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MADEIRA - FLORA & FAUNA

Dactylorhiza foliosa (Verm.) Soó – Common name Orquídea-da-madeira

Dactylorhiza foliosa (Verm.) Soó – Common name Orquídea-da-madeira

Madeira is part of the Macaronésia region that includes Canarias, Azores and Cape Verde. The forests on the northern slopes of Madeira Island, are designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Laurisilva of Madeira is very rich and unique with certain endemic species. In this article I share some gorgeous native flowers of our amazing island. They’re just to beautiful to overlook.


FLORA OF MADEIRA

The Laurisilva Forest deserves special mention in the flora of Madeira. This is a formation of hygrophilous characteristics, endemic to Macaronesia, well-developed with important conservation areas, the only UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in Portugal where all the strata characteristic of this type of community is present. Some studies within the phytosociological scope recognise various climatic plant communities that are related to the bioclimatic floors in this forest formation. With a great diversity of flora, it is especially at the herbaceous strata level that most of the endemic species can be found. As an example, we can take the Goodyera macrophylla, an orchid endemic to Madeira Island, known as Madeira goody era

The Laurisilva forest is characterised by large trees, mostly belonging to the Lauraceae family the til (Ocotea foetens), the Madeira laurel (Laurus novocanariensis), the vinhatico (Persea indica) and the barbusano (Apollonias barbujana), in addition to others, such as the (Picconia excelsa), the lily of the valley tree (Clethra arborea), the aderno (Heberdenia excelsa), the holly (Ilex perado) or the (juniper Juniperus cedrus). Underneath the canopy of large trees, shrubs abound, including tree heather and (Erica scoparia), the Madeira blueberry (Vaccinium padifolium), (Genista tenera), the cornelian cherry (Rhamnus glandulosa), the mountain mocano (Pittosporum coriaceum and Musschia wollastonii), as well as a lower stratum, rich in ferns, mosses, lichens, liverworts and other small plants, with numerous endemic species.

On Madeira Island, bryophytes are widely distributed, occurring from the sea coast to the high mountains of the interior. The geographical location of the island, the moderate Atlantic climate and the terrain with deep valleys and steep cliffs determine the existence of a great diversity of habitats, which allow the development and maintenance of a great wealth of flora.

Another important place in terms of flora is the rocky massif. The plant cover in this area is characterised by the presence of several plants endemic to Madeira, examples of which are the Madeira violet Viola paradoxa. Also found here are Madeira grey heather (Erica maderensis), the Madeiran orchid (Dactylorhiza foliosa and Anthyllis lemanniana). All these plants are perfectly adapted to the harsh climate of this area, where wide temperature ranges and high winds reign. They play a very important role in the uptake of water through hidden rainfall, in addition to contributing to fixing the soil and preventing erosion.

The flora in Ponta de São Lourenço is of equal importance. There are currently 157 distinct vascular plants, of which 141 are on the peninsula and 71 on Desembarcadouro Islet. Plants observed are (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum), (Mesembryanthemum nodiflorum) and (Suaeda vera), (Bassia tomentosa), sea fennel (Crithmum maritimum) and some endemic species such as: (Echium nervosum), (Mandon's chrysanthemum Argyranthemum pinnatifidum succulentum) and the (Madeira levkoje Matthiola maderensis). There is also the rare sea heath (Frankenia laevi), as well as (Silene vulgaris marítima), (Silene behen), (Astragalus solandri and the Madeira calendula Calendula maderensis). There are extensive spots of Trevina and several species endemic to Macaronesia and Madeira on Desembarcadouro Islet, such as: (Alpista Phalaris maderensis),(Beta patula) exclusive species to the islet, (Crepis divaricata), (minutina Plantago coronopus), sea colewort (Crambe fruticosa and Rumex bucephalophorus canariensis).

Portugal’s Atlantic island of Madeira welcomes spring with the annual Festa da Flor, or Flower Festival. The climax is the colorful flower parade of countless floats blanketed with all kinds of blossoms.



NATIVE FOREST

Laurissilva of Madeira

Laurissilva of Madeira

In order to understand why it was so important to the Berardo Foundation to reconstruct the natural flora of Madeira in this garden we have to go back in history.

When Madeira was first settled in 1420, clearings were created for habitation by fires. This led to the legend of the seven-year fire described by Gaspar Frutuoso in his writings.

