Flora and fauna

From a botanical point of view, the island of San Pietro is a microcosm in its own right, a small Mediterranean treasure chest full of peculiarities and surprises.

From a botanical point of view, the island of San Pietro is a microcosm in its own right, a small Mediterranean treasure chest full of peculiarities and surprises. In fact, there are no less than 525 hardy species growing on this difficult strip of land, which is wind swept, rocky and devoid of waterways. In spring, however, it does not fail to give the landscape its wild flowers and fragrances: the mastic trees, with their clusters of small coral-red fruits, the explosions of yellow gorse, the dark berries of fragrant myrtle, the savoury wild sea fennel. Together with the scent of Phoenician juniper and the rare Aleppo pine, with its fine foliage and characteristic oblong pine cones; the precious dwarf palms, the small bushes of Greek limonium and saltworts that flourish along the edges of the marshy areas. In addition to the subtle colours of the sixteen different types of wild orchids, the rarities that overcome the hard ground announce the arrival of spring.

But what for a moment makes this small island the centre of the world in the eyes of botanists is the Astragalus maritimus moris. It is a small and tenacious leguminous plant, able to make its way between the stones of the sandy soil. Its small, symmetrical branches of oval leaves and pinkish flowers grow exclusively here, overlooking the sea, in a stretch of no more than 400 metres on the south-western side of the island. Discovered and classified in the first half of the nineteenth century, it is a separate species in botanical treatises, and one in its own right, considered to be a survivor from long-passed geological eras, just like the rocks that house it.

Astralagus (Ph Nicolo Capriata)

If the worldwide uniqueness of the Astralagus is the joy of botanists, then the Cicindela campestris saphyrina is the delight of entomologists: only on this island can you find this small beetle with its enchanting blue armour speckled with yellow. But it is not the only rarity in San Pietro: numerous species of birds keep it company, including the most famous of birds, the Falco della Regina (Queen’s Hawk), named after Elonora d’Arborea, who during her reign with surprising foresight banned the killing of birds of prey in the 14th century. Even today, about a hundred pairs of this precious bird leave Madagascar every spring to come and breed on the island, where they they nest in the shelter of small ravines or between the cracks in cliffs on the north-western ridge the island. They lay their eggs in the heat of July, hatching and watching over them during August, and in September show their young how to fly back south to East Africa.

There are many other rare bird species that choose this island of little land and much sky, drawn to its wild countryside, the vertigo of its cliffs, and the flat calm of its lagoons. The kestrel, buzzard, Peregrine falcon; the rare Corsican seagull, with its bright red beak; the tufted cormorant, always ready to dive; the pink flamingo, the grey heron, the stilt-bird. It is impossible to mention them all: the 236 hectares dedicated to a nature reserve under the aegis of the LIPU (Italian Society for the Protection of Birds) reflects and protects this abundance.

No lesser a rarity, this time among the amphibians, is the singular Disglossus sardus with its camouflage back, discoidal tongue and two romantic heart-shaped pupils, a curious little toad that thrives in the marshlands.

Cicindela campestris saphyrina (Ph Nicolo Capriata)