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Szársomlyó (Hungarian Crocus) walking tour

Regular walking tours on the Szársomlyó Hill

Guided tours are organised from the Sculpture park between Nagyharsány and Villány, , starting at 10:00 a. m. every day from Wednesday to Sunday.
Participation fee:

under 18 years: 400 HUF/person
adult: 800 HUF/person

The Szársomlyó is a Nature Conservation Area!

The Hill has been protected since 1994 as the only habitat of the Hungarian Crocus in the country , and after 1991 the north and the south slope were also given strictly protected status and now they can only be visited with permission and a guide.

Downloadable map of the wine region. Please, enlarge at the Statue Park!!!

Groups booking in advance with the Directorate of the Danube-Dráva National Park can alternatively visit the unique natural treasures of the Szársomlyó and enjoy the picturesque sight from the top of the hill (442 metres above sea level).

Among the more than seventy protected plant species growing here, maybe the best known botanical rarity of the hill is the Hungarian Crocus, formerly featured on the reverse side of the two-Forints coin (no longer used in Hungary).

Requiring professional guidance at alternative times, information:

Danube-Dráva National Park
Tel: 36/72/518221, 36/72/518222
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Botany

There are seven strictly protected species in the Villány Hills, while another 101 species also enjoy protected status. Szársomlyó is home to 75 protected species, out of which 5 strictly protected species have been reported so far.

Of all the protected species living in Hungary, seven can only be found in the Villány Hills:

  • Hungarian Crocus (Colchicum hungaricum),
  • Blackdisk Medick (Medicago orbicularis),
  • Nodding Broomrape (Orobanche nana),
  • Ranunculus psilostachys,
  • Houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum),
  • Trigonella gladiata,
  • Sedum neglectum ssp. sopianae

of which four can be exclusively found on Szársomlyó Hill:

  • Hungarian Crocus,
  • Hungarian Crocus,
  • Blackdisk Medick,
  • Nodding Broomrape,
  • Houseleek

Of the total of 1,027 known plants in the hills, 10.5 % (108 species) are protected or strictly protected. There are 13 species whose existence is uncertain, or at least have not been observed for a long time.

Archive data state that the hill used to be regularly maintained: in autumn the population of the village moved to the hills and killed all shrubs and weeds, also, once each winter the vegetation was burnt.

From spring to autumn approximately 30 sheep grazed on the hill, however, they did not spend all their
time on the Szársomlyó; they grazed on other pastures of the village as well.

On the Szársomlyó, depending on and in close correlation to the environmental factors described above, four natural plant associations have evolved.

Hungarian Crocus

The flower ornamenting the reverse side of the former two-forint coin of Hungary, the Hungarian Crocus (Colchicum hungaricum) is almost synonymous with the Szársomlyó and the Harsány Hills, as these are the sole habitats of this beautiful plant in Hungary.
On 18 February 1867 Viktor Janka discovered this species, Í one of the earliest blooming spring flowers, here. In ditches, flat areas and on the north slopes we can still see snow when this small plant opens her pale lilac flowers – in warmer years it is already in bloom in late December.

By the time the other plants are green, the Crocus is no more in bloom, she has ripened her fruits, and after April we can only see her leaves among the other plants in the grass. The closest relatives of the Hungarian Crocus live on the Balkan Peninsula and on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hungarian Crocus is probably the remnant of the warmer days preceding the Ice Age, and her isolated habitat is a reason for her preservation. It is a plant strictly protected!

Dry limestone cliffs and grass cliffs

These associations can be found on the steepest southern slopes of the hill, especially on the surface of Cretaceous limestone, on rocky skeletal soil and black rendzina. The two plant associations show a mosaic-like distribution, in an almost inseparable mixture. They can be found in the warmest and most arid places with extreme ecological characteristics, thus they contain several botanical rarities, especially southern heat-loving plant species.

Characteristic species of this plant association include:

  • a The Pannonian variety of the Dalmatian water-milfoil (Festuca dalmatica var. pannonica),
  • Sedum neglectum ssp. sopianae,
  • Ranunculus psilostachys,
  • Grass Pea (Lathyrus sphaericus),
  • Valerianella coronata,
  • Wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria),
  • Rustyback (Ceterach officinarum),
  • Hairy Melic Grass (Melica ciliata) and fescue species (Festuca valesiaca, Festuca rupicola)

Outstanding treasures of the association are:

  • Hungarian Crocus,
  • Trigonella gladiata,
  • Blackdisk Medick

Woody plants are represented by dog roses, blackthorns, tiny Trees of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), perhaps tiny bushes of Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus) or Downy Oak (Quercus pubescens).

Brome grass or slope steppes with brome grass

This association can be found at the southern foot of the hill – where the thicker and thicker loess layer covers limestone. The humus carbonate soil of this area provides more humidity and nutrients. The name of this association comes from the large mass of a special Hungarian grass species, Cleistogenes serotina, and another species of grass, Andropogon ischaemum, typical in the autumn months, but Brome Grass (Bromus sp.) also grows in large numbers in the association. The Hungarian Crocus can be found here as well.

Interesting plants of this association are Spring Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis vernalis), a small yellow plant blooming in early spring, and the rare Rusty Foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea).

