The short horizontal distance with which Etna reaches an altitude of almost 3400 metres means it is home to many different microclimates and environments, from coastal to mountain to alpine, favoured by the excellent
fertility of the volcanic soil
This also leads to the presence of numerous plant species, from trees and shrubs to grasses and the astragalus siculus, often populated by species with intensely coloured flowers in the favourable seasons. With the gradual increase in altitude, these plants become smaller and smaller, until they are no more, and the active volcano takes over.
Plant life at higher altitudes is represented by highly specialised organisms, which have had to adapt to adverse weather conditions and the destructive action of lava. These very plants are the most valuable species of Etna’s flora.
Many are endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else in the world. On the slopes of the Etna massif, dotted with large and small urban settlements, the landscape appears to have been strongly modified by the prevalence of agricultural elements.
The portions of vegetation that have remained intact are formed of xerophytes, shrubland, bushes and fragments of woodland. This area corresponds to the warmest point called “thermo-Mediterranean”, consisting of an olive-green mastic shrubland.
At higher altitudes, the dark green of the evergreen holly oak woods, known as the “meso-Mediterranean”, contrasts with the chestnut and deciduous oak woods of the higher area, called the “supra-Mediterranean”. They are bare in winter, turn green in the summer months and feature typical seasonal colours in autumn. In the Mediterranean montane ecosystem, the woods are dominated by fascinating beech trees with their unmistakable reddish-brown colour in autumn and by birch, a plant with a characteristic white bark often lacerated by darker incisions.