Sinegorskaya fir grove - the unique natural monument of East Kazakhstan

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014

Author: Ussikov Victor, Kazakh American Free University, Kazakhstan

Sinegorskaya fir grove occupies a special place among the monuments of nature in East Kazakhstan. Only it has the republican status. But it there is no detailed its detailed characteristics in literature yet. The research that we conducted in 1982-2013 allows to fill this gap.

Isolated relict fir forest grove, located outside the main range of Siberian fir (Abies sibirica), was taken under state protection in 1968. In 1986, in accordance with our recommendations it was assigned the status of a public monument of national importance. The reserve covers an area of 137 hectares and is located in Ulan district of East Kazakhstan Region on the territory of forestry Sinegorskiy Asubulak state forestry agency (forest block 278).

The nature monument is organized in the north-eastern part of the granite massif Kok-Tau (Kalba Altai or Kalba) on the northern slope of Mount Medvedka. The letter stretches from south-east to north-west and it is the watershed between the left tributaries of the Urunhay and right tributaries of the Sibinka. The central shallows, which is broad and deeply embedded, separates two south-eastern peaks with an altitude of 1417.1 and 1414.1 meters from below hypsometrically located north-west one (1398.9 m). Relative excess over the river valleys reach 700-800 metres.

Mount Medvedka is well moistened. Annual rainfall (800-1000 mm) is twice-2.5 times higher than in the surrounding areas. [1] July daytime temperatures reach +23 ...+25°C. The winters are severe. It is indicated by freezing fir tops. A flag-like limb of firs occurring in the watershed and in the lower slopes indicate strong westerly and south-westerly winds. The snowpack is unevenly spread. It is almost absent in open rocky areas. On turf-covered surfaces of the watershed its power does not exceed 20 cm. At the foot of the slopes and at the bottom of the shallows the layer of snow can reach 2-3 m. In the spring snow lies until mid-May. On the steep northwestern slopes avalanches take place frequently.

Fractured groundwater on flat areas of the upper part of the slope forms wetlands. Below and at the foot of the mountain they poured in the form of three sources, which hydraulic discharge is 0.2-0.5 l/s, and the water temperature is 4.7°C.

Soil cover is noted for contrast and mosaic structure. Under woody vegetation mountain-forest dark gray weakly podzolized soils dominate. Under scrubs of different kinds and steppe phytocoenoses mountain-steppe xeromorphic leached soils dominate. At the foot of the watershed a small piece of mountain meadow subalpine sod soils, formed under meadow communities with significant participation subalpine elements, preserves.

Woody vegetation covers 38% of the reserve. It is timed to ravines, slopes of different exposures and foot granite outcrops. Trees can be found in the entire altitude range, forming a formation of Siberian fir (Abies sibirica), aspen (Populus tremula) and European birch (Betula pendula). Bushes as independent coenosis cover 37% of the natural monument and grow everywhere. At the bottom of the slopes and hollows along the rocky outcrops they have the character of impassable thickets. Wider than other common tree formation of pea tree (Caragana arborescens), pea shrub (Caragana frutex), ipecac (Spiraea hypericifolia), meadowsweet (S. chamaedrifolia) and prickly hips (Rosa spinosissima). These plants often form polydominant community of different kinds (Caragana arborescens + Rosa spinosissima + Spiraea chamaedryfolia). At the upper boundary of the reserve juniper Juniperus sabina (solntsepechnye slopes) and J. sibirica (northern slope) develop. Along the borders of the monument there are fragmentary steppe cenoses containing relics of the Pleistocene (Allium rubens, A. altaicum, Tulipa uniflora, T. altaica, Veronica pinnata, Paeonia hybrida, Rheum altaicum) and forb-grass meadow steppes. Forest clearing and edge busy meadow vegetation formed tall (1.5-2 m), Altai type (dudnikovaya, borschevnikovaya and grass-forb associations), as well as formations cuff Siberian (Alchemilla sibirica) and Russian iris (Iris ruthenica). In the water-divide part of the northern slope the meadows acquire subalpine look through participation of alpines Aster alpinus, Polygonum alpinum, P. bistorta, Trollius altaicus, Pedicularis elata, Iris ruthenica and Dianthus superbus.