The succession of fires on the south coast and the extraction of wood to be exported to the Continent on a large scale, were facts which contributed to the devastation of the primitive forest. Added to this was the presence of herds of goats and sheep, large numbers of sugar mills and coal-burning factories.

Although parts of the Island’s vegetation survived, many of the species endemic to Madeira are still today, in danger of extinction. It was considered necessary to create an area that would accommodate species from all three altitude levels of this mountainous Island.

Examples include the dragon tree, Dracaena draco, which flowers between August and October. Its red sap called “dragon blood” was used in home remedies, in the production of paint and as varnish for violins.

Another example is the Euphorbia piscatoria, a shrub that is endemic to the archipelago of Madeira, which flowers from April to the end of May. Its scientific name is due to the fact that, in ancient times, its poisonous sap was used by fishermen to catch fish in pools of water.

The greatest number of species in this garden belongs to higher altitudes, the Laurissilva and other high altitude vegetation, some of which can adapt to different altitudes. Examples among others are the Canary Laurel, the Stinklaurel, Madeira Mahogany and flowering vegetation such as the Pride of Madeira and the Bastard Hare’s Ear.

“… The Laurissilva of Madeira is an outstanding relict of a previously widespread laurel forest type. It is the largest surviving area of laurel forest and is believed to be 90% primary forest. It contains a unique suite of plants and animals, including many endemic species such as the Madeira long-toed pigeon. …”

Classified by UNESCO as Natural World Heritage since 1999.



FAUNA

Madeira Island is very rich in fauna, both in vertebrates and in invertebrates, particularly endemic species of terrestrial molluscs, and very significantly, of insects.

 In the Laurisilva, there is a small number of bird species and a high rate of endemic species. In the more inland forest areas, and in a better state of preservation, about seven species of birds are usually observed. The symbolic trocaz pigeon( Columba trocaz) stands out. It is considered one of the oldest examples of Macaronesian birds, with a selective diet and partially dependent on the fruit of several tree species, of particular relevance being the til, and it is considered to be the sower for Laurisilva trees.

Another species of note is the bis-bis (Regulus madeirensis), a small bird, the smallest Madeiran bird, which feeds on insects, surely giving it a position of high importance at the level of the balance of the ecosystems.

The chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs madeirensis), subspecies endemic to Madeira Island is highly adapted to the island habitat. Other birds that appear with some frequency are the Eurasian blackbirds (Turdus merula cabrerae), the robin (Erithacus rubecula rubecula), the grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea schmitzi), and the two birds of prey, the buzzard (buteo buteo harterti) and the kestrel (Falco tinnunculus canariensis). In the higher areas of Laurisilva forest, where large trees begin to give way to moors, the Eurasian woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) also appears. This bird is very discreet and often goes unnoticed by visitors.

 With regard to the fauna in the rocky massif, Zino's petrel (Pterodroma madeira) must be highlighted. It is one of the most endangered seabirds in the world and occurs exclusively on Madeira Island. Its conservation status is "Endangered". It lives exclusively in the sea, only coming ashore during the breeding season between late March and mid-October, when they can be heard returning to their nests at nightfall.

 As for land invertebrates, the community of terrestrial arthropods is the one that has the greatest wealth of fauna, spread over a wide variety of groups. It should also be noted that the group of Arachnids has a fairly significant presence at the level of spiders, mites and pseudo scorpions, and others.

Invertebrates are the most interesting group in Ponta de São Lourenço. At the moment, 35 species of land molluscs are known, of which 24 are endemic. On Desembarcadouro Islet, 14 species, including 12 endemic, were identified, and there are 13 species, with 11 being endemic, on Farol Islet.

With regard to avifauna, seabirds such as Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis), Bulwer's petrel (Bulweria bulwerii), the Madeiran storm petrel (Oceanodroma castro) and the common tern Sterna hirundo nest here. One of the largest colonies of yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis atlantis) in the Region nests on Desembarcadouro Islet. As for land birds, Berthelot’s pipit (Anthus bertheloti bertheloti), the rock sparrow (Petronia petronia madeirensis) and the island canary (Serinus canaria canaria) are often found.

Isoplexis-sceptrumIsoplexis sceptrum (L. fill) Loud – Common name Isoplexis

Isoplexis-sceptrumIsoplexis sceptrum (L. fill) Loud – Common name Isoplexis