Natural objects of interest in Piešťany and its surroundings

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Town Piešťany spreads in the River Váh Valley, known as Lower Váh flood plain, 162 m above sea level. The valley is rimmed by Považský Inovec mountain range in the East. The mountain range Southwest promontories touch the River Váh, next to Piešťany. The distant Small Carpathian mountain range makes up the valley border from the West. The valley width reaches app. 10 - 12 km between these two orographic entities. The brook Dubová flows through the town, following the River Váh. The thermal springs are the most famous items from the point of hydrology and, thanks to them, Piešťany became famous spa town. The Piešťany region belongs to the most warm climate zone within Slovakia. The climate is slightly dry, yearly average rain fall is around 600 mm. The winter is moderate and the water area, in close proximity to the thermal springs, never freezes over. This applies especially to the River Váh by-pass. The top parts of the Považský Inovec mountain range have colder and more humid climate. The location of the region, between Panonia Plains and West Carpathian Mountains, its geological composition and climate, determinated conditions for biodiversity. Panonian and Mediterranean elements flow here from South, while Carpatian elements penetrate from North.

The research of Piešťany nature and its surroundings has long tradition. Famous botanists, like J. L. Holuby (1902), P. Silinger (1931), Professor K. Domin from Karlova univezita in Prague, author of the monography „Piešťany flora“ (1931), J. Futák (1966). Š. Malgocký (1979)  and other botanists devoted their time to the flora of Tematín Highlands and Považský Inovec mountain range. Study „Fish in the River Váh in Piešťany and building of the hydroelectric power station in Madunice“, by V. Mišík (1958), concentrates, naturally, on fish. Though, the greatest attention was paid to birds. The work of Piešťany ornitologist V. Kubán represents enormous contribution to the knowledge and protection of birds in the region. He ringed around 120 000 birds himself and published articles about many rare sightings, particulary from the area around Sĺňava water reservoir. The feedbacks give us reliable information about individual flying paths of particular birds. P. Kaňuščák (1975) and many other ornitologists researched the avifauna of the greater Piešťany region.

Parks are inseparably linked to the Spa. They spread on both sides of the River Váh. The high diversity of trees and shrubs is maintained for many decades thanks to the masterwork of several generation of gardeners as well as to the favourable climate. Apart from the original species like Black poplar (Populus nigra) and various kinds of willows (Salix sp.), many rare foreign wood species can be found here. They were introduced to this region some 100 - 150 years ago. Especially warm climate loving species can be found in the parks, like Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Golden raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata) or Strawberry shrub (Calycanthus floridus). 

Evergreen small park, before the Spa hotel Thermia Palace, is planted with cedars. Port-Orford-cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) is dominant here along with robust Blue spruces (Picea pungens), originally from Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), from Californian forests, is considered a rarity here. Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana) from Caucasus Mountains, scarce in Slovakia, can be found in the new part of the Spa park. Equally rare Himalayan white pines (Pinus wallichiana) and White fir (Abies concolor) grow there. Sycamore family trees (Platanus x hybrida) and  Indian bean tree (Katalpa bignonioides) are plentiful. Special attention should be given to Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba). It is really ancient species which exists for more than 200 milion years and is known for its curative properties. Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) is particulary impressive. It was created by crossing two East Asian magnolia species in France. The Piešťany parks represent rare country scene full of colours, pleasant smells and beautiful sights. They are also the right place for nice strolls, relaxation and aesthetic experience.

The Spa park is also rich in shrubs and water or marsh flora. We cannot forget about popular small water ponds full of water lilies where Giant water lily of the Amazon (Victoria amazonica) reigns along with the bamboo coppice every summer. Macroscopic algae Chara pistaniensis (Chara pistaniensis) is the endemit of the Piešťany thermal waters. Most likely, it evolved from the ordinary algae which can be found in the blind branches of the River Váh and ponds. This special algae was detected in the Piešťany thermal waters by E. Baudyš in 1921 and described by J. Vilhelm in 1922.

