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The cascading lakes and rolling woodlands of Plitvice Lakes National Park constitute some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe. It is a landscape that has literally been forged out of the plant life that grows within its borders, as well as the limestone beds upon which it rests, which accumulates in the moss and algae that line the park's lakes and streams to form a soft, porous kind of rock called travertine. (See How Does Water Turn to Stone?)

A forest In order for this process to happen in the first place, the water must be very pure -- which, in Plitvice, it largely is, in particular due to the high quality of the area's soil, which acts as a kind of natural filter. The region has experienced little in the way of soil erosion, and this is thanks to the longstanding presence of the area's forests. Much of the forest substratum is composed of dolomite rock that, without the woods, would quickly erode, and fill the lakes with debris (one small lake has already been lost this way). The roots of the park's trees literally hold the place together. Many species may be found here: several kinds of maple (Acer pseudoplatanus, Acer platanoides, Acer obtusatum), sessile oak (Quercus petraea), scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), mountain elm (Ulmus montana), spruce (Picea excelsa), as well as juniper trees, pine, and birch. But the two primary trees are beech (Fagus sylvatica) and fir (Abies alba). Beech accounts for nearly three quarters of the trees in the park.

A flower Within Plitvice there is a great deal of variation in altitude, which has resulted in a number of different forest communities. The park's distinctive beech and fir trees may be found along with spruce, sycamore maple, and wych elm from the lowest elevations up to 4,000 feet. In the northwestern corner of the park, between 2,800 and 3,370 feet above sea level, one may find an area of untouched beauty. Here, there lies an ancient forest of fir and beech, with trees as high as 160 feet. Above 4,000 feet, the fir trees become sparse, and the beech trees are much shorter. In general, as the elevation increases, the trees decrease in height to better withstand the high winds and heavy winter snowfalls. Shrub-like subalpine beech trees (Fagetum croaticum subalpinum) are frequent, as well as mountain pine (Pinus mugus).

A flower by a lake Although most of the park consists of these forests, nearly a quarter of its domain consists of meadows. These are typical grasslands of brome grass and fireweed, similar to many that may be found across continental Croatia. In the autumn, the violet flowers of heather may spruce up the landscape's look. Another common addition to the colors of these meadows may come from hawk's beard, which resembles a dandelion and is typically yellow or red.

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