What you should know about flora and fauna of the Dolomites

Hiking is not only a lonely mountain peaks, passes and valleys, and the endless sky above your head. First, you can meet people. Secondly, there is a rich flora and fauna of the Dolomites to explore. To meet a deer or chamois and see Edelweiss is easy. Learn where to make it with 100% probability together with some safety rules.

Ivan Kuznetsov
Outdoor editor from the Dolomites and Karelia

Flora (Plants)
Mushrooms and Berries
Fauna (Animals)
Safety Rules

Flora of the Dolomites (Plants)

— Most of the Dolomites are the famous mountainous alpine meadows, i.e. low grass. Cows, sheep, and goats graze on them. The meadows are well visible and can be walked without a path, but they are usually harder to navigate than on the marked routes.

There are no forests in the Dolomites in the usual, “northern sense of the word” — because there is no plain. But up to 2000 meters, in addition to grass and shrubs, there are trees, and only then there are rocks, not overgrown with vegetation.

The forest in the Dolomites is mainly beech, aspen, willow, alder, bean, maple, hornbeam, ash, oak, a little birch… The forests are tangled and diverse. Trees are covered by ivy and moss. Pine forests are few compared to Karelia and other northern regions of the world. And there are no cypresses in the Dolomites like in the south of Italy.

Pines in the Dolomites are ordinary pines, mountain, cedar European pines, black, as well as fir and larch. There are no cypresses, as in the south of Italy © Ivan Kuznetsov.
Pines in the Dolomites are ordinary pines, mountain pines, cedar European pines, black pines, as well as fir and larch © Ivan Kuznetsov

From the end of May until the end of September, in the Dolomites in the meadows and gardens, there are a huge variety of flowers: barb, crisp, saxifrage, snowdrop, crocus, poppy, daisy, diadem, anemone, narcissus, violet, roadhouse, swimsuit, golden calf, timeless, youth, clover, erika, buttercup, primrose, gentian, forget-me-not, violet, aster alpine, bell and… 50 kinds of orchids.

The most famous flower and symbol of the Dolomite Alps is Edelweiss. A small meadow flower of white with a yellow heart. It is also called “lion’s feet” (from the Latin name: Leontopodium), because it is hard and wavy to the touch. The flower is quite rare and grows at an altitude above 2000 meters. I’ve only seen it on the home mountain Coppolo.

The Edelweiss flower is listed in the Red Book. You can't take it out from the ground © Ivan Kuznetsov
The Edelweiss flower is listed in the Red Book. You can’t take it out from the ground © Ivan Kuznetsov

Mushrooms and Berries of the Dolomites

The are mushrooms in the Dolomites, but less than in the northern countries: white, chanterelles, as well as some local species, for example, codini. Locals collect, dry, and eat them. And my friend Luigi, pizzaiolo in 3rd generation, cook great pizza with mushrooms.

In the Dolomites, there are quite a few strawberries and very few blueberries.

Animals of the Dolomites (Fauna)

There are many animals, especially in my home region in the mountains of the National Park of Belluno Dolomites.

The Italian Alps are home to a squirrel, marten, badger, chamois and other mountain goat species, mountain sheep, hare, deer, roe deer, groundhog (another symbol of Dolomites), red and black foxes, lynx, wolf and even a brown bear.

Deer can be found on hikes or even in towns and villages. They often come to settlements in search of food, but immediately run away when they see you. I’ve seen deer several times: both in the vicinity of Lamon and the neighboring village of Sovramonte, as well as, for example, in Marmolada. I was walking along the path to the Ombretta Pass and I was crossed by a huge deer with big branchy horns. But before I could get a picture of it, the deer run away to the forest. Usually, they run the same moment, they see a man, so look into the woods and don’t make any noise.

