Kitaibel Pál Nature Trail

Somló, the lonely giant rising from the flat region of Tapolca Basin, has preserved numerous natural values up until today: the special basalt forms provide home to rare plant and animal species. The once flourishing settlements of the Bronze Age on the top of the hill and the viticulture of the slopes, with famous wine production, which also looks back to a millennium-long history, are ranked among the relics of the Hungarian cultural history. The 3 km long nature trail named after the botanist Pál Kitaibel (1757-1817) introduces the sights of this spectacular area and comprises 9 stations.

Stations:

1. Starting Point
2. Erosion of Basalt
3. Life in the Scrub Forest
4. Hay Meadow
5. Fauna of the Grasslands
6. The Fortress of Somló
7. Basalt Tuff
8. Forests of the Northern Slopes
9. Fauna of the Forests

1. Somló

The history of the 432-metre-high remnant hill standing between the Little Hungarian Plain and the Southern Bakony region’s alluvial plain started 4 million years ago. Bursting out from the depths, the incandescent magma forced its way through the sandy-argillaceous sediments of the former Pannonian Sea. After the first, very violent explosions, the surroundings were covered with basalt tuff. It was followed by several important lava flows: the black and grey solidified basalt exceeds 100 metres in thickness. During the last phase of the volcanic activity, the gaseous, frothy lava was ejected from the throat in the form of volcanic bombs, the slag cone covering the basalt plateau was formed from this red porous rock.

In a process that has been going on from the Ice Age until today, the currents flowing back from the Little Hungarian Plain have been washing away the loose Pannonian sediment from the rising Southern Bakony to deposit it in a 150-metre thick layer. However, the hard basalt on the surface prevented the underlying layers from erosion, thus the remnant hill of Somló rises more and more above its surroundings.

Before the appearance of man, the island-like hill was characterised by the same plant communities than the Bakony and the Balaton Uplands regions. Its northern side was covered with beeches, oak-hornbeam woods, and talus slope forests, while the rocky precipices of the southern side were covered with scrub forests, steppe and rock meadows, and the foot of the hill with turkey oats. Since Somló hill has been inhabited from the Neolithic era, over the several millennia, the human presence transformed the natural vegetation cover significantly.

Today we can only see its beautiful remains on the cool northern slopes unfit for fruit-growing and viticulture, and on the steep, stony sides. The foot (the ‘skirt’) of the remnant hill is characterised even today by the view of vineyards and orchards.

The vegetation fundamentally determines the composition of the fauna and the structure of animal communities. The specificity of Somló hill, namely its island-like character manifests itself through the fauna as well. It is frequent that similar animal species can only be found in the Bakony or Alpokalja regions. The place of the golden eagles was occupied by ravens. However, because human interventions have had a strong impact on the fauna as well, species needing a lot of space disappeared from the hill, but the remains of the initial vegetation have conserved several natural values.

In our days, the south facing rock walls covered with scrub forests varying with open rock surfaces give shelter mainly to the wall lizard and the harmless smooth snake, while the grasslands and the clearings are home to invertebrate species rare in Hungary. The remaining forests and shrubberies accommodate several protected bird species.

The landscape is fundamentally marked by the vineyards giving famous wines and the basalt walls rising above them.

Coordinates: N 47.141710000; E 17.376860000;

2. Erosion of Basalt

In addition to other silicates, the basalt forming Somló hill also contains a mineral called nepheline, which leads to shattering. First, whitish stains appear on the rock (‘blistered basalt’), then, with time, it fractures into little pieces (‘coarse grained basalt’). On the path leading to the hill, we walk on this crumbling rock. The soil-forming basalt, by its natural, then chemical decomposition, gives the elements of vital importance for plants. Among other things, the specific flavour of wines produced in the Somló region comes from this elementary substance.

While slowly cooling down, the enormous masses of incandescent basalt became contracted and fissured: they are now dissected by almost horizontal plates, banks and more or less vertical fissures. The denuded rock surfaces allow us to follow the erosion process. Thermal expansion caused by solar radiation, as well as infiltrated water that freezes in winter also result in fissures in the already friable basalt.

Roots seeking moisture and growing thicker each year break open the rock until it loses its support and rolls down to the foot of the hill. Thus, because of the transversal planes, the process results in almost vertical rock walls again and again, until the hill disappears…

In May, on the dark grey rock walls of the southern slope, we can admire the golden yellow flowers of the protected golden-tuft madwort.

Coordinates: N 47.142611000; E 17.373572000;

3. Life in the Scrub Forest

If we look to the South, we can observe the particular spatial repartition of xerotherm plant communities living on the steep slopes facing south, south-west. This mosaic-like habitat is a specific structure composed of scrub forests and slope steppe meadows and is also called mountain forest steppe. Today it is a real paradise, or during colder climatic periods (ice ages), a shelter for xerotherm plant and animal species. The Hungarian iris and the burning bush live in the scrub forests composed of mahaleb cherry trees and downy oaks, as well as on the clearings and the steppe meadows of different sizes.

