The Park's habitats
The South Tyrol Dolomites survived the around 30 to 80 million year Alpine formation phase relatively unscathed. Whereas elsewhere the geological upheavals make the rock age structure confusing for the layperson, the succession of deposits in the Dolomites can be traced with relative ease. However, the Dolomites exhibit geological faults along which the rock masses were moved, and the most important of these faults in the park is the Villnöss Linie / Linea di Funes fault line. In addition, the so called “peak overlaps” in the Puez-Gherdenacia highlands are of immense geological importance. These overlaps are places where the Main Dolomite is tectonically layered onto the more recent Puez-Mergel subformation.
Gröden / Val Gardena sandstone
The base of the Dolomites is made up of porphyry and quartz phyllite, followed by an almost 300 meter thick stratum of Gröden / Val Gardena sandstone that is the erosion product of a desert-like climate lasting millions of years. The Gröden / Gardena sandstone is visible in the rock faces near Kompatschwiesen / “Pra de Ćiampać” meadow at the foot of Peitlerkofel mountain, as well as in St. Magdalena/Villnöß / S. Maddalena Val di Funes and near Broglesalm / Alpe di Brogles Alpine pasture in Gröden / Val Gardena valley.
Deposits in the Mediterranean Tethys resulted in a 200 meter thick sediment layer that is named after the bellerophon water snail found in it as a fossil. These strata are found at the foot of Peitlerkofel / Sas da Pütia mountain, the Aferer Geisler / Odle di Eores and Villnößer Geisler / Odle di Funes mountain ranges, as well as above St. Christina and Pescosta in the farthest reaches of Villnösstal / Val di Funes valley (Gampenalm / Alpe Gampen and Kreuzjoch / Passo Poma) and above Kolfuschg /Colfosco in Gadertal / Val Gardena valley. The sandstone and bellerophon strata, whose forms were softened by weathering, more or less comprise the lovely Kompatschwiesen / “Pra de Ćiampać” and Peitlerwiesen / “Pra de Pütia” meadows at the foot of Peitlerkofel / Sas de Pütia mountain.
When the Mediterranean widened about 180 million years ago, the shells of small organisms, algae, corals and mussels formed sedimentary rock that is thousands of meters deep. However there are no reef-forming organisms such as coral and sponges. The Werfen strata are characteristic of the areas between Kampill / Longiarü and Juac, as well as the foot of the Aferer Geisler / Odle di Eores and Villnößer Geisler / Odle di Funes ranges. They also occur on the surface at St. Christina / S. Christina and Kolfuschg / Colfosco.
Shell-limestone, Sarl / Serla Dolomite, Buchenstein / Livinallongo strata
Carbonate sediments built up in the increasingly deepening seabed strata, whose diversity can be best seen between Gampenalm / Alpe Gampen and Schlüterhütte / Rifugio Genova refuge, as well as in the terrain between the Aferer Geisler / Odle di Eores and Villnößer Geisler / Odle di Funes ranges.
Peres strata, morbiac limestone and Contrin Dolomite
Movements of the earth’s crust in conjunction with soil tilting displaced the sea for a time, whereby most of the previously formed Werfen strata fell victim to erosion. This in turn induced the formation of gravel pits and fine-grained coastal sediments comprising Richthofen conglomerates and Peres strata, among other elements. But in time the sea regained the upper hand, resulting in the formation of dark gray morbiac limestone and marl containing plant residues and shallow-water organisms (lime algae, foraminifers, snails, brachiopods, and echinoderms). These organisms were followed by whitish, well differentiated Dolomite strata (Contrin Dolomite). The diversity of these strata is best seen on the way to Gampenalm / Alpe Gampen and the Schlüterhütte / Rifugio Genova refuge, as well as in the terrain between the Aferer Geisler / Odle di Eores and Villnößer Geisler / Odle di Funes ranges and at the north ridge of the Secëda below Panascharte / Forcella Monta Pana.
Buchenstein / Livinallongo strata
The previously predominant shallow water areas began sinking into the depths of sea, causing the formation of up to 800 meter deep sea basins that were surrounded by reefs. Well differentiated limestone strata and deposits of greenish tuffstone (pietra verde) are characteristic of Buchenstein / Livinallongo strata.
Wengen / La Valle and Cassian / S. Cassiano strata
The Wengen / La Valle and Cassian / S. Cassiano strata, which bear testimony to volcanic eruptions and reef growth, were formed in several hundred meters deep sea basins. The Wengen strata are mainly composed of volcanic rock, but also contain limestone detritus from the Schlern / Sciliar Dolomite reefs. The rocks contain abundant marine fossils such as the lovely Daonella, which resembles the sun. The volcanic inland area sank along with the Cassian strata, causing fossil-rich limestone and marl to predominate. Between Peitlerkofelscharte / Forcella del Putia and Schlüterhütte / Rifugio Genova refuge, the point where the Schlern / Sciliar Dolomite rock transitions to the Wengen and Cassian strata is clearly visible.
