Kuna, the national currency, has its roots in hide trade, when marten pelts were used as a form of payment, and markets were traditionally surrounded by linden or lime trees, which is how the subunit lipa got its name. This relationship between money and nature continues in other forms, with Velebit’s most famous flower, the endemic yellow Degenia from the mustard family, adorning the 50 lipa coin.
Flowers and wildlife are an important part of Croatia, and the national flower is Iris croatica, a purple iris which can be found all over the country. Picking it is illegal though, as it is protected, just like the majority of the 15 types of the Iris species that grow in Croatia. Instead, try to capture its natural beauty on camera for that gorgeous Instagram shot. Iris is known as perunika in Croatian, which comes from the name of the Slavic God of lightning, Perun. Legend has it that perunika only grows in places where lightning has struck.
Nothing symbolises Croatian nature better than the mighty oak trees of Slavonia, which are highly prized by winemakers all over the world, along with American and French oak. Their wood is used to make wine barrels that age the finest wines. To experience the majestic oaks in their natural habitat, visit the 40,000-hectare forest near Županja. Even more impressive, however, is the Prašnik special nature reserve located between Nova Gradiška and Okučani, which contains one of the oldest oak forest in Europe.
The nature parks of Lonjsko Polje and Kopački Rit in Baranja are two of the great wetlands of south-eastern Europe, full or diversity and evolving habitats that change with the seasons. Recommended for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Kopački Rit is famous for its deer, more than 300 species of birds, as well as its primeval wetlands, forests and fields. Among the birds to look out for are the white-tailed eagle and the black stork.
Located close to Sisak, and just 50 km from Zagreb, Lonjsko Polje has 238 bird species, 10 types of reptiles, 16 amphibians, 41 fish species, and 550 plant species. It even boasts 38 species of dragonfly. You can also visit the European Stork Village of Čigoč, although if you want to see the most famous love story of them all, between the injured Malena and the returning Klepetan, who comes back to his nest every year after the migration season is over, you will have to travel to Slavonski Brod.
Continental Croatia’s mountains and forests are prime examples of the great outdoors, where bears and wild boar roam freely in places such as Velebit and Gorski kotar. However, the truly unique fauna can be found underground, in the extensive cave systems. Have you ever wondered what you would look like if you lived at a depth of more than a kilometer underground? A recent exploration of the caves of Velebit unveiled a new species of the strange subterranean leech, Croatobranchus mestrovi, at 1,320 m below the surface.
The caves of Ogulin are also home to some unique secrets, including the freshwater sponge Eunapius subterraneus, which was discovered in 1984. It is the only known stygobitic sponge, and an endangered karst species.
There are some interesting species waiting to be discovered in the rivers of Croatia, too. The saltwater fish of the Adriatic may be more famous and popular in gastronomy, but there are plenty of indigenous fish and other creatures living in Croatian rivers. Among the less visible is the white salamander olm, which swims blindly through the bedrock and rivers of Croatia’s caves.
But it is the wild animals living above ground that perhaps better define Croatia’s natural habitat. Bears, wolves and lynxes are all but extinct in Western European countries, but these three large carnivores thrive in the wild diverse terrain, where life has changed little in centuries.
After being declared extinct in the region, the lynx was reintroduced in Slovenia in 1973 under the Slovakian lynx resettlement project. They have since flourished, with Gorski Kotar and Velebit providing environments where the lynx can thrive. Today, there are about 60 lynxes in Croatia, with the Plitvice Lakes National Park home to several pairs. It is generally believed that the Risnjak National Park takes its name from the lynx, which is called ris in Croatian.
Hunting statistics from 1894 indicate that wolves used to be present across the country, and record numbers of wolf kills were made in every county. Today, wolves still roam free, but in significantly smaller numbers, and their habitat is generally confined to Gorski Kotar, Lika and some parts of Dalmatia. Wolves are a protected species in Croatia.
Croatia’s bear population is around 1,000 these days. Croatia has been recognised as a country where human and bear coexistence levels are high. Bears roam around in the national and nature parks, but if you want to get up close to one of them, head to the wonderful Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary, the only one in the region.
From the highest peaks to the lowest valleys, the diversity of continental Croatia promises a new experience at every turn.