Parangalitsa Strict Nature Reserve, Bulgaria

Parangalitsa is a part of Rila National Park and also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The core area is 15 km2 but only 2.5 km2 at the lowest elevations (1450–1950 m) 1 are covered by exceedingly beautiful coniferous and mixed virgin forest. The highest part was used as pasture in the past and forest established there as pasturing was abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century 1. The Parangalitsa reserve was created in the 1930s, but before that the locality was already a protected forest in which human activities were limited to hunting and pasturing on the alpine grassland above the forest1. Foresters already considered the locality as a very good example of pristine forest in the 1920s 1. The oldest tree (Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris) became established shortly before 1520 1.

Norway spruce (Picea abies) is the most abundant tree species, followed by European silver fir (Abies alba), European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Scots pine1. Altogether, there are not much more than 10 tree species in Parangalitsa. Recently European spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) has killed patches of Norway spruce like almost everywhere in temperate Europe. These gaps are mostly being filled by beech. Fir regenerates, too – a sign of not-too-dense populations of large herbivores and healthy populations of large predators, wolf (Canis lupus) and brown bear (Ursus arctos). Parangalitsa is located on a relatively gentle north-facing slope. The average annual temperature is 2–4.6°C and the annual precipitation about 950 mm, with a maximum in late spring and early summer3. Base rock is granite4.

The tallest tree of Bulgaria (Norway spruce) is located in Parangalitsa2 (photo right). Using a TruPulse 200X laser instrument, Don Welsh and I measured it to 55.4 m in 2016. It is said that a nearby Norway spruce (now fallen) was even taller, but it was not measured with a reliable method2.

As of 2016, entry to Parangalitsa was only allowed by special permit, but the opening of a short trail to the tallest tree was planned in the near future2. Rila National Park is adjacent to Rilski Manastir Nature Park.



  1. Panayotov, M. et al. (2011): Wind disturbances shape old Norway spruce-dominated forest in Bulgaria. Forest Ecology and Management, Vol. 262, Issue 3, 470–481.
  2. Rila National Park, pers. comm. (2016)
  3. Panayotov, M. et al. (2016): Climate extremes during high competition contribute to mortality in unmanaged self-thinning Norway spruce stands in Bulgaria. Forest Ecology and Management 369, 74–88.
  4. Dountchev, A. et al. (2016): Consequences of Non-intervention Management for the Development of Subalpine Spruce Forests in Bulgaria. In Sustainable Mountain Regions: Challenges and Perspectives in Southeastern Europe. Springer.