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Interessante Pflanzen und Standorte > auf der Balkanhalbinsel > S. kopaonikense in der Kopaonik gora

Sempervivum kopaonikense
in Kopaonik gora

New look and new data about a bad-known Houseleek.


1. The zone

2. Interest

3. History

3.1. Joseph Pancic and Kopaonik gora :

4. New data

4.1. Ecology

4.2. Morphology

5. As a very provisional conclusion

1. The zone

Kopaonik Mountains (Kopaonik gora) stands at mid-western part of the Balkan Peninsula. Geologically, they look like an island of siliceous rocks isolated in the heart of the vast calcareous range from Dinarides. Morphologically, Kopaonik Mounts consist of a chain with NW-SE orientation, which constitutes the natural border between Serbia and Kosovo.

The Kopaonik massif culminates with the Kopaonik Mount itself, also called Pancicev vrh (2017 m), a summit located at the Eastern end of this massif.

2. Interest

In 1867, the botanist Joseph (Josif) Pancic described a new Sempervivum species in the Kopaonik range: Sempervivum kopaonikense Pancic, an endemic taxon for this massif.

The name of this plant is well-known. It is frequently mentioned in the literature devoted to the genus Sempervivum. However, it is very often ony quoted there, the data associated with this name being generally absent or fragmentary and in this case being taken again from author to author...

It seems therefore that the plant itself and its biotope are extremely badly known. It is thus not astonishing that the true nature of S. kopaonikense was up to now badly understood or neglected. Some new and recent visits of its stations on the Kopaonik, as well as a new review of the herbarium specimens, by the Serbian botanist Dmitar Lakusic (Belgrade) made it possible to bring a new lighting on a taxon however described for a long time, but never really studied to date...

Personally not having yet observed the plant in situ, I address here all my thanks to Dmitar Lakusic (Belgrade) for the communication of these new field data and for the photographs which illustrate this chapter.

It should be noted that one or a few clones of "S. kopoanikense" are in cultivation. Their origin is absolutely not documented and their aspect does not distinguish them appreciably from S. heuffelii-type, what they probably are...

3. History

Joseph Pancic published Sempervivum kopaonikense in "Botanische Ergebnisse einer i. J. 1866 unternommene Reise in Serbien",in Oesterreichische Botanische Zeitschrift, Vienne 17: 173 (1867). Locus classicus : "Kopaonik, Suvo rudiste"

This plant was initially misidentified as S. soboliferum Sims,before to be renamed by Pancic as a new taxon. S. kopaonikense belongs obviously to the complex of S. heuffelii Schott [syn. Jovibarba heuffelii (Schott) Löve], a species with a wide distribution whose the area extends from Dinarides towards Eastern Carpatians, including the main part of Balkans. S. heuffelii seems a relatively common Houseleek in this vast zone.

The morphological differences individualizing S. kopaonikense from S. heuffelii, and which, according to Pancic, justify the specific status are the following ones:

... "calyce basi ventricoso, corolla dimidio breviore, staminodis patulis, apice rotundatis vel tridentatis, carpellis glanduloso-pilosis; caule spithameo, rosulis mediocribus, pollicem paulo superantibus."

... "with ventricose calix at basis, with an half shorter corolla, with spreading hypogynous scales with rounded or three-dented apices, with hairy-glandulous carpels ; with about 20 cm tall stem, with medium rosettes hardly exceeding 2,5 cm."

Reading this diagnosis alone, the majority of next authors have put back S. kopaonikense at the rank of simple synonym of S. heuffelii Schott. Some authors mention it while giving it the rank of species, but very often while expressing their ignorance of this taxon and their doubt about the real level to assign to this plant. Very few authors considered it like a form really differentiated from S. heuffelii Schott. In fact, S. kopaonikense is treated in the literature only by simple repeats.