The fauna in the parks is less rich due to high number of visitors. We can encounter mainly Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and Eastern European hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor). In the evening, Noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula) flies out from its hiding places in the hollow trees.  Rooks (Corvus fragilegus) have their colony in the Town park. Quite ordinary spieces here are Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europea) and Green woodpecker (Picus viridis). Several other species of woodpeckers nest here too. Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) shall draw your attention with its songs. During day, Long-eared owl (Asio otus) and Tawny owl (Strix aluco) sleep in more remote places. Laughing frog (Rana ridibunda) can be heard in the ponds of the Spa island. These frogs, more precisely their tadpoles, are threatened by Red-eared terrapins (Chrysemys scripta elegans) which their owners dispose off by releasing them in the ponds. These turtles, being an introduced species from Southeast of North America, have no place in our nature. Mostly in the first warm autumn days, we can find an insect representative, Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) in its favorite places - dikes - around the River Váh.

The tree alley that forms the axis of the Spa park was directed by its creators - gardeners - to the ruins of the Tematín Castle which dominates the nature reserve Tematín Hills. This area captured the botanists´ attention long time ago as it represents a textbook sample of the Carpathian flora overlapping the Panonian one. The sandstone underbed of sun warmed slopes is the biotop for Downy oak (Quercus pubescens) and for a rare kind of Mountain Ash, the Tematín Hills endemit - Domin Mountain Ash (Sorbus dominii). Here, we can find planted Flowering Ash (Fraxinus ornus). Arnold Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) was introduced to fortify eroded slopes but , in present, these pines in the whole Central Europe suffer from serious fungal disease in the whole Central Europe . Beech and hornbeam forests with some maple and ash trees are dominant on North slopes. From early spring, xerothermal flora is represented by Pasque flower (Pulsatilla grandis), Adams Draba (Draba lasiocarpa), representatives of Feather Reed Grass (Stipa sp.), Siberian bellflower (Campanula sibirica), later by the rare Garland flower (Daphne cneorum) and several kinds of orchids like Pale orchid (Orchis pallens), Reed orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis) and Elder-flower orchid  (Dactylorhiza sambucina). Rare Sedge grass (Carex hallerana) grows next to village Lúka nad Váhom. It is the only confirmed place of its occurence in Slovakia. From the Carpathian species, we can find here Alpine pennycress (Thlaspi montanum) or European meadowrue  (Thalictrum  scordonia). The endemit of Tematín Hills is a knapweed species (Colymbada badensis var. tematinensis) described by Prof. Domin.

The fauna is represented by rare species of Longhorn beetles like European Longhorn Beetle (Rosalia alpina) and Plagionotus arcuatus (Plagionotus arcuatus). Not so rare is the Tiger beetle (Cicindela campestris) and Ground beetle (Carabus coriaceus).  One of our most beautiful lizards lives here - Green lizard (Lacerta viridis). In Tematín Hills or in their proximity, in the River Váh flood plains, nests Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca). Unfortunately, due to disturbances of its nests, young and adult birds, nesting is rarely successful.

In the vicinity of the Čachtice Castle, the Southeastern promontories of the SmallCarpathian mountain range are easily accessible from Piešťany. Čachtice Castle hill is significant area of warmth loving sandstone flora. The rare species of Mountain Ash (Sorbus sp.) grow here - Slovak Mountain Ash (Sorbus slovenica) and Kmeť Mountain Ash (Sorbus kmetiana). The plant undergrowth is rich in precious species like Dianthus Tatra Blush (Dianthus lumnitzeri), fenugreek (Trigonella monspeliaca) and various kinds of Feather Reed Grass (Stipa sp.). Orchids like Holuby Late spider orchid (Ophrys holoserica ssp. Holubyana), Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) and several other species like Mueller Orchid (Epipactis muelleri), Epipactis placentina (Epipactis placentina) and Epipactis helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) grow here. The rare Alpine Golden Chain (Laburnum alpinum) can be found close to this locality.