This habitat provides home for the biggest insect of Central Europe, the predatory bush cricket feeding mainly on locusts. In May, under the crooked oaks of the scrub forest, the air is loud with the gnawing sounds of forest maybeetles. The protected ladybird spider can be admired essentially here but on the ground level. The air space of the hilltop is the realm of butterflies: the amazing scarce swallowtail dances often before our eyes. Rarely, a specimen of the small Apollo butterfly can also be observed.

Coordinates: N 47.143479000; E 17.369838000;

4. Hay Meadow

After the appearance of man, the almost completely forest-dominated original vegetation of Somló hill has started to disappear first from the foot of the hill and the plateaus to give place to different farming cultures. Well might the hay meadow we can now see here seem natural, there used to be downy oak woods. After the deforestation, some parts of the plateau have been transformed into arable lands, hayfields or pastures, from as long as the Bronze age.

In our days, there are no more arable lands on the higher parts of Somló hill, but the lower parts of the plateau are still hayfields and the meadows surrounding the lookout tower still serve as pastures. The several hundred-year-old farming methods resulted in a relatively constant vegetation in the place of the former forest. The multi-level meadow hays rich in flowers offer home to masses of orthoptera species, spiders and insects living inside flowers.

Coordinates: N 47.143981000; E 17.368860000;

5. Fauna of the Grasslands

The multi-level meadow hays rich in flowers offer various living conditions and provide home to masses of orthoptera species, spiders and insects living inside flowers. Several nymphalidae and other butterfly species live here as well. The richly structured grassland offers good conditions for araneomorphae and flower spiders. If we shake a flower, masses of small beetles fall into our hands.

If we look to the sky from the plateau, not only can we observe some of the birds nesting and feeding in the nearby woods but we can also admire the charming appearance of the long-tailed tit or the song of the chiffchaff and the blackcap, mainly on the shrubby edges. The linnet can be observed next to open spaces, in the vineyards, and if we look to the distance, we can often see common buzzards descending in a spin and ravens flying in pairs.

Coordinates: N 47.145645000; E 17.368136000;

6. The Fortress of Somló

Coordinates: N 47.150223000; E 17.369531000

7. Basalt Tuff

Freed from the enormous pressure, explosive hot gases emitted from the depths of the volcano have reduced the already solidified rocks almost to dust. During the eruption, the basalt broke up as well into fine granules (lapilli) and sometimes while falling back, lava bands of different sizes covered the surroundings of the crater in the form of volcanic bombs. Following the repeated dispersions of debris, the mixed rock material falling down from the air resulted in a well stratified basalt tuff.

The rock suitable for construction was quarried at several places of the northern side of Somló hill.

Coordinates: N 47.149332000; E 17.371260000;

8. Forests of the Northern Slopes

The colder microclimate of the steep northern slopes of Somló hill allowed the formation of a mountain, sub-mountain beech forest as well which characterises only higher zones. Because of the density of the tree stratum, the underwood of the beech forest is sparse. On the parts covered with rocks and moving debris, it is replaced by the talus slope forest, a more diversified forest community characterised by the coexistence of more numerous tree species.

Among the dominant ones, we find the large-leaf linden, the little-leaf linden, and the common ash, but hornbeams, wild service trees, Norway maples and beeches are also typical. Its rich shrub stratus contains groups of European bladdernuts, black elders, cornel trees, and hazels. In spring, the herb stratus is covered with patches of snow-flowers and wild garlic, and the protected wild hyacinth can be frequently seen, too.

Coordinates: N 47.149192000; E 17.373422000;

9. Fauna of the Forests

Among the forest areas, beech forests are particularly rich in invertebrates. The forest floor provides home for numerous hydrophyte animal species, such as molluscs and ground-beetles, feeding essentially on these. Large insects are represented by Carabus Coriaceus. The larvae of capricorn beetles develop on the vegetal parts. While the Aesculapian snake lives in the parts covered with trees but mainly in the sparse clusters of trees and edges, the smooth snake often ventures in the vineyards on the foot of the hill.

Thanks to the diversity of habitats, the avifauna is rich, too. A lot of raven couples nest on the impressing rocks. Beech forests are suitable for species living in cavities, such as the stock dove, the black woodpecker, the nuthatch or the tree-creeper.

Among the small mammals inhabiting the forest floor, the yellow-necked mouse and the bank vole are the most characteristic ones.

Coordinates: N 47.147561000; E 17.373396000;

GPS coordinates

N 47.141710000; E 17.376860000;