At first sight, setting in synonymy S. kopaonikense with S. heuffelii appears justifiable, considering the great intrinsic variability of S. heuffelii and the few characteristics of the diagnosis of S. kopaonikense. Indeed, among the distinctive characters stated by Pancic, the small size of the rosettes is difficult to take in consideration because of the great phenotypical plasticity of this species for this criterion; the floral stem is rather long but returns in the range of variation of S. heuffelii; the glandulous hayriness of carpels is not a discriminating character since it is also noted in S. heuffelii. Thus, as specific characters, only the properly flower criteria remain: shortness of the corolla, hypogenous scales spreading out and ventricose calix (these two characters may be dependent).

Pancic mentions also S. kopaonikense as showing in cultivation a one month earlier flowering time compared to typical S. heuffelii. It must be noted that this last one presents a rather late flowering time by comparison to other Houseleeks: it flowers in the heart of summer and its flowering time continues until autumn.

3.1. Joseph Pancic and Kopaonik gora :

These two names form now a single one. Seldom a botanist has been associated more closely with a mountain than Joseph Pancic (1814-1888). He devoted a part of his life to the study of Kopoanik gora and he expressed then the desire to be buried there, which was done. This shows well the particular attachment that it had for this massif and its flora and the importance that those took in his eyes.

Joseph Pancic thus rests now in a mausoleum erected on the highest summit of this range, amongst Houseleeks and other plants which he had studied and described.

This summit will be then renamed Pancicev vrh what, in Serbo-Croat, means "Pancic's summit".

Josif Pancic (1814-1888)

Joseph Pancic rested, one should say. Indeed, at the beginning of 1999, the madness of Men fell down on the area. The summit of the Pancicev vrh was bombarded by the forces of NATO and the locus classicus of S. kopaonikense underwent iron and fire. The Pancic's mausoleum was destroyed but his plants survived and will continue to perpetuate the memory of the man who leaned on them and who saw in Kopaonik only the jewel-case of their beauty and not a future "target to be treated" within the flight plan of a bomber.

[ to know more about Josif Pancic ]

4. New data

During the preparation of his thesis about the vegetation of the Kopaonik, the Serbian botanist Dmitar Lakusic visited several time the zones of altitude of this massif. These repeated visits enabled him to find and observe in situ S. kopaonikense. From these field observations, he got the conviction that S. kopanikense cannot be put in strict synonymy with S. heuffelii and constitutes a really individualisable taxon.

It seems indeed that S. kopaonikense can be individualized not only from a morphological point of view but also, and perhaps especially, from an ecological one.

4.1. Ecology

 S. kopaonikense grows only at high altitude (1700-2000 m), it is absent from lower belts. One mainly finds it on rocks of serpentine, also on rocks of granodiorite and cornean. Serpentine is a magnesium silicate, granodiorite is a kind of granite with a relatively high grade of magnesium (and could, according to some, to possibly be at the origin of serpentine by metamorphism?), cornean is the result of a contact metamorphism of granodiorite. The substrates of degradation of these rocks, and therefore the cracks and the flagstones where S. kopaonikense grows, are thus high-magnesic substrata, particularly with regard to serpentine. Its presence directly on the rocks of serpentine is a fact important to note because of the inhospitable character of this substrate for many plants, which must necessarily tolerate very high magnesium grades to establish there. The flora of this type of substratum is generally very characterized (one often speaks about the "flora of serpentine").

 Compared to S. kopaonikense, S. heuffelii shows a rather different ecological profile. It is typically a calcicolous plant, which nevertheless can be found also on serpentine, with a rather marked thermophilous character. In its vast area of distribution, it is confined on the intermediary belts and deserts distincly the higher belts.

- S. kopaonikense Pancic, in situ : Mt Kopaonik, Nebeske Stolice, env. 1900 m, rocks of serpentine -

Ecologically, there are therefore some very serious arguments in favour of a somewhat individualization of S. kopaonikense compared to typical S. heuffelii. What's about its morphology?