Schlern / Sciliar Dolomite
Schlern / Sciliar Dolomite rock – a characteristic feature of Puez-Geisler / Puez-Odle Nature Park – weathered into many boulders and crags in the north (Villnösser Geisler / Odle di Funes, Aferer Geisler / Odle di Eores, and Peitlerkofel / Sas de Pütia) and was spared early erosion by the Raibler strata in the south. It occurs in the form of myriad columns and jagged cliffs that appear to have been formed by violent geological events. A dense, white to yellowish rock that resembles sugar when freshly broken, Dolomite is named after the scientist Deodat de Dolomieu, who was the first to describe the chemical composition of this rock in 1789.
Raibl Strata are clearly layered strata that are easily recognizable owing to their gray, yellow, greenish, and reddish coloration. Due to the excellent water retention capacity of the clay and marl in the Raibl strata, they protect the Dolomite rock below them from erosion and also constitute a spring horizon as can be observed impressively in the Langental / Vallunga valley spring waterfalls.
Main and Dachstein Dolomite
The whitish rock of the Main and Dachstein Dolomite covers the broad plateaus of Crespèina, Gherdenacia and Puez. The tendency of this type of rock to develop karst brought about numerous crevices and grooves through which the water rapidly seeps into the ground. Only resilient cushion plants and tundra willows can survive in these karstic highlands.
The Jurassic and Cretaceous periods
Puez, Muntejela and Col dala Soné, as well as summits of Gherdenacia Pass, Col dala Pieres and Piz Duleda comprise the sole remains of earlier Jurassic and Cretaceous sedimentations, which are known as Puez marl. Hardly any sediments from the Jurassic period are found in Puez-Geisler / Puez-Odle Nature Park. The Cretaceous strata, which are composed of finer, reddish to greenish-gray marls containing numerous ammonite fossils, are readily transformed into detritus as they are highly susceptible to weathering. Muntejela and Col dala Soné rise, volcano-like, out of the sun-bleached plateau, lending the Puez-Gherdenacia region the air of an abandoned moonscape that extends into infinity.
The Crectaceous period marked the end of the sea’s dominance. For the next approximately 30 to 80 million years massive mountains rose out of the ocean floor, and the deposits that had accumulated on the ocean floor over a 260 million year period were once again swept away by water, ice, wind and heat, and floated toward the valleys – and into the sea.
Rock and soil, together with altitude and microclimate, determine flora biodiversity.
Forest belts and dwarf-shrub heaths
Forest belts are found solely on the verges of Puez-Geisler / Puez-Odle Nature Park. Around Peitlerkofel / Sas de Pütia, especially on Würzjoch / Passo delle Erbe mountain and in Rodelwald / Selva della Rodella, extensive stands of cembra pines are found whose rejuvenation rate is the highest in South Tyrol. Noteworthy here are the stands of pine trees in Putiawald forest and the Larch forests trees near Halsl.
Alpine roses grow on the western cliffs of Peitlerkofel / Sas de Pütia. In the head of Villnöß / Val di Funes valley, magnificent groups of cembra pines advance as far as the scree at the foot of the Geislers / Odle. Langental / Vallunga valley is home to a (somewhat thinning) forest of spruces, larches, and cedars, with some of the younger trees growing at heights of nearly 2,400 meters. This is followed by dwarf pines and their abundant blossoms. The undergrowth is composed of daphne mezereum, daphne striata, winter heath, Alpine roses and many different types of berry bushes.
Mountain meadows and pastures
Anemones, soldanels, bird’s eye primroses and crocuses grow on Zans / Zannes Alpine pasture in springtime, while the blue and red coloration of labiates and figworts predominate in summer.
Whorled lousewort, monkshoods, corn lilies, spiny thistle, black vanilla orchids and spotted gentians grow on mountain pastures. Crocuses and meadow saffrons comprise the year’s first and last blossoms respectively on the Kompatschwiesen / Compaccio and Peitlerwiesen / Putia meadows, which in summer are covered with resplendent carpets of arnica and red clover. Crocuses and Achillea oxyloba grow in soil dampened by snow. The Larch fields in the upper reaches of Kampiller / Longiaru valley and the floor of Langental / Vallunga valley are particularly rich in flowers, most notably dwarf alpenrose, lady’s slipper, martagon lilies, St. Bernard’s lilies and orange lilies.
Alpine meadows, scree and Dolomite rocks
Around Peitlerkofel / Sas de Pütia are grasslands with cushion sedges, and on dry slopes stretches of blue moor grass are found. On steep slopes sheltered from the wind edelweiss, dragonmouth and beaked lousewort grow, while the northern part of Peitlerkofel boasts abundant butterbur and Rhaetian poppy. Thick carpets of trailing willows and mountain avens are also observed. Cinquefoil grows on rock ledges.
