Beaches and Dunes
Along the beaches and dunes, because of the difficult living conditions (wind, salinity, irradiance, and instability of the terrain), the vegetation is sparse and disconnected. One can observe the following species: the yellow hornpoppy, the sea lily, and marine fennel. In the back-dune environment, one sees juniper plants, mastics, heather, rosemary, rockroses, and broom shrubs. Points of interest. Many parts of the yellow hornpoppy plant are poisonous, but the seeds were used to produce lamp oil or soaps. Marine fennel was gathered by sailors and eaten as a vegetable during voyages; even today the Sardinians use the pickled leaves for nutritional purposes. The wood of the juniper plant was used in the construction of boats and attics because of its durability, whereas they obtained different homemade liquors and medicines by soaking the berries. The mastics produce red flowers during the summer and black flowers during the winter. These flowers were used to make lamp oil or, in the poorest families, a substitute for olive oil. From the various parts of the heather plant they made brooms (from the branches), coal for the blacksmiths (from the wood), and honey (from the flowers). Rosemary was and is still used as a condiment because of its flavoring, invigorating, and purifying qualities. The wood of the rockrose was used as kindling. The flowers of the broom shrub were employed to extract an intense yellow color with which they dyed dry goods.
On the cliffs, because of the wind, elevated salinity, and erosion of the terrain, one sees species typical to rocky, arid areas. The so-called vegetation is a short, spiky scrub that resembles a pillow. Common species in this habitat are: helichrysum, milk vetch, and the thorny bluebottle. Points of interest. Helichrysum was used to flavor food and treat inflammation of the respiratory tract, as well as being a painkiller and ornamental plant. Extract of milk vetch was employed against inflammation, infections, and flu.
This environment is divided into strips: a strip of elevated salinity closer to the sea populated by saltwort, limonium, and short grass; a strip of mid-level salinity populated by rushes and tamarisks; and, closer to the tributaries, a strip of very low salinity populated by straws and sedges.
Mediterranean brush is a complex form of vegetation with bushy or tree-like species, and is located primarily in hot, arid regions. Its composition has many forms, but in general the brush is divided into two groups: tall brush with bushes that grow no higher than 4 meters (ilex, juniper, strawberry trees, mastics, and bay trees), and short brush comprised of bushes closer to 2 meters in height (euphorbia, rockrose, oleander, and scrub). Points of interest. The strawberry tree is a bush with many uses; the wood was employed for the production of lathes; the fruit was made into marmalades; bitter honey was made from the flowers. This honey had antiseptic properties and was used to treat bronchitis. The bay tree is widely used in Sardinia: in the cuisine for seasoning, in home remedies to fight the jitters and to treat pain and welts. Myrtle has even more diverse uses: the wood is employed for inlay work and liquor is made from the fruit, while the leaves are used to cure hides. Lavender, typical of brush and scrub, was made into an ointment for insect bites (a fresh paste made with olive oil), and also kept among the herds to protect the animals from the evil eye; today it’s mainly used to make honey. Thyme was used in the cuisine for its digestive, expectorant, and antiseptic properties.
Forests and Woods
The forests and woods currently present in Sardinia are the remainders of a once-expansive vegetation that was widely exploited by man until the 70s. The most characteristic Sardinian forest is that of the ilex, which is monospecific if it matures and closes up, and joined by other species such as juniper, mastics, and strawberry trees if instead it remains a bit open and allows the passage of solar radiation. Ilex is a wood that was—and is to this day—used popularly as firewood. In the colder, wetter areas, ilex is associated with oak, a plant considered sacred by the first Sardinians. Today it is appreciated both for its wood, which is employed in construction, and for its acorns, which are important for the breeding of wild pigs. Chestnut trees also appear in the ilex forests. Another characteristic Sardinian forest is that of cork, which has both natural and man-made origins. These forests are well preserved because they allow the growth of grasses suitable for pastures, and also for the extraction of the cork itself. This is a delicate process that is carried out on plants at least 15-20 years old every 9-12 years. Finally, it is also possible to see pine forests in Sardinia, though these are almost exclusively man-made. In fact, various species of pine were used to protect the soil from the risk of ecologic instability, particularly because of their quick growth rate. In the past, they extracted a substance from pinewood that was used to dye fishing nets.