4.2. Morphology

In situ, the aspect of the rosettes of S. kopaonikense is that of a S. heuffelii, without much particularity (see photo above) and thus returning in the range of variation of this very variable species.

At most, one notices:

  • the well marked colour of the rosettes (but that is related to the accomodation to altitude because this character is not maintained in cultivation).
  • the big length of the floral stems (desiccated ones, at left side of the photograph in situ) compared to the size of the rosettes.


S. kopaonikense in cultivation


One notices that the big length of the floral stem is also found in the natural plants in cultivation, without any associated etiolation.

The big size of the pre-inflorescential leaves is also noticable.

[en cultivation / photo D. Lakusic]

D. Lakusic carried out a research in the herbarium of Belgrade. It was possible to find again the holotypus of S. kopaonikense in Pancic's herbarium [Herbarium pancicianum - BEOU]. It should be noted that this specimen bears always the label of its first identification, i.e. "S. soboliferum".

The Type-specimen of S. kopaonikense was photographed compared to another herbarium specimen representing typical S. heuffelii. This specimen comes from the Mount Kablar, a calcareous summit rather close to Kopaonik. This specimen thus constitutes an excellent control one.

Some of these photographs are presented here. The diagnosis from Pancic differed relatively little from that of typical S. heuffelii, however it is sometimes difficult to recognize only one single taxon in these herbarium samples.


S. kopaonikense (Holotypus)




A big length of the floral stem is found again, on the holotypus of S. kopaonikense, compared to the size of the rosettes, character already noted on the in situ photograph.

By the examination of the flowers, one immediately notes that the base of the corolla in S. kopaonikense is actually broader, the one of S. heuffelii showing a more tubular throat. The flower of the Holotypus of S. kopaonikense is also smaller and more open, showing a general cup-like aspect. The petals overlapping, obvious in S. heuffelii, is much less distinc in S. kopaonikense.

Left side: S. kopaonikense (holotype). Right side: S. heuffelii (Mont Kablar)

If the strictly flower morphology is disregarded, the aspect of the inflorescences and of the branches of the inflorescence is the same, i.e. a very compact scorpioid cyme. However, the Holotypus of S. kopaonikense shows particularly long and narrow pre-inflorescence leaves, a character not usually seen in S. heuffelii.

Unfortunately, the examination of the inflorescences and the flowers of the natural plants does not make it possible to find such a difference between S. kopaonikense and S. heuffelii from which they do not differ appreciably, except perhaps for the length of the pre-infloresce leaves.

S. kopaonikense in cultivation

Aspect of the inflorescence at the end of the flowering.

[en cultivation / photo D. Lakusic]

The morphological individualization of S. kopaonikense thus appears very light, particularly within the frame of a species morphologically as variable as S. heuffelii. The specimen-Type of S. kopaonikense was probably only one variant individual, amplifying thus artificially, by the choice of this non representative specimen, the distinction of this taxon.

5. As a very provisional conclusion

It is quite difficult and still premature to formulate a final conclusion about S. kopaonikense Pancic.

However, it seems that we are in the presence of a slightly differentiated form of S. heuffelii which was thus rejected wrongly to the rank of simple synonym of this one.

A relative nomenclatural recognition is necessary because it is based on...

  • a slight morphological differentiation
  • an ecological differentiation
  • a perfectly delimited area
  • a area included in that of S. heuffelii but distinct

It would be nevertheless excessive to see it as a true species. The subordination of S. kopaonikense to S. heuffelii is without any doubt. The rank of varietas or, at most, of subspecies, seems the more relevant.

The combination S. heuffelii subsp. kopaonikense having never been validly published, it will be perhaps necessary to do it (?). However, a recombination with the varietal rank was already published:

Sempervivum heuffelii var. kopaonikense (Pancic) H.Huber ex H.Jacobsen,
Handbuch der sukkulenten Pflanzen (1954)

It is thus this last name which will be regarded as the correct name of this plant within the framework of this document.



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