Another characteristic that makes Brijuni even more valuable in relation to other areas of this climate is its vegetation. On Veliki Brijun an extraordinary unity of natural elements and anthropogenesis has been achieved. By taking up the farmlands and by clearing the forests and transforming them into landscape parks with vast meadows, a unique landscape on the Croatian Adriatic coast has been created.
The majority of the flora on the archipelago of Brijuni has the typical Mediterranean characteristics. The most important plant associations of Veliki Brijun are: Macchia 261 ha, Meadows 124 ha, Parks 118 ha, Holm oak forests 68 ha, Holm oak and laurel forests 48 ha and Conifers 18 ha.
It is interesting to point out that on the islands there are some plant species that are among the endangered plant species of Istria (marine poppy, wild cucumber, some grass species etc.), but on the islands they are quite widespread and develop freely.
The origin of the name of species was used to denote the holm oak in Roman times. It is a Mediterranean evergreen plant found in areas from the southern coasts of Europe to northern Africa. The tree is up to 25 m high with a short trunk that can measure over 1m in diameter. Its crown is large, oval and dense. Bark on young trees is gray and smooth, whereas on old ones it is shallowly patterned into small squares. Leaves are simple, leathery and remain on the tree 2-3 years. Its flower is a small acorn, borne in long, hard and scaly cups that cover half of the acorn. Holm oak acorns have the highest energy value and are low in tannin, which makes them suitable for eating. Many ancient writers mentioned in their works the edible quality of acorns. One of them, Pliny, records that the acorn is the sweetest when baked in ashes. The famous Dubrovnik poet, Mavro Vetranović praised the holm oak acorn as tastier than chestnuts: "The flavor and beauty of the holm oak acorn far exceeds that of the chestnut."
Together with laurel, holm oak mostly covers the eastern part of Veli Brijun. Nowhere else along the coast of Croatia can such areas covered with holm oak and laurel be found, which is one of the specific features of Brijuni. Lower species that grow here are strawberry-tree and mock privet grow.
The majority of landscaped areas and meadows are to be found on former agricultural land. These areas were used for agriculture throughout history but with the decline of population (diseases, migrations…) were finally abandoned. During the rebuilding of Brijuni into a modern tourist resort (from 1894), part of the autochthonous dense green underbrush and lower parts of the forest was reduced, but larger trees and holm-oaks were preserved. Today some of these trees are finest examples of solitary trees (with their crown tops reaching up to 20m in height) and are landmarks of many open pastures and glades. The unusual shape of their crowns is due to the influence of the deer game that by browsing the leaves and the young shoots up to 2m in height has made the specific “Brijuni” crown’s shape.
Source: National Park Brijuni
Because of the millennial presence of men on the archipelago of Brijuni, the animal world on the islands, especially Veliki Brijun, besides the autochthonous species, was enriched by many imported species that are not congenial to this habitat but got acclimated to it thanks to the almost ideal microclimatic conditions.
Open nature animals
In 1893 on the island lived the European hare (Lepus europaeus sp.) and between 1902 and 1908 the Aksis deer (Aksis aksis), the fallow deer (Dama dama) and the mouflons (Ovis musimon) were imported, so their descendants still adorn the forests, parks and glades of Brijuni and are part of its identity
The autochthonous birds are quite well represented. Some of the smaller islands are excellent habitats where gulls and sea swallows nest, as well as some rare genuses of cormorants. Brijuni are also important seasonal habitats of northern bird species and the most interesting is the locality of Saline. That is a very damp area with three marshy lakes of 8 acres of fenced area with the aim of forming an ornithological reservation.
