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The Altay and Sayans

B - Sayans

Hylotelephium populifolim
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 (Levites, 1961).

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
Rhododendron ledobourii
"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
Paraquilegia anemonoides
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
Corydalis bracteata
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 ladyís slippers Cypripedium macranthon, C. calceolus and C. guttatum, also the inconspicuous Herminium monorchis and Malaxis monophyllos. Ornamental herbs of the taiga grow in these
Cypripedium macranthon
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.

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