Unique community settles on the rocks, stony and rocky slopes, macrofragmental placers. They are based on 10-12 species of shrubs (Juniperus sibirica, J. sabina, Spiraea trilobata, S. hypericifolia, Rosa spinosissima and others) and about 40 species of herbaceous plants (Allium nutans, A. rubens, Sedum hybridum, S. eversii, Adenophora lilifolia, Carex supina, Fritillaria verticillata, Orostachys spinosa, Dianthus versicolor and others).

The main object of protection of the reserve is cenopopulation of Siberian fir of Koktaus massif. At the moment it is practically the only in Kalba Altai (two small groups of trees grow on the watershed between the Chalobaybulak and the Butebulak and in the upper reaches of the Aktasty in 13 km and 32 km to south-east of Mount Medvedka respectively) and is located on the southwestern edge of its dispersal in Kazakhstan, outside its main area of species. The border of the latter passes 45 km to the northeast.

On Mount Medvedka fir grows at altitudes of 800-1400 m. The lower boundary of its distribution in Kalba 300-400 m higher than in the Western Altai. The high-altitude range of the lowest-growing trees indicates that this boundary for the observable time has risen by more than 100 m. This indicates cruelty of environmental conditions in which the Medvedka cenopopulation exists. They cause the emergence of the fur specific features of morphological and reproductive character. These should include, above all, the formation of atypical tree limb form, multi-bodies of trees, icing up of treetops, vegetative growth which fir trees do not have in Western Altai.

Fir forest covers 25 hectares and is confined to the sloping and moderately steep (20-25°) slopes of the north-west, north-east and particularly the northern exposures (75% of the total fir trees). The fir forms pure and mixed with birch and aspen (up to 10-40% of the total number of trees) forest crop of IV-V age classes (average age 88 years) with cover density of 0.3-0.9 (average 0.58) and height of 8-17 meters.

Single fir trees and small groups (2-5 trees) first appear at the height of 800 meters. The largest ones reach 10-12 m in height. Their predominantly pyramidal crowns, at the lower end are one-sided and curved. A “skirted” form is often found. The middle part of such trees is bare. Only lower branches remain, they outspread on the ground as a “skirt” with a diameter of 2-3 meters. On a contact with the soil they take root easily, forming peculiar clonal groups. Seeds are not formed, the natural seed regeneration is absent. A common phenomenon is drying of the tree tops and multi-stem. Treed slope are covered with Betula pendula and Populus tremula. In the middle part of the slope the crown density of firs increases to 0.5. Shrubby undergrowth of firs is well developed and presented by Spiraea chamaedrifolia, Caragana arborescens, Rosa spinosissima, Sorbus sibirica. Of herbaceous plants Saussurea latifolia, Paeonie anomala and Trollius altaica dominate. They are accompanied by Anthriscus sylvestris, Lamium album, Atragene sibirica, Festuca gigantea, Geranium albiflorum, Polygonum alpinum, Peucedanum ruthenicum, Primula macrocalyx, Lathyrus vernus, Adenophora lilifolium, Orobus luteus, Aconitum septentrionale, Bupleurum longifolium, Viola disyncta, Crepis sibirica, Iris ruthenica, Thalictrum collinum, Lilium martagon, Carex marcoura, Artemisia sericea and other plants dominate of herbaceous plants.

At the upper boundary of the forest (1330-1400 meters) the fir forms large separated forest stands. The fir often settles on rocks. It is characterized, as in the previous section, twisted trees and multi-bodies of trees. The treetops often freeze around, and the lower branches are “crawling” down the hill, and they take roots and vertically extending tree stems are formed on them. Such forms - “prostrate” and “multi-stem-outspread” are noticed also among non-injured species. Bearing and renewal by seed are absent. The treetops are often one-sided, flag-shaped. Branches are from the north-eastern side, which indicates the presence of strong southwesterly winds. In the fir woods the moss carpet intensively develop. The species composition of herbaceous plants is poor. It is presented by kseropetrofits Allium nutans, A. rubens, Sedum hybridum, S. eversii, Orostachys spinosa, Carex supina, C. turkestanica, Fritillaria verticillata, Dianthus versicolor and some other plants. Of the shrubs on the periphery of the clumps common Juniperus sibirica and Spiraea trilobata.