The biggest lake is overgrown with reed and is a good nestling ground for pratincoles, quails, coots, grebes and wild ducks. In the swamp ooze and shallow water the birds find insects, mosquito larvae and gambusias, small fish that have had an important role in the recovery of the island from malaria at the beginning of the century. In this fenced area the underbrush and the low plant cover can grow undisturbed because there is no influence of the game, therefore this habitat is ideal for many species of warblers, nightingales, blackbirds, chiffchaffs and other songbirds. In the crowns of pines we can find nests of sparrow hawks, goshawks and common buzzards. Of other predatory birds there are the marsh harriers and moor harriers. By the end of the summer many different bird species come to Soline on their way to the south. Already in August we can see widgeons, whistling ducks, diving ducks and swallow ducks. Of herons we can see the little egret, the common heron, the yellow-crowned night heron and the rook. The arrival of the great white egrets, the black storks and the bitterns indicates that this area is also important for such rare and endangered species, which here find their peace and enough quantities of food.
On the northern edge of Veli Brijun, in an enclosed area stretching over 9 hectares, lies the safari park that was formed in 1978. The park is the habitat of many exotic plant eaters: Indian elephant Lanka, llama - South American camel which according to the Indian legend were domesticated in the very beginnings of human existence, zebras, Indian holy cows and ostriches.
Llama (Lama) is a South American member of the camel family, differing from the common camel because of its smaller body and relatively large, pressed together head with a pointed snout, large eyes and slender legs, with two toes that are set apart. Llamas have no hump and are covered with long, thick wooly fur. They live in the high plains of the Cordilleras up to 4500 m above sea level. From the ancient past Indians have used the hair of the llama to make blankets and garments.
The ethno park is an area within the Safari park presenting a typical Istrian homestead with its autochthonous animal species. Istrian ox (Boškarin), Istrian sheep (Istrian "Pramenka"), donkeys and goats. It is intended both as a habitat and presentation of domestic animals of Istria.
There you can also see structures suitable for such farm animals, such as the Istrian open "tetoja" (covered area with feeder for farm animals).
In the deep southern cove of Veli Brijun behind Cape Gromače lies the bird reserve Saline. It stretches over an area of 7 hectares, characteristic for its swampy plants and three small lakes. Within the complex of the largest lake, secretly hidden by the reed lies a secluded small island with a straw-covered hut where Josip Broz Tito used to relax while listening to birds singing.
This bird reserve developed on the remains of medieval salt pans used for the production of salt, which then again originate from ancient salt pans, traces of which are still visible today along the sea coast. The significance and importance of the salt pans can best be seen in documents stating that the profit of Brijuni''s salt sale is "an extraordinary profit for the Venetian Republic” or if you are planning to start your own salt production then you should "visit the salt pans Inzulae Brionorum that have been an example of top quality activities for centuries”. With the land-reclamation works in 1960 the area of salt pans was filled in; two small lakes were formed and in 1973 the third one was added. At that time the largest lake and surrounding area adopted their final functional and landscape form, so that this area became a meeting place for resident and migratory bird species, a true ornithological park.
Today Brijuni ornithological park offers a fascinating and idyllic image of various bird species swimming in the small lakes or hiding in Mediterranean macchia or swampy plants. This rare and exceptional area, truly different from the usual Istrian landscape, can be easily reached except at the time of nesting (April and May) while walking around the small lake or from a bird''s eye view from several elevated observation posts. Apart from presenting the rich variety of wildlife, for some lucky ones Brijuni ornithological park offers a possibility of dining inside the straw hut accompanied by birds'' singing.
Source: National Park Brijuni
The indentation of the coastline, the diversity of the base, the bathymetric configuration and the specific hydrodynamic conditions are reflected in the wide variety of littoral biocoenoses - life communities - that are characteristic for the northern Adriatic region and are still unaffected by direct sources of contamination.
