Serbian spruce

The discovery of Serbian spruce, till then unknown coniferous species in European forests, is a particularly significant contribution to botanical science.  This discovery did not mean only the increase in the number of plant species of European flora but helped in better understanding of the history of the development of vegetation in the European mainland from the most ancient times till today. Namely, this tree derives/descends from ancient species of trees which covered vast European areas during the Tertiary and prior to great mainland glaciation. Serbian spruce has not been accidentally discovered as it frequently happens. It is the result of many a year suspicions, preparations and intentional search for this species. About his suspicion that the Serbian forests contain some rare coniferous tree Pancic writes: “ our spruce has been long known by the name from folk songs- it is found in Vuk's dictionary but still  we made quite an effort to relate the name to that natural thing  it signifies.”  During the first journey through Užice region Pancic learned that Serbian spruce grows somewhere around, but nobody could show him the tree itself. To his question what Serbian spruce looks like some answered that it resembled a fir and the others that it resembled a spruce. For most of them Serbian spruce and fir was one and the same tree. Ten years later, in 1865, Pancic applied to the “authorities” asking them to have the branches with the fruits/cones of all coniferous trees  - which grow in greatest number in Mts. Tara, Zlatibor and Uzice region  -  provided for the Great School. In the beginning of autumn of the same year his cabinet was supplied, along with the branches of yew, fir, spruce and two pines, with two branches of the searched for Serbian spruce but without cones. Later, Pancic stated that he immediately noticed that Serbian spruce and fir were quite different and that this coniferous tree more resembled the spruce. Given that the branches of Serbian spruce were brought from Bajina Bašta, he attempted unsuccessfully, through his acquaintances in that region, to get cones. On two subsequent occasions, during his journeys through this part of Serbia, Pancic was very close to the stands of Serbian spruce but he has not found them. It is very difficult to ascertain the exact year of Pancic’s first encounter with the Serbian spruce primarily because he himself cites two different dates. Thus, in his “small German language writing”, in which  the discovery of new coniferous species was first reported, Pancic cites August 1st 1875. However, in his large Serbian language monograph, published much later, he writes about this encounter:” In 1877 I, with four students, headed for Užice region resolute again not to return to Belgrade until finding the Serbian spruce. After long roaming through Mts. Tara and Zlatibor, when I already started thinking that also this time  my wish will be unfulfilled, I found myself in the village of Zaovine, not far from the house of the deceased priest Djoka, in front of the smallish group of conifers, unknown to me, adorned at the top with the host of cones.” Hence, it is not strange that either 1875 or 1877 is cited as the year of the Serbian spruce discovery. However,  after careful reading of both versions it may be rather safely concluded that Pancic’s first encounter with this tree occurred in 1875, which may be inferred from several facts. His 1875 journey was carried out in August with four and that in 1877 in May with one student. He himself writes about “younger fellow companions” and not about “a younger fellow companion” when he saw the Serbian spruce full of cones. Though the Serbian spruce bears cones both in May and August, May cones are overripe, open and empty and August ones are not fully ripe, closed and full of seeds. Though there is no a direct evidence that he collected seeds from these cones, it is certain that he had seeds as well, given that in his German language paper he gave their description in Latin. Besides, he quotes that at that period the cones are always still bluish in colour, which is characteristic of incompletely ripe cones.