Occurring Plant Species

In the cross-state UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Elbe River Landscape, more than 1,300 plant species occur as a result of the transition from an oceanic-maritime to a continental climate and the great diversity of habitats. Of these, about 400 species are on the Red List of endangered ferns and flowering plants.

The main focus is on the characteristic plant species of the water-dominated habitats. Other focal points are the alternating wet grassland sites with very different nutrient supplies and the nutrient-poor dry sites.

Water and Stream-Valley Plants

Wasserfeder (Hottonia palustris) in einem Graben © B. Niebelschütz
water violet (Hottonia palustris)

Oxbow lakes and other standing waters are inhabited by aquatic plants such as pondweed (Potamogeton spec.), white water lily (Nymphaea alba) and yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea). Tall sedge meadows and reedbeds occur on wet sites, e.g. on the tributaries. The softwood floodplains formed by various willow species are also typical on the Elbe and its tributaries. This vegetation not only tolerates recurrent flooding, but in some cases even needs it. Here, the sediment-rich floodwaters of the Elbe bring in sand, silt, dead plant parts and seeds, which are deposited in the floodplains as the water slowly recedes. The nutrients they contain are then slowly released.

Elbspitzklette (Xanthium albinum) © I. Valentin
Xanthium albinum

Sand and silt masses are also deposited directly on the groynes in the river bed of the Elbe independently of the high water. Pioneer vegetation develops here, e.g. with water mudwort (Limosella aquatica) and strapwort (Corrigiola litoralis), which is often only stable for a short time until new material is brought in during the next flood.

The typical river valley plants of the Elbe valley have also adapted to the dynamics of the floods, and their distribution is mainly concentrated along the rivers such as the Rhine, Oder and Elbe and their larger tributaries. On the banks of the Elbe, in the groyne fields and on the groynes, British yellowhead  (Inula britannica), Xanthium albinum and gratiole (Gratiola officinalis) flower.

Plants in Grassland and Fens

Kuckucks-Lichtnelke (Silene flos-cuculi) © B. Niebelschütz
ragged-robin (Silene flos-cuculi)

Due to the large-scale drainage of lowland areas, ca. 85 % of the grassland is predominantly intensively used agricultural grassland. The typical vegetation community of the receded alternating wet floodplain grassland typical of the Elbe valley is the Cnidium-floodplain meadow with typical plant species such as Selinum dubium, common meadow-rue (Thalictrum flavum) and  true fox sedge (Carex vulpina). The wet grassland is also a habitat for numerous endangered plant species, such as common sedge (Carex nigra), brown sedge (Carex disticha), marsh pea (Lathyrus palustris) and ragged-robin (Silene flos-cuculi).

Mittlerer Sonnentau (Drosera intermedia) © B. Niebelschütz
oblong-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia)

In the nutrient-rich marshy fens within the river and stream lowlands as well as the shallow fen overlays in the area of the valley sand, typical plant species can be found, e.g. fen ragwort (Jacobaea paludosa), marsh spurge (Euphorbia palustris) and lanceleaf water plantain (Alisma lanceolatum). In the less nutrient-poor fens, such as the small-scale dune fens and the transitional and oscillating grassland fens protected under the FFH habitat type, typical representatives are found such as bottle sedge (Carex rostrata), purple marshlocks (Potentilla aloides), tufted loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora),  cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) and peat mosses (Spaghnum spec.), but also various species of orchid, sundew and cotton grass.

Plants in dry Grasslands and Heaths

Scharfer Mauerpfeffer (Sedum acre) © D. Foitlänger
goldmoss stonecrop (Sedum acre)

In contrast, the dry inland dune sites are only a short distance from the wet areas. They are partly covered with dune pine forests. In addition, there are also large areas without trees, the sand dry grasslands, and even areas without vegetation. Typical plants of the flower-rich sand-dry grasslands are grey hair-grass (Corynephorus canescens), marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), stonecrop species, sea thrift (Armeria elongata), sea thrift (Dianthus deltoides) and Carthusian pink (Dianthus carthusianorum) as well as Breckland thyme (Thymus serpyllum).

As a special feature, the endangered Jurinea cyanoides and the  blue hair grass (Koeleria glauca) occur on more alkaline sites and represent a priority FFH habitat type.

Besenheide (Calluna vulgaris) © D. Steyer
common heather (Calluna vulgaris)

On the sandy, nutrient-poor subsoil of the partly open heath areas, grey hair-grass (Corynephorus canescens) and common heather (Calluna vulgaris) are the predominant plant species. An outstanding example of a seemingly endless heathland is the Lübtheener Heide, a former military training area and the largest contiguous area of sand heath or sand-dry grassland on drifting sand in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Heaths are actually a centuries-old cultivated landscape and without regular use or care, the heaths grow over with wavy hair-grass (Deschampsia flexuosa), common broom (Cytisus scoparius) and pines.