History of study of the Abkhazian endemic flora
For the first time a unique flora of Northern Kolkhida opened the Russian botanist N.M Albov and after that he began its systematic study. From 1888 during the seven years he annually made botanical trips to Northern Kolkhida. As a result of processing of vast amount of material Albov described 76 new, precinctive to Kolkhida species, 45 of which were of limestones, and more than 15 of them were precinctive to Abkhazia.After N.M. Albov in pre-revolutionary period, a considerable contribution to the study of the limestone flora of Northern Kolkhida and, particularly, Abkhazia introduced Y.N. Voronov. He partly explored the Bzyb Gorge and Gagra limestone massif. Voronov collected thousands of herbarium specimens. Altogether, he described about 20 new species and combinations of Kolkhida, 7 of them were of limestone of Abkhazia.
In Soviet period, during the first years of the Abkhazian Research Institute of Local History the botanist S.P Petyaev collected herbarium, containing endemic species from limestone of Abkhazia. These collections became the foundation to create a herbarium of Kolkhida flora in the Sukhum botanical garden. The floristically luxuriant group of regions was recognized Gagra-Bzyb region.
Specificity of geographical propagation of endemics
Since N.M. Albov, many Caucasian botanists noted the originality of the flora of Kolkhida, and especially its northern limestone part, a considerable area of which consist the Gagra and Bzyb mountain ranges of Abkhazia. Registered by A.A.Grossgeim the floristic region “Abkhazia”, which is located between the rivers Mzymta and Kodor, and it’s distinguish by development of different limestone ridges with their original endemism, not repeated in other parts of Kolkhida.
Half of the endemics of Abkhazia have a small population with very limited propagation area, such as long-leaved foxtail - Alopeourus longifolius, aspelium (Asplenium) Herman Christ - Asplenium hermanni-christi, the ancient bluebell Campanula anticua, C.paradoxa, Paniutyne spurge -Euphorbia panjutinii, hard-leaved mzymtella - Mzymtella sclerophylla, navel-seed (forget-me-not) of Kuznetsov - Omphalodes kusnetzovii.
Some populations of endemic species in the process of historical development have been isolated. For example, Anne yastrebinkovaya - Annaea hieracioides, types of bluebells C. antiqua, C. jadvigae and others are found exclusively in Gagra region, while the bluebells dzyshrsky - Campanula dzyschrica and bluebells of Paniutyne - S. panjutinii marked only in Bzyb.
Quite often, more systematically close species distributed in relatively limited areas, and species with more remote relations are more distant geographically. So, satureya of Bzyb - Saturejja bzybica has a close species with satura S. illyrlca, growing on limestones of Yugoslavia. Sort of the rocky Seseli (Seseli rupicola) is close to S.gummiferum, common in the mountainous Crimea and the Balkans, as well as to zhabritse - S. gummiferum var. resiniferum, which is in Bulgaria.
Another original limestone endemic buttercup of Helena (Ranunculus helenae) is close to the buttercup hybrid - R. hybridus, which grows in the limestone of Alps, in the east of Lombardy and Tyrol.
The endemic Abkhaz saxifrage (bukvitsa) - Betonica abchasica associated with close kind of saxifrage - B. nivea, growing in Ossetia, Dagestan and Azerbaijan, as well as in the mountains of Elbrus in northern Iran.
The endemics Gentian - Gentiana paradoxa, G. rhodocalyx, G. vittae, G. bzybica are close to some of the Caucasian species of Gentian - G. grossheimii, G. kolakovskyi, G. lagodechiana, and to the Chinese - G. hexaphylla, G. tetraphylla, G. ternifolia and G. ornata.
The originality of represented in the western part of Abkhazia and entire plant communities (phytocenosises) is noteworthy. It is endemic genista groves with genista of Abkhaz - Genista abchasica, arakh grooves with Leptopus colchica, a community of Kolkhida hazel (Cogulus colchica) in glens and on slopes of sub-alps, the voronovniki of Woronowia speciosa, the sedge Carex pontica and lily Lilium kesselringianum, which are typical for karst Alpine belt, where also are rubbly alpine covering of buttercup of Helena (Ranunculus helenae).
Abkhazia – the unique floristic area
Thus, the originality of the natural growth and flora of Abkhazia is evident. It is related to a specific geographic location, and with the physical-geographical features of the territory. Gagra and Bzyb limestone massifs of the total area, raised above the forest zone, are far surpassing all limestone massifs of the Northern Kolkhida. The endemic luxuriance of small territory of Abkhazia tells us about the peculiarity of mountain floras of different regions of the Caucasus.
So, within the floristic region “Abkhazia”, A.A.Grossgeim identified 82 endemic species, which forms the basic floral group of endemics of Northern Kolkhida. The ecology of endemic flora of Abkhazia has studied, and about half of the endemics were confined to the lower forest belt and a little less than half - to the alpine zone. More than 60% of endemic species has a relatively narrow natural habitat. This is a valuable gene pool that reflects the peculiarities of the ancient flora of Abkhazia and supportive relationship with the natural and historical past.