék, Dorozsmai Nagyszék) but the county has more extensive alkaline lakes too. Most of Lake Fehér of Szeged and Lake Csaj have been converted to fish ponds, thus alkaline vegetation remained in a very small area. But we can still admire the vegetation of Büdös-szék, Pusztaszer in its natural state. The most characteristic plant of solonchak alkaline fields is Lepidium crassifolium. In summer, in the most extreme alkaline patches, the Salt-marsh „flowers” as salt precipitates on the soil and the white-flowered, thick-leaved Lepidium crassifolium and Camphorosma annua also grow here in smaller patches. In parts of alkaline fields that parch later, Puccinellia limosa dominates. Violet patches of the Sea aster (Aster tripolium ssp. pannonicus) are rather pretty. The yellow-flowered Sea plantain (Plantago maritima) with succulent leaves is common, and another plantain species, the white-flowered (Plantago schwarzenbergiana) can occur in large numbers (the latter is a protected, endemic species).

The orchid (Orchis laxiflora subsp. palustris) is still quite common, but its habitat is endangered. (Zoltán Vajda)Swampy or alkaline meadows (Agrostio-Caricetum distantis) are extensive stands with variable composition of species. These are situated between alkaline bulges and fen meadows forming several transitions with them. The fine panicled Creeping bent (Agrostis stolonifera) and the green colour of the Meadow sedges (Carex distans) form the basis of the community, in which the yellow Common meadow-rue (Thalictrum flavum), the thorny, endemic thistle (Cirsium brachycephalum) with light violet flowers, the scarlet-flowered Marsh orchid (Orchis laxiflora subsp. palustris) are the most common colouring elements. In wetter parts the following swampy species dominate: the Saltmarsh rush (Juncus gerardii), the Marsh spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris), the Sea Club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus), the Sea arrowgrass (Triglochin maritima) and the Water mint (Mentha aquatica).