In the eastern part of the massif (1130 - 1330 m) there are more firs, but they are strictly confined to the south-west foot of the granite ridge running parallel to the slope from the top to the bottom. The condition of the plants is satisfactory. Frost-crack in the trees and multi body character is absent.

Treetops are lush, of correct pyramidal form. Individual specimens reach 15-17 meters in height and 30-35 cm in diameter. Natural revegetation is predominantly vegetative. On a 100 m long transect there are from 7 to 15 seedlings of different ages and from 40 to 80 vegetative shoots peeled. Of other tree species sporadically Betula pendula occurs. Shrub layer is very sparse and is formed by Spiraea trilobata, Ribus atropurpurea, Sorbus sibirica, Lonicera altaica.

Grassy cover is intensively developed. In its structure mesophilic herbs prevail such as Saussurea latifolia, Festuca gigantea, Alfredia cernua, Dactylis glomerata, Milleum effusum, Stachys sylvaticus, Trollius altaicus, Cortusa altaica, Heracleum dissectum, H. sibiricum, Archangelica decurrens, Polygonum alpinum, Aconitum septentrionale, Paeonia anomala, Geranium albiflorum, Lilium martagon, Crepis sibirica, Bupleurum longifolium. The common brackens are Driopteris filix-mas and Athyrium filix femina.

On the western slope (1100-1300 m) the treetops are of correct form without anomalies. Fir lost the ability for vegetative reproduction. Renewal by seed is the most intense throughout coenopopulations. The number of seedlings of different ages on registration plots (10 × 10 m) varies from 15 to 40 copies. Plantings are dense, crown cover is 0.7-0.8. Separated forest stands are not infrequently interleaved with clearings in the wood. Along the perimeter of forest stands in cenoses forest grasses of Saussurea latifolia, Trollius altaica, Orobus luteus and Lilium martagon dominate.

Foresters point to one type of Sinegorskiy grove of fir forests - herb-widely fir forest [2]. In fact, depending on the altitude position, climate, exposure conditions and the substrate 4 Associations of fir are distinguished clearly.

Fir association (ass. Abies sibirica) is represented in large dense clumps in the middle part of the forestland. Trees density reaches 0.7-0.9. Shrubby undergrowth, grass and moss cover are absent. The soil is covered with a dense and continuous thick layer of fallen fir-needle.

Sedge grass-stonecrop-fir association (ass. Abies sibirica + Carex supina + Sedum hybridum) is typical for stony rocky habitat on the edges of the grove. Stand of trees is thin, shrub layer is poorly formed. Projective cover of herbaceous plants is 10-20% (total 52 species).

The following two types of fir forests occupy the middle part of the slope. In pea tree-spiraea-fir association (ass. Abies sibirica + Spiraea chamaedryfolia + Caragana arborescens) stands are rare, but firs grow in groups (2-5 copies). The undergrowth is rich and varied. Grassy cover is well defined. It is composed of 78 species of plants. Relics of nemoral complex which are characteristic of black boreal forest are absent.

Herb-miscellaneous forbs-fir association (ass. Abies sibirica + Dacrylis glomerata + herbs) is characterized by alternating clumps of fir and meadow clearings. Shrubby undergrowth is rare and poor in composition. Grassy cover is thick and multi-tiered. There is some depletion of the total species composition (about 130 species) and the association of the complex deciduous forests relicts of Pliocene. Of the 17 species nemoral relics fir forests of Western Altai [3] in Kalba population only 6 - Dryopteris filix-mas, Stachys sylvatica, Festuca gigantea, F. sylvatica, Brachypodium silvaticum and Alfredia cernua can be found. These include, in addition, ferns Athyrium filix femina, Gymnocarpium dryopteris and herbaceous flowering plants - Oxsalis acetosella, Carex arnellii and Milleum effusum.