The hill Plešivec, above village Podolie, is another important locality. It has breathtaking view over the whole Považský Inovec mountain range and is supported by impressive spring flora represented here by common invasive steppe spring flowers like Austrian Viper's-grass (Scorzonera austriaca), Big soft thistle (Jurinea mollis) and, in the summer end, Italian aster (Aster amelloides). Again, we can find here rare Mountain Ash species (Sorbus sp.), Golden Chain tree (Laburnum anagyroides) and Downy oak (Quercus pubescens). In the vicinity of the village Lančár or the nature reserve Orlie skaly (Eagle rocks), dolomite promontories offer the whole range of sandstone flora like several species of Feather Reed Grass (Stipa sp.), also Eastern Europe Pasque flower (Pulsatilla pratensis ssp. bohemica), rare Broomrape (Orobanche arenaria) and various orchids: Green-Winged orchid (Orchis morio), Three-toothed orchid (Orchis tridentata), Lady orchid (Orchis purpurea). In the nearby area, we find precious cave formations like Malá pec (Small Oven) and Veľká pec (Big Oven).

But, let us return back to Považský Inovec mountain range. The locality Sedlisko, North from town Hlohovec, is particulary important nature reserve. In the end of March, this area is covered by flower carpets made up from Great Pasque flower (Pulsatilla grandis) which is later replaced by equally impresive blankets of Yellow Pheasant´s Eye (Adonis vernalis). Fancy game of colours continues till summer, created by Burning Bush (Dictamnus albus), Snowdrop Anemone (Anemone sylvestris) and is supplemented by exclusivity of such species like Bladder senna (Colutea arborescens) and European dwarf cherry (Cerasus fruticosa). The locality is rich in several species of butterflies like Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon), Grayling butterfly (Satyrus semele). Matriarchal katydid (Saga pedo) /8/ has registered rare survival here.

Warmth loving oak trees with significant and rare herbal undergrowth can be located in the surroudings of the village Sokolovce. Rich representation of orchids is strenghtened by their crossing as was the case of commonly found Orchis x hybrida (Orchis x hybrida).  We can locate also  White hellerborine (Cephalanthera damasonium), Violet limodore (Limodorum abortivum) and recently described Himantoglossum caprinum (Himantoglossum caprinum). Several species from The Red Book, like Rampion mignonette (Reseda phyteuma), Thorow wax (Bupleurum affine), found here good conditions for survival.

Like the xerothermal localities, the forest communities are equally rich around Piešťany. On the hill Havran, above Piešťany, we can be enchanted by carpets of flowering Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) which are later replaced by equally homogene blankets of Fumewort (Corydalis solida). The last species demonstrating itself by profound flowering is Bear´s Garlic (Allium ursinum). Than, dense forest of beech and hornbeam trees and their leaves cover the undergrowth. Interesting locality Starý vrch (behind the hill Havran) has acidic siliceous surface where completely different composition of woods and flora grows. In the end of summer, uninterrupted canopy of the Wickwar flame (Calluna vulgaris) is letting us know the nostalgic autumn is comming but, in the same breath, announces the arrival of Indian summer with its warm, sunny caresses. In the spring, Witches´ broom (Sarothamnus scoparius) dominates here, to be followed by Sticky catch-fly (Steris viscaria) or Sand Spurrey (Spergularia rubra) and several kinds of Pilosella Mouse-ear hawkweed (Hieracium sp.).

