ORNAMENTAL PLANTS IN THEIR NATURAL HABITATS
The Altay and Sayans
B - Sayans
The Sayan mountains occupy an area of 455,000 sq km (175,600 sq
miles) and latitudinally extend more than 1,300 km (800 miles)
between the Altay mountains and Lake Baykal, and include the East
(Vostochnyy) and West (Zapadnyy) Sayan mountain systems. The East
Sayan is situated between the cities of Krasnoyarsk (on the Yenisey
River) and Irkutsk (on the Angara River) whereas the West Sayan lies
between the Abakanskiy Range and the Upper Biryusa River. These
mountains give rise to the Yenisey, one of the longest rivers in
Siberia. The tallest Sayan peaks are Munku-Sardyk (3,491 m/11,450 ft)
in the east, Piramida (2,792 m/9,160 ft) near the River Kan, as well
as Grandioznyy (2,936 m/9,630) and Figuristiy (2,625 m/8,610 ft) both
belonging to the Kryzhina Range. Some glaciers appear in these
mountain systems, and some high peaks are covered with snow, but most
are not. Their gloomy tops are called "goltsy" in Russian. This word
is very popular in the Russian botanical literature and means "bare
rocks". In their origins, the Sayan and the Altay have much in common.
As the Altay, the Sayan have various Archaean schists and Proterozoic
rocks. Scientists believe that the Sayans mountains were formed (folded)
during the Hercynian orogeny (345-280 billion years ago). They report
that the Sayans uplift began at the end of Tertiary period and continues
to the present, and that there was never complete glaciation of the range
For a long time the vegetation of the Sayans was little known. The
lack of roads, dense taiga (coniferous forest) and swift running numerous
mountain rivers all make any expedition through the Sayan difficult.
Significant is the territory is very sparsely populated (one person per
20 sq km/7.7 sq miles). Intensive expeditions during the past 40 years
have resulted in the publication of floristic works (Malyshev, 1965),
concentrating on Sayan region.
Botanists have established that the Sayans can best be described by
division into a number of altitudinal belts. Accordingly, Malyshev (1965)
believed that six belts could be recognized in the East Sayans:
forest-steppe, forest, subalpine tundra, alpine tundra, subnival and
snow. The subalpine and the alpine tundra were called "subgoltsy" and
"goltsy," respectively, in order to stress that the Siberian mountains,
and the Sayans in particular, differ greatly from the European Alps and
that the same altitudinal divisions were not applicable to both.
Siberian taiga covers immense territory, and the forest belt reaches to
1450-1600 m (4,760-5,250 ft) in West Sayan, and to 2,000-2,200 m
(6,500-7,700 ft) the East Sayan. Predominant trees in the East Sayan
forests include pine or Pinus sibirica ("kedr" in Russian) and
various species of larch or Larix. The three high mountain belts,
subgoltsy, goltsy and snow, occupy one-third of the Sayan. Major to the
formation of these vegetation types are mosses and lichens, dwarf shrubs
such as Dryas oxyodonta, Betula rotundifolia and Salix glauca,
as well as tough sedges Carex ensifolia and C. stenocarpa.
The best places for plant hunting are the boundaries of the subgoltsy and
the goltsy or subalpine and alpine tundras. Here, Malyshev (1965) gives
an example. In the region called Tunkin Alps he counted more than 40
plant species in 100 square meter (120 sq yd). In dry and moderately
wet places of the subalpine belt, Betula rotundifolia and
Rhododendron parvifolium are predominant along with various
perennials such as Hedysarum inundatum, Gentiana algida, Vaccinium
vitis-idaea, Pachypleurum alpinum, Festuca species, Oxytropis
kusnetzovii and Peducularis oederi. In moister places with
considerable precipitation, Rhododendron aureum, Phyllodoce caerulea,
Vaccinium species, Bergenia crassifolia and Anemonastrum sibiricum
occur. The attractive Rhododendron adamsii adorns the southern
hills with its heads of 7-15 pink flowers in early summer. Steep cliffs
are covered by driads Dryas punctata and D. oxyodonta.
Accompanied by Campanula dasyantha, Callianthemum sajanense and
Paraquilegia anemonoides these hills become even more attractive.
Rhodiola quadrifida, and Potentilla biflora are cushion
plants and look very nice growing between rocks, and other cushion-formers
can be seen on talus and screes, e.g., Sibbaldia tetrandra.
Precipitation amounts were indicated by the meteorological station near
the Ilíchir Lake to 500 mm (19,7≤) per year. In humid locales,
precipitation might be twice as much, but no such information is
available because of the lack of meteorological stations in that area.
Some localities within the Sayan mountains are available for visitors
from early spring to late autumn, and wonderful botanical excursions can
be undertaken from the large Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, which is
situated on the River Yenisey and close to the famous "Stolby" reserve.
This is small-mountain country with its rocky peaks, small ridges, and
streams along the valley floors. The reserve is mostly covered by forest
of Siberian spruce Picea obovata and Siberian larch Larix
sibirica with pine Pinus sibirica prevailing on rockier soils.
Ten high granitic rock pillars tower above these hills and are accompanied
by many lower ones. These high pillars are named the "Grandfather," the
"Grandmother" and the muzzle-like "Lion's Mouth". In spring, the "Stolby"
reserve and the foothills of the Sayan are spectacularly adorned by the
purple-flowered Primula cortusoides, the bright blue-violet
Pulmonaria mollis, a whitish-flowered Anemonoides reflexa,
a white-yellow A. jenisseenesis, as well as the yellow
Corydalis bracteata and pink-violet C. impatiens.
In the Sayan foothills east of Krasnoyarsk, Anemonastrum crinitum,
Aquilegia sibirica and Oxytropis strobilacea bloom continually
through the spring and summer in glades that border birch forests. Iris
ruthenica favors the stony slopes, and various orchids, though rare,
can be found there as well. Among these orchids are the large-flowered
Cypripedium macranthon, C. calceolus and C.
guttatum, also the inconspicuous Herminium monorchis and
Malaxis monophyllos. Ornamental herbs of the taiga grow in these
glades and in rocky areas. Among them are the delicate bulb lily
Lilium pumilum [=L. tenuifolium] and several representatives of
the Crassulaceae family, for example, Orostachys spinosa, which
forms fleshy-leaved rosettes to 10 cm (4") across. Like the Altay, the
Sayan hills are adorned by Paeonia anomala which grows at forest
margins and when in flower its spherical bushes are covered by large
pinkish-red flowers. Aster alpinus adds to the hills bright
splashes of mauve-colored flowers. Another lovely member of the Asteraceae
family is Chrysanthemum zawadskii [=Dendranthema zawadskii], a
polymorphic, widespread species that produces in the Sayan large pink
inflorescences. The sky-blue Aquilegia glandulosa grows along the
snow line, and it should be mentioned among the best ornamentals occurring
in the Sayan and the Altay due to large flowers and long flower period.
Many species occuring in southern Siberia, especially in the Altay and
the Sayans, are at the eastern extent of their ranges there, but some
Altaian species extend southwest into Central Asia.
The Altaian and Sayans flora contains great potential for ornamental
herbs and shrubs, some of which have been investigated in the Central
Sibirian Botanical Garden, Novosibirsk and also at the South Siberian
Botanical Garden of the Altay State University, Barnaul. Both of these
gardens display wonderful collections of herbaceous plants, shrubs and
trees, collected from all over Siberia.