Bavarian Forest
National Park

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Beech forest in autumn (Photo: Alice Alteneder)

The natural forest ecosystems of the Bavarian Forest National Park vary according to altitude: there are alluvial spruce forests in the valleys, mixed mountain forests on the hillsides and mountain spruce forests in the high areas. The mixed mountain forests on the hillsides, in particular, are today still strongly influenced by the former forestry regime and are endowed with an unnaturally high percentage of spruce.

Alluvial spruce forest

In the cold plains between 700m and 900m (valley areas) that are at risk from late frosts it is the Hainsimsen-Spruce-Pine forest that dominates large areas of the landscape. The trees follow the mineral wet locations in the wide stream valleys right up onto the hillsides. Together with the spruce bog forests, which are dependent on organic soils, they form the type of vegetation known in the region as alluvial spruce forest.

In the given conditions of the locality, the spruce is the most robust and therewith the predominant tree species. A few other tree species can be found in small numbers, such as white birch, black alder and willow. On the mineral soft soils the fir is the second main tree species, currently though with a share of less than 5%.

Mixed mountain forest

The raw mountain conditions in the Bavarian Forest National Park force the beech trees to share their domain with spruce and fir trees. Under the local conditions beech forests are therefore synonymous with the definition of the mixed mountain forest of beech, spruce and fir. Before commercial forestry changed the forests, the three tree species were to be found in approximately equal percentages in the composition of the mixed mountain forest.

All in all beech forests constitute in terms of surface the most significant habitat in the national park. Originally their share of the territory was much higher. However, the intensive commercial forestry in the first half of the 20th century replaced mixed forests with spruce forests over wide areas.

Essentially there are two main types of beech forest habitat in the area: the Hainsimsen beech forest and the Waldmeister beech forest, each in their typical low mountain variant as beech, fir or spruce mixed mountain forest. Here they occupy the locations with a more favourable climate between 700 and 1150m above sea level.

The Hainsimsen beech forest is the beech forest typical of nutrient poor, acidic soils that the gneiss and granite bedrock of the Bohemian Forest produces. The ground vegetation layer is limited to a few fairly rare species and transmits an initial, but false, impression of a lack of species diversity. Hidden under the bark of musty tree trunks or in the rotten wood of dead or languishing, elder beeches a gigantic army of insects lead a secret existence. Their number can only be exceeded by the abundant fungus species, which are responsible for the biological recycling of the large quantities of dead wood, which accumulates in natural forests.

As a result of its rich herbaceous flora the Waldmeister beech forest is aesthetically more attractive to visitors to the forest. On the spectrum of soil conditions it occupies the nutrient rich end, which is however only present here in relatively small quantities. In the Bavarian Forest National Park it is mostly to be found at the foot of the Große Falkenstein. In addition to the rich presence of nutrient rich plants it differs from the Hainsimsen beech forest in that it has a larger proportion of mixed trees. Whilst the Hainsimsen beech forest plays host to the three main tree species of beech, fir and spruce with only the sycamore maple joining them, the Waldmeister beech forest also hosts Norway maple, broadleaved lime, wych elm, ash, yew and wild cherry.

High spruce forest

Among the distinctive features of the Bohemian Forest are the natural spruce forests in the areas 1150 – 1200m above sea level. They are not unlike the taiga forests of the North. In the beech land of central Europe they only find a niche in which to grow in the Alps and in the higher areas of some low mountain ranges; there, where the growing season is too short for the beech tree. They are not to be confused with the artificial spruce forests established up and down the land by commercial forestry.

In the natural spruce forests in the high areas the spruce are more or less on their own. With annual average temperatures of 2° to 4° Celsius, nearly seven months of snow cover and nutrient poor, acid soils, just a few individual maples and rowans manage to grow old together with the spruce.

Like the tree population the ground vegetation is similarly uniform. Only a few species - those that are adapted to acidic soil conditions - are found in this type of forest. Grasses, in particular reed grass and wavy hair grass form thick carpets and cover large areas. They thereby make the natural regeneration of the spruce considerably more difficult. The young radicle can barely penetrate this grass layer. In such conditions the spruce has to try another way to secure its continued existence. This alternative place to take root can be found in the form of dead spruce wood on the ground. In a particular state of decomposition it constitutes an ideal seed bed for spruce seedlings. It provides sufficient water and nutrients, protects from the competition of grasses and ferns as well as from the pressure and strain caused by the thick snow cover.