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Stepanavan Dendropark, Armenia

Volume 3 Number 8 - February 2002
Dr. Leonovich

In the Central Transcaucasus of Armenia, on the northern slopes of the Bazum Mountain ridge, 150 km south west of the capital city, Yerevan. the first arboretum in Armenia was established. Established in 1933, the inspiration for the arboretum in the heart of an indigenous forest came from an engineer-forester Edmon Leonovich. Whilst working for the Forestry Commission in this area he began to plant ornamental trees under his own initiative. He introduced new trees into natural forest glades and clearings and left the main forest-forming species, the Siberian pine (Pinus sibirica), as a natural backdrop. The arboretum is 35 ha in total of which 17.5 ha consist of natural forest and 15 ha of ornamental trees.

This collection expanded along the newly-constructed footpaths and vistas which began to reach into the indigenous forest. It is thought that this was the first place in the Transcaucasus, within a sub-alpine region, where a natural forest landscape had been reshaped into a Forest Park. The Stepanavan Dendropark (SDPk) consists of deciduous forest and ornamental plantings with avenues of Lime (Tilia cordata), and wild sourced specimens of Juglans, Malus, Populus and Pyrus. Most introductions were acquired from other botanic gardens via the Yerevan Botanic Garden as part of an international exchange programme such as the Botanic Garden in Tbilisi, (Georgia), Kiev (Ukraine), Nikitski, (Crimea, Ukraine), Leningrad and Moscow Central (Soviet Union) as well as the Far East. Specimens were also obtained further afield from Germany, France, Portugal, China and the U.S.A. There are now more than 500 introduced species.

At 1550 m above sea level, the arboretum has a severe climate with 550 mm rainfall per year. Early Spring and winter has an average 6-7°C but goes as low as –28.5°C at times. There is snow from December all the way through to March. The collection is of great scientific interest, giving an opportunity to study developmental changes in the plants introduced to new environmental conditions. For 70 years of its existence more than 2,500 taxa were tested in an effort to find plants that were suitably hardy for the area. To date, only 500 species were found to be suitable for these extreme environmental conditions. Along with maintaining and expanding the living plant collection, the arboretum has also selected plants of high ornamental merit that could be recommended for urban greening.

The variety of plants that have found a home in the arboretum range from Magnolia to larch Larix decidua, from cypress to Siberian pine, from Cryptomeria to Sequoiadendron. The native species found growing naturally in this region include hornbeam Carpinus caucasica, lime Tilia caucasica, T. cordata, beech Fagus orientalis, elm Ulmus elliptica, U. scabra, U. foliacea, oak Quercus macranthera, Q. iberica, Q. longipes, pine Pinus harmata and pear Pyrus communis (note: Armenia is an important centre of pear diversity with over 20 known species).

Many seeds from this arboretum were distributed worldwide via Armenia’s Yerevan Botanic Garden Index Seminum. Today the collection needs a full taxonomic review and mapping. There is no herbarium and making a systematic catalogue is the first priority for the arboretum at the moment. However, due to the shortage of funds, this is not easy to fulfil. There is basic accommodation at the Arboretum and should any taxonomist like to volunteer their services to study the trees in this remarkable region of the world, they are very welcome to make contact via BGCI (Fiona Dennis).

The founder remained Director until 1984 when the author, his son, took up the post. The site was designated a Special Protected Area in 1998. The Ministry for Nature Protection has overall management responsibility. Nowadays the arboretum is of interest to the general public, professional scientists and eco-tourists. Here one can study the adaptive characteristics of different plants to the new environmental conditions, conduct training programmes for student internships and study the distinctive flora of the Transcaucasus. In addition to this, taking into consideration the rich biodiversity of Armenia (the flora of Armenia has 3,500 species, while the ornitho-fauna alone counts for 349 birds), the arboretum is a perfect place for public excursions and botanical or zoological tours.