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During our 2 week stay at Casa Rosa we found the bird notes provided by previous guests to be very useful, so this is an attempt to do something similar for those interested in wild flowers. We stayed between 27 March and 10 April 2005, probably around the best time for plants in the Algarve, though this followed a particularly dry winter and the vegetation was looking very parched by the time we left.
Around Casa Rosa
It is worth following the donkey track which starts by the fence adjacent to the builders' yard. This twists and turns through carob, olive and almond trees and then joins a similar track a bit lower down. The track carries on beyond the road to Laranjeiro, but is not easy to follow once you reach a hillside with beehives. A single Woodcock Orchid (Ophrys scolopax) was seen on the right side of the upper track. The walls held a few specimens of Rustyback Fern, though this was very dried up by the end of our stay. The brown flowers of the Pipe Vine (Aristolochia baetica) are present here, and often a Festoon butterfly was seen around it, perhaps a female egg-laying. Other shrubs in this area included a gorse with tapering flower heads (Genista hirsuta?) plus the fragrant Wild Jasmine. It is easy to deviate into the surrounding fields, which hold species such as Blue Houndstongue, Tassel Hyacinth, Large Blue Alkanet, Bladder Vetch, Starry Clover, the Bugloss Echium tuberculatum, the annual Valerian Fedia cornucopiae, and the Hollow-stemmed Asphodel. The softly hairy composite Andryala integrifolia was just coming into flower as we left. There's plenty of this around Casa Rosa itself, and it invades the flower borders as a weed. The Spanish apparently call it Rabbit's Bread, Pan de Canujo. Close to where the 2 donkey tracks join was a colony