Another very interesting plant of Sinegorskiy groves is bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Besides Medvedka this typical boreal stenotopic species occurs in two places of Kalba Altai - near Sibinskie Lakes (Kyzylkayyn area) and near Lake Shybyndykol (Mamyrtaldybulak area).

On Mount Medvedka (800 m2) association of blueberry preserved near the upper boundary of firs (1330-1340 m) on the lawn of the subalpine type. On its edges young aspen and birch trees isolated goat willow (Salix caprea) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), and Siberian juniper grow. Projective cover of blueberry in the community is 50%. It is accompanied by Carex melananthiformis, Polygonum alpinum, Veratrum lobelianum, Rubus saxatilis, Saussurea latifolia, Dianthus versicolor, Solidago virgaurea, Fragaria vesca, Alchimilla sibirica, Brachypodium silvaticum. Cenopopulation is in a satisfactory condition and it is characterized by small berries (3.5-4.5 mm in diameter), weak and irregular data fruiting.

Sinegorskaya fir grove as a natural monument has great scientific and cultural significance. It is known for its unique flora and vegetation. It is a kind of unique geobotanical unique, clearly remarkable in the system of botanical-geographical zoning of Kalba uplands. It is characterized by a very high species richness of flora. On an area less than 1.5 km2 o 400 species of vascular plants and spore (35% of the flora Kalba) are concentrated.

About 40 species are classified as rare or endangered, and 7 of them are listed in the Red Book of Kazakhstan. Three species - Siberian adder's-tongue (Erythronium sibiricum), Altaian rhubarb (Rheum altaicum) and Altaian gimnospermium (Gymnospermium altaicum) - grow on the nature monument. 4 more species - Altaian daphne (Daphne altaica), Ledeburovsky almonds (Amygdalus ledebouriana), Ludwig iris (Iris ludwigii) and steppe peony (Paeonia hybrida) - are found in the north- eastern foot of Mount Medvedka.

In the grove and its immediate surroundings a large group of relics belonging to different complexes are revealed. So, Dryopteris filix-mas, Stachys sylvatica, Festuca gigantea, F. sylvatica, Alfredia cernua, Athyrium filix femina, Gymnocarpium dryopteris, Oxsalis acetosella, Carex arnellii and Milleum effusum inhabited Pliocene deciduous forests. Tertiary relicts of forest and bushland formations are also Altaian daphne, almonds Ledeburovsky and common pine - the main forest-forming species of Kalba. Complex of glacial relicts are Abies sibirica, Allium altaicum, Tulipa uniflora, T. altaica, Paeonia hybrida, Rheum altaicum and Iris ludwigii. The firs composed Pleistocene dark conifer fir-pine and probably mixed forests and other types composed herbal and shrub steppe.

Most likely, during glacial periods Medvedsky massif was part of a refugium, where tertiary relicts experienced repeated climatic cooling. During interglacial times their settlement on the territory of the region took place from this refugium.

In the past, the fir formation of Eastern Kalba was more widespread and was associated with fir forests of Western Altai. However, in the Holocene, resulting in arid climate, the area of distribution of fir tree species declined rapidly and probably 8-10 thousand years ago reached a state close to the modern one. Currently, reduction of area of Sinegorskaya coenopopulation of fir trees causes mainly strong competition from shrub vegetation formation.

Natural monument, due to unique beauty has great aesthetic value. In addition, it is valuable for recreation, primarily as an object of ecological tourism.


1. Geta R.I., Ussikov V.V. Climatic and hydrological factors of recreational potential of Sibinskie Lakes //Ecology of East Kazakhstan: problems and solutions. - Ust-Kamenogorsk: East Kazakhstan State University Publishing House, 2001. – PP. 56-58.

2. Forestry management system in the forests of East Kazakhstan. - Alma-Ata, “Kainar” Publishing House, 1984. – P. 224.

3. Polyakov P.P. On the flora of fir forests of Kazakhstan Altai // Botanic journal. – Volume 35. - 1950. - № 3 . – PP. 301-303.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014

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