The valley Výtoky, East from Piešťany, is frequented as hiking place by Piešťany residents. The long valley is a starting point for a trip to the highest peak of the surrounding area - Marhát. Traditionally, a New Year´s eve hike is organised here. The deep valley is sanctuary for rare species of insects like Capricorn beetle (Cerambyx scopolii) or Small Stag beetle (Dorcus parallelopipedus). Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) /l0/ lives here, and next to this area, Smooth Newt (Triturus vulgaris), rarely present in Slovakia,  can be found. It is important to mention precious forest meadows with rich presence of orchids: Early-purple orchid (Orchis mascula), Elder-flowered orchid (Dactylorhiza sambucina), Round-leaved Twayblade (Listera ovata), Lesser butterfly orchid (Platanthera bifolia)... We can, with luck, find Yellow Figwort (Scrophularia vernalis), or Small Teasel (Virga pilosa). Pawpaw Asimina triloba (Laser triloba) is frequent species in the beech and hornbeam woods in Výtoky area. Roe deers (Capreolus capreolus) and wild boar (Sus scrofa) are home here. They often enliven the visitors hikes in the deep valleys around Gajdy.

The remains of the hard wood wetland forests can be found Southwest from Piešťany, around the village Madunice. One and half century ago, the bard of the Slovak literature, Ján Hollý, wrote his works here. Hedge Maples (Acer campestre), Narrowleaf Ash (Fraxinus angustifolia), Small-leaved Elm (Ulmus minor) and other trees make up these woods. Bladder nut (Staphylea pinnata) is abundant in the undergrowth.  We also have to mention the rare Summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) and Arrowhead Alpines (Iris graminea).

The number of water dams, reservoirs and dikes around Piešťany offer to a nature and bog land lover lot of experience and knowledge. The lake system from town Leopoldov to village Drahovce is rich with water flora. If we stop next to lake called Ypsilon, North from Leopoldov, we can observe massive occurence of Southern Bladderwort (Utricularia australis), several species of Curly pondweed (Potamogeton sp.) and Beal yellow pond-lily (Nuphar lutea) which is dominant in the protected nature reserve Sĺňava. This plant, along with  Cat-tails (Typha sp.), cover large areas.

In 1959, the water resevoir Sĺňava was formed as the dike wall was erected. This locality is extremly important from the point of bird protection. That was the reason for its inclusion in the system of protected nature reserves in Slovakia. The water reservoir itself is area of 430 ha but the protected area reaches 691 ha. Sĺňava lies on an important migration route that follows the River Váh valley. During the spring and autumn bird migration, it serves to them as resting place. Than, various species of mallards, geese, plovers, sandpipers, jack snipes, European curlews, greenshanks, herons, gulls but also birds of prey and singers.

Sĺňava offers sanctuary for wintering birds, particulary in places where the water doesn´t freeze over thanks to thermal springs. So far, more than 120 species of wintering birds were accounted for. Some of them, like Mute Swans  (Cygnus olor), Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), Rail Coots (Fulica atra) and Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus), allow Piešťany visitors and residents to feed them from the Colonnade Bridge.

Colourful Kingfisher frequents River Váh by - pass. The protected nature reserve Sĺňava is also significant for having good conditions for nesting. The island Čajka (Gull Island), in the middle of the reservoir, is in fact a large deposit of cobble gravel. It became a sought after place for water birds to nest. In present, it is the most important nesting place of gulls in Slovakia. The most common is Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) and there is around 10 000 pairs ot them there. Other birds are Common Gull (Larus canis) and Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus). The colony of endangered Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) numbering more than 50 pairs is also valuable.

Reptiles are represented by Ringed Snake (Natrix natrix). The fish is represented by more common species like Common carp (Cyprinus carpio), Tench (Tinca tinca), Northern pike (Esox lucius), several kinds of Common bream (Abramis sp.) and Estuary pike (Leuciscus sp.). Welsh catfish (Silurus glanis) can grow here to really large sizes. Almost every year, one Welsh catfish weighting 30 - 40 kg is caught here. The biggest piece to be caught so far was one weighting 68 kg and 215 cm long in 2000. Attention should be given to some of our butterflies, namely to Southern Festoon La Diane (Zerynthia polyxena) and to the elegant, but today rare, Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio machon). Let us mention a beetle too, on this occasion Musk beetle (Aromia muschata).

From 2004, protected nature reserve Sĺňava was included into the National list of protected bird territories. This locality was also included into the National list of territories of European significance NATURA 2000.