Sparse karst shrub forest

We can find this association on the top of the hill and on the eastern slopes, where Jurassic limestone can be seen on the surface. In the caves and cracks of the old, thick Jurassic limestone in an advanced state of karst formation we find red clay that can hold enough moisture for the wood vegetation with a larger demand for water. This is why we can see, in the area spotted with grasslands, forests of low, bush-sized trees and shrubs, the main species of which are Manna Ash (Fraxinus ornus) and Downy Oak (Quercus pubescens).

At the grass level, in addition to Erect and Downy Brome (Bromus erectus, Bromus tectorum), Furrowed Fescue (Festuca rupicola) it is Inula spiraeifolia, Fragrant Hellebore (Helleborus odorus), Italian Catchfly (Silene nemoralis), White Dittany (Dictamnus albus), Polygonetum multifolium  and Artemisia alba ssp. saxatilis that can be found.
A rare species of the association is the Cynanchum pannonicum.

Forests of Silver Lime, Hornbeam and Oak

This vegetation covers the northern side of the hill where the thickening loess layer is covered by brown forest soil. This is the coolest and most humid place for the vegetation. The present conditions – the large-scale penetration of lime trees – are due to human impact, because Silver Lime (Tilia tomentosa) intensively grows from logs after the clear-cutting of trees. The wood of this forest has been extracted many times, as part of the property of the Fortress. The disturbance of the natural vegetation is also demonstrated by the presence of the relatively large number of Black Locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia), mixed among the Common Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and Sessile Oak (Quercus petrea) trees.

The most interesting plants of the herb-layer vegetation, in addition to Butcher's Broom (Ruscus aculeatus) and its relative, Ruscus hypoglossum, are Fragrant Hellebore (Helleborus odorus) and Pink Woodruff (Asperula taurina), but we also find here Leopard’s Bane (Doronicum orientale), Black Bryony (Tamus communis) and Lords-and-Ladies (Arum maculatum).

Zoology

Similarly to the flora, the fauna of the area shows Mediterranean features. Several rare species can be found on the hill, some of them living exclusively on the Szársomlyó. Among the Orthopterans we have to mention the rare Isophya modesta and the Predatory Bush Cricket (Saga pedo), the largest grasshopper of Hungary. We can often meet the also predatory Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa). A large number of rare butterfly species has been found on the hill, including several species of the noctuid (Latin “night owl”) butterflies, among the endangered species featured in the Red Data Book of Hungary (a book containing extinct and endangered species). We can often see a large bug called Gnaptor spinimanus.

In the grass vegetation of the loess fields we can see the members of the spider family: the endemic Nemesia pannonica, a spider that does not weave a classic web and whose lifestyle is very close to its tropical relative, the bird spider; the Ladybird Spider (Eresus niger), whose males can often be seen walking on the grass, while the females spend all their lives underground, in a self-dug nest. Evidence of Mediterranean impact is strengthened by the giant cicada (Tibicina haematodes) chirping all summer, whose shed larva skins can also be found in the grass.

On the warm rocks we can see many common wall lizards (Podarcis muralis) hunting for insects, while the grass is home to a large number of the biggest lizard in Hungary, the green lizard (Lacerta viridis). This area serves as habitat to a strictly protected Hungarian reptile, the large whip snake (Coluber caspius), a snake species that has its last viable Hungarian population on this hill. It can be longer than 2 metres, and disappears very quickly when it sees us approach. It leaves its winter shelter quite late, in the fist half of May, mating taking place between late May and mid-June. The female lays 6-16 eggs in the second half of June or in July, and hides her eggs beneath a layer of dry leaves, moss or stone debris. The young snakes, whose length is approximately 40 centimetres at  birth, hatch in late August or early September.

It is an extremely swift and strong snake, which, if it senses danger, attacks without delay. Its bite is harmless, but its tiny teeth can make a painful wound. It is a very wary snake; it practically always catches sight of humans before it is seen: the reason for this is that it never sunbathes in open areas, always remaining in the vegetation. Its main prey are rodents, lizards and nestlings. On the Szársomlyó hill its main food is lizards (wall lizard and green lizard), but it also consumes nestlings of ground-nesting birds (Rock Bunting). We can also encounter the grass snake (Natrix natrix) and Aesculapian snake (Elaphe longissima).

Several rare bird species can also be seen with a little luck, as among them the black storks (Ciconia nigra) nesting on the northern  hillside, common buzzards (Buteo buteo), ravens (Corvus corax), and a Mediterranean bird species, the rock bunting (Emberiza cia) that spends the summer in Hungary; or maybe the bee-eater, a bird nesting in the loess walls. At dusk we can hear the distinctive sound of the nightjar (Caprimulgus europeus) and we can also sight barn owls (Tyto alba) hunting for mice. Even the winter can produce ornithological surprises: the wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) on the cliff walls, which stays in Hungary in the winter and the alpine accentor (Prunella collaris) searching for wood in the grass.

The derelict shafts of the old bauxite mine are suitable habitats for various bat species, including long-fingered bats (Miniopterus schreibersi), a species once frequent but now almost extinct in the area. We can also see larger mammals, such as grazing roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and hares (Lepus europaeus), but foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are also common, and we can also see badgers (Meles meles) coming out of their shelter at dusk.