In the meadows south of Peitlerkofel / Sas de Pütia, campanula, blue Alpine daisy, and mountain thrift are found. Thlaspi cepaeifolium, Linum alpinum, and yellow Alpine poppy cover the scree of Villnösser Geisler / Odle de Funes. The sedge communities of rock ledges are home to the smallest varieties of saxifrages, gentians, edelweiss and primroses. Edelweiss, white genepi, and horned rampion grow on the rocks of Langental /Vallunga valley and particularly Chedultal / Val di Chedúl valley.
Most wild game is found in grassy stands of dwarf pines in Langental / Vallunga valley, in the Geisler / Odle group, in Aferer Ruefen and in the environs of Forcela dal’Ega. Deer, which prefer open meadowland and feed on scrub on the sunny wooded slopes of Zans / Zannes Alpine pasture in winter, migrate from the Peitler / Putia region to Lüsental / Valle di Luson valley via Würzjoch / Passo delle Erbe.
The eagle owl (which is the largest owl in South Tyrol), has been observed several times in Langental / Vallunga valley. Black grouse use the thin forests of Langental / Vallunga valley, Cisles Alm / Malga Cisles Alpine pasture, Würzjoch / Passo delle Erbe and wood grouse above all in the forests at the foot of Peitler Kofel / Sas de Putia as mating grounds. Colorful butterflies and bettles are observed in the environs of Gampen, Cisles Alpine and Medalges Alpine pastures. Woodchucks can be found on the western slopes of the Cirs mountains, and at Medalges and Cisles Alpine pastures.
Black redstarts, northern wheatears, pipits and snow finches nest on Alpine pastures and in belts of dwarf shrubs. Rock ptarmigans are observed year round in the Gherdenacia highlands and around Stevia.
Ravens and Alpine choughs build their nests in the crevices of Dolomite rocks. You may glimpse a golden eagle in the cliffs around Wasserscharte / Furcela de Mont dal Ega, in the Geisler / Odle mountains, in Langental /Vallunga valley – or soaring high in the air.
The human factor
Gröden / Val Gardena and Gadertal / Val Badia valleys
The Ladins, who are the most ancient people of the Alps, were among the Romanized natives known as Rhaetians who settled the Alps from Carnia deep into Switzerland at the beginning of the migration into the Alps. During Medieval times, Germanic, Italic and Slavic peoples from the north, south and east restricted the areas of Rhaetian settlements, causing the Rhaetians to either withdraw to inaccessible valleys or assimilate with the cultures of their new rulers. This is why the only three territorially separate Rhaeto-Romanic enclaves that still survive today are the Dolomite Ladin, Friulian and Romansh areas.
Due to the high population density of the Ladins relative to their agricultural production, the natural resources of the area had to be intensively exploited, even at high altitudes. Intensive forest use, particularly in Gadertal / Val Badia valley, provoked landslides and erosion that continue to this day.
Beginning in the 16th century, wood carving developed into a domestic tradition able to provide a part of the population with a second source of income, and had become so widespread by the 19th century that Cembra pines had to be placed under strict protection. Grödner Joch leads to the upper Gadertal / Val Badia valley, where small groups of houses known as Viles in Rhaeto-Romanic constitute the valley’s traditional settlement pattern. Only a few farmhouses are usually situated around a small village square containing a community well and oven.
The need for protection, a strong community feeling, as well as the need to use the scarce arable areas parsimoniously have led to this settlement pattern, which is possibly the oldest in the Alps.
If you start out from Campill / Longiarü in Puez-Geisler / Puez-Odle Nature Park, you come upon Frëina, Seres and Miscì Viles (groups of traditional farmhouses) as well as eight working grain mills along the stream that use an ingenious system of locks, wooden channels and gates. The landscape here, apart from its natural beauty, also exhibits the effects of the social and cultural history of the people who have settled here.
Until a road was built in 1892, the inhabitants of Gadertal / Val Badia valley were completely self sufficient and had to grow all their own food and other necessities of life on the land available in the valley. The delicate balance that was maintained between crop farming (barley, oats, rye, wheat, beans and hemp) and cattle breeding constituted a closed system that kept the valley’s farmland sustainable. It has been proven, that this sophisticated system was already highly developed during the High Middle Ages. It is still applied by some Ladin farms and has enabled the Ladins to survive down through the centuries. Moreover, Ladin farmhouses are still made of wood and stone as they have been for centuries. These mushroom-shaped farmhouses with sloping roofs contain a cellar, and on the ground floor living quarters and a kitchen that are made of whitewashed brick. The bedroom areas and attics, which are made of wood, have a "Sorà" (a type of balcony) on two or more sides that is also used to dry fruit. Amazingly, the dizzying pace of economic development over the past half century or so has had virtually no impact on the Viles. Only a short distance from the ski resorts, a living example of medieval culture has been preserved virtually intact on the valley’s steep slopes – a place where elderly individuals go about their business in the same way that they always have. Various government programs have been instituted that provide funding and protection for the Viles, in the hope of enabling them to adapt to socioeconomic change.