The local seas of Brijuni are important hatching grounds and representative oasis (marine park) for the typical marine organisms of the northern Adriatic, that is their colonies andcommunities. Of the marine organisms that are protected by the Law on Environmental Conservation in the waters of Brijuni you can find the pen-shell (Pinna nobilis) and the date-shell (Lithophaga lithophaga). Turtles and dolphins, the protected marine vertebrates, can also from time to time be seen in the waters of Brijuni. There are also some endemic species like the black tang, Jadranski bračić, and the tunicate, Jadranski ciganin. The seabed abounds in sponges, shellfish, sea urchins, crustaceans, fish etc. Among fish the most numerous are sea basses, giltheads, grey mullets, soles, groupers, conger eels, dentexes, black umbers…
Source: National Park Brijuni
Geological paleontological heritage
The Brijuni Archipelago is today certainly one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Croatia. The paleontological findings of the dinosaurs, the magnificent "horrible reptiles" which ruled planet Earth for more tan 160 milion years (from Late Triassic period, about 220 milion years ago, to the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago when they went extinct). They are undoubtedly one of the prime issues of the socalled scientific tourism.
Brijuni Cretaceous park
At four sites on Veli Brijun over 200 dinosaurs' footprints have been discovered, these frightful reptiles that ruled the Earth during the Mesozoic Era. The Brijuni dinosaurs can be traced to the Cretaceous Period (145 to 65 million years ago), so it can be rightfully said that the island has a "Cretaceous park". So far, dinosaurs' footprints have been discovered at the following sites: Cape Pogledalo, Ploče, Kamik/Plješivac and Trstike/Debela Glava.
Although the first traces of dinosaurs on Brijuni were recorded already in 1925, detailed and intensive research has been conducted only recently. In the 1990s paleontological researches were carried out with the aim of studying the way these animals walked. Traces of footprints, especially series of footprints, paths, reveal invaluable information: size of dinosaur, whether they were two-legged or four-legged, if they roamed around quickly or slowly, in herds or alone.
Right after leaving the boat and landing on the jetty in Brijuni harbor you can see traces of dinosaurs! In the limestone block brought from one of Brijuni's quarries, a three-toed dinosaur''s footprint can clearly be seen. It is likely that it belonged to the huge meat-eating dinosaur of the Theropods group.
Footprints of some sixty large two-legged meat-eating dinosaurs have been found at Cape Pogledalo on Vrbanj/Barban peninsula.
By the size of these traces they belonged to Theropods, large nd fierce meat-eaters that while walking upright in the shallow water of the onetime Tethys ocean, left their footprints. They were 7 meters long and were very much like the Allosaurus. These traces are 130-125 million years old.
At Cape Ploče on Zelenikovac peninsula there are about sixty footprints of small two-legged meat-eating dinosaurs which were 3-4 meters long. These traces most probably belonged to the very fierce and fast meat-eating dinosaurs from the Coelurosaria group.
Zelenikovac peninsula provides a true geological-paleontological treasury from the Early Cretaceous Period, forming a very interesting educational trail. Apart from dinosaurs' footprints there are also layers of fossilized shells of the nerinea gastropod, a series of ripple marks of various sizes and bone breccia.
Highly-spired gastropod shells usually measure 3-4 cm in height and 10-13 mm in diameter. Some of these are completely preserved, others only in cross-section view. They belong to the Alb Epoch, Early Cretaceous Period. They appeared some 100 million years ago.
Source: National Park Brijuni
Fun fact: Lat. Olea europea mill.
- The ancient olive is one of the oldest trees in the Mediterranean
, a fact that has been proved by research carried out on samples of this ancient olive tree. The research was conducted by the Ruđer Bošković Institute in Zagreb, in the 1960s. The method of carbon analysis (by applying radioactive isotope of carbon C14 on the wood sample taken from the tree trunk) showed that the olive tree is about 1600 years old
During a storm in the 1970s the olive split open. The "wounds" resulting from the splitting were preserved with concrete (at that time this was a very common method of preservation in arboriculture). The projection of the tree top is 22x8 meters, measuring a height of 6 meters. Even today the olive tree fructifies (bears fruit) so that it is used to produce olive oil
Source: National Park Brijuni