Identified so far in Armenia have been 388 species of algae, 4,166 fungi, 2,600 lichens and 430 mosses in addition to the very large total of 3,200 species of vascular plants, including some endemics - plants found only in Armenia. Since Armenia's flora is very large it is perhaps surprising that gymnosperms (basically conifers) should be poorly represented by a mere nine species: five junipers, one pine, one yew and two shrubby members of the family Ephedraceae whose American relatives include Nevada joint fir and desert tea.
One third of the forests are oak forests and they are widely distributed across the country. Of the four oak species found in Armenia, two (Caucasian oak (Quercus macranthera) and Georgian oak (Q. iherica) are typical of these forests. Caucasian oak is the more frost-tolerant species and is found throughout the country at altitudes as high as 2,600m. By contrast, Georgian oak is typically restricted to altitudes between 500 and 1,400m, and is mostly found in the north and the extreme south. Other species found in oak forests are ash (Fraxinus excelsior), hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), Georgian maple (Acer ibericum), cork elm (Ulmus suberosus) and field maple (Acer campestre). A third oak species - Arax oak (Q. araxina) - is now declining, probably because of agricultural development.
Another third of the forest is the beech forest of northern Armenia. They are dominated by Oriental beech (Fagus orientalis). They are mostly on north-facing slopes at an altitude of 1,000-2,000m. Other species in beech forests include small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata), Litvinov beech (Betula litwinow) and spindle-tree (Euonymus europaeus). Hornbeam forests occur at altitudes of 800-1,800m. Other trees found in these forests include the various oaks, field maple, ash, Caucasian pear (Pyrus caucasicum) and Oriental apple (Malus orientalis). Scrub forests are found in both the north and south of the country occurring at altitudes of 900-1,000m in the north, but at much higher altitude in the south (1,800-2,000m).
These forests support around 80 species of xeric trees and shrubs, all of which are drought tolerant and light-loving. As well as thorn forest dominated by juniper, broad-leaved forests also occur, characterised by species such as Georgian maple, various cherries, pistachio (Pistacia mutica), almond (Prunus dulcis), buckthorn (Rhamnus catharticus) and wild jasmine (Jasminum fruticans). There are groves of virgin yew (Taxus baccata) in Dilijan National Park and a relict plane (Platanus orientalis) grove in Shikahogh Reserve in the south of the country.
A number of Armenia's plants will be familiar to visitors because they have become popular cultivated plants of temperate gardens such as the florist's scabious, the oriental poppy which is flamboyant in so many herbaceous borders, the ubiquitous catmint, burning bush and grape hyacinth. Different types of vegetation can be seen within relatively limited areas, often accessed easily from the principal roads. Many flowers are to be found in the dry mountain habitats typical of central Armenia; apparently unpromising, thinly grassed areas or patches of low spiny shrubbery can yield a surprising number of species. It is here, for example, that the almost impossible to cultivate, but striking and often bizarre Oncocyclus iris, can be found. The extensive grasslands surrounding the high passes crossed by the main highways, the river gorges and the broadleaved deciduous forests are all worth exploring for interesting and attractive plants. One of the great joys of Armenia is that botanical excursions and visits to ancient churches and monasteries so often happily coincide.
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