baumzaehlen - Primeval Forests & Their Trees

©2019copyright christoph hase

Madeira Nature Park, Portugal

 

There was no human settlement on Madeira before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1400's. The original forests have since been completely destroyed on the drier southern half of the island1, but on the northern slopes there are still places very close to their primeval state2. The best preserved sites have special protection as Nature Reserves1. The park is also a World Heritage Site “Laurisilva of Madeira”.

 

The natural vegetation of northern Madeira is mainly composed of evergreen angiosperms. The most important species are Opens internal link in current windowLaurus novocanariensis, Opens internal link in current windowOcotea foetens, Opens internal link in current windowPersea indica, Opens internal link in current windowClethra arborea (lily of the valley tree) and Opens internal link in current windowMorella faya. O. foetens is the tallest species reaching here about 40 m. In the exposed sites and close to the forest limit, Opens internal link in current windowErica arborea (tree heath), Opens internal link in current windowE. scoparia (besom heath) and Opens internal link in current windowVaccinium padifolium are common. As volcanic Madeira has never been connected to any continent, its tree species diversity is low. In addition to the above mentioned species, a hiker may encounter Apollonias barbujana, Heberdenia excelsa, Opens internal link in current windowIlex canariensis (small-leaved holly), Ilex perado (Madeiran holly), Opens internal link in current windowPicconia excelsa, Opens internal link in current windowRhamnus glandulosa and Opens internal link in current windowSalix canariensis. About 5 further native species are so rare that one will hardly encounter them by chance2. Differences between many species are small but learning to identify the main species is relatively easy. The same forest type also exists on the Azores, where it is rather degraded, and on the Canary Islands, where the largest and best preserved forest has been protected in Opens internal link in current windowGarajonay National Park; as compared with Garajonay, the Madeiran forest is much larger (some 150 km2), better preserved, more luxuriant with slightly taller trees, wetter, cooler and growing on steeper slopes3. Due to the wetter climate, the “laurisilva” occurs at lower elevations than in Garajonay. The wetter climate can be seen in the forest composition, too – e.g. the moisture-loving1 O. foetens is here the most important tree2. Annual precipitation at 1000 m is approx. 2500 mm, fog drip adding a further 200 mm 4. Frost is unknown1.

 

The levadas (aqueducts with accompanying paths) of the island of Madeira are a popular hiking destination. Hiking is very easy along the levadas but extremely difficult outside them: slopes are steep to vertical without exception. Camping is not allowed (and also hardly possible).

 

References:

 

1       Press, J. R. & Short, M. J. (1994): Flora of Madeira. The Natural History Museum, London.

2       Costa Neves, H. et al. (1996): Laurissilva da Madeira, caracterização quantitativa e qualitativa. Governo regional.

3       Opens external link in new windowWorld Heritage Nomination – IUCN Technical Evaluation: The Laurisilva of Madeira (Portugal).

4       Figueira, C. et al. (2013): Opens external link in new windowCloud water interception in the temperate laurel forest of Madeira Island. Hydrological Sciences Journal 58:1, 152–161.


High altitude (900 m) Laurus novocanariensis forest. Geranium palmatum (Canary Island geranium) on forest floor.
Two large Ocotea foetens. In the foreground small Clethra arborea (lily of the valley tree). Elev. 680 m.
Large Ocotea foetens, left. Massive branch of large O. foetens, right. Small Clethra arborea (lily of the valley tree). Steep ravine at 700 m.
Ocotea foetens - Laurus novocanariensis forest on steep slope at 400 m.
Valley of Ribeira da Janela.
Valley of Ribeira da Janela.
Evening view down into the Ribeira da Janela valley.
Polypore (Laurobasidium lauri) on Laurus novocanariensis.
37.8-metre Ocotea foetens at 400 m. Most other trees also O. foetens.
Clethra arborea (lily of the valley tree).
Salix canariensis on the right.
Erica arborea (tree heath). Elev. 1700 m.
Hill (foreground, elev. 800-850 m) covered by Erica.
The most important tree species of laurisilva. (Myrica faya = Morella faya)
Some tree species of higher altitudes (1100-1300 m).