To see the deers that won’t scare you, visit Paneveggio Natural Park (Centro Visitatori “Terra Foresta”, Strada Statale n° 50 del Passo Rolle, Loc. Paneveggio, Predazzo, Italy, 38037). There the deers graze in a small valley. They are very beautiful! This is especially a great idea for a trip with children with whom you won’t go far up the mountains.

The second common and beautiful animal that can be found quite easily in the Dolomites is chamois (Italian: camoscio) — mountain goats. They live at altitudes from 1500-2000 meters. The chamois graze in flocks of 3-4 or even more animals. I’ve seen chamois a lot of times: on the Ombretta Pass by mount Marmolada and at Tre Chime di Lavoredo. The last time I met a family of camosio — a male, a female, and four cubs of different ages — in my home mountains of Pale di San Martino.

The male chamois in the Dolomites walked parallel to me about a km as if meeting and seeing me off in the valley, protecting his family © Ivan Kuznetsov.
The male chamois in the Dolomites walked parallel to me about a km as if meeting and seeing me off in the valley, protecting his family © Ivan Kuznetsov

In the sky above the Italian Alps, there are many birds: partridge, eagle, crow, woodpecker, wood grouse, owl, and others. It’s easy to see them — they float above the mountains. It’s also important to listen to them. I often stop to listen to the birds just during a walk in the village. There are several singing at once: roosters, owls, cuckoo…

In mountain rivers, there are trout and other fish species. The Dolomites are also a great place for fishing. In lakes and streams, there are tritons, salamanders, and other reptiles. To see them, it is enough to walk a little along any stream or lake and look at its inhabitants.

Salamanders live in the mountain streams with fresh water. They don't scare people, so you can watch it closely for a long time and make photos of it like this one © Ivan Kuznetsov.
Salamanders live in the mountain streams with fresh water. They don’t scare people, so you can watch it closely for a long time and make photos of it like this one © Ivan Kuznetsov

Among the insects in the Dolomites, there are butterflies, fireflies, beetles, scorpions, slugs, and many others. But most of all — lizards. In summer, they crawl between rocks.

There are no small and numerous mosquitoes like, for example, in my home region of Karelia. Here mosquitos rare and larger — sometimes, it flies into houses sometimes.

Safety Rules

None of the animals are dangerous, except wolves and bears.

A couple of years ago a video trap (camera) recorded a young family of wolves in the National Park of Belluno Dolomites. But overall, there are far fewer wolves in the Dolomites — you are unlikely to meet them.

The bears can be found sometimes. For example, one day a bear just came to the house of a friend of mine in Lamon. But that’s still an exception.

In the woods in spring and summer, there are snakes to be wary of — a lot of red and black vipers, which climb right on the trails to warm up in the sun.

From April to August, there are many ticks. But they are not dangerous: it don’t have encephalitis and it inactive — they can crawl on a person up to several days without biting. After a hike at once, it is necessary to examine yourself and to remove insects — it is easy. If you wish, you can use repellents.

You should not pick mushrooms yourself in the Dolomites so as not to get poisoned. Except with the locals. Information signs prohibiting mushroom picking are hung everywhere on the routes. In addition, in the mountains it is physically difficult — you have to climb up or down the slopes without paths. There are also some mushroom spots — for example, the village of Caoria in our region is famous for white mushrooms.

The same is true for berries. You can eat wild strawberries safely. The rest I wouldn’t recommend.

You shouldn’t eat other plants and herbs, either, if you don’t know their origin. Ot it’s better to read about edible and medicinal plants in specialized literature or ask locals about it.

The peaceful alpine meadows, from which I started this article, and which seem friendly on the face, can be dangerous. There are many prickly bushes, nettles, and even poisonous plants such as Cow Parsnip.

Finally, in early June poisonous algae bloom in the lakes of the Dolomites. The water becomes very green. You can’t go swimming. And if you want to swim somewhere in this time, ask locals, too.

Cover photo: deer in Natural Park Panneveggio — Pale di San Martino in Sep. 2019 © Ivan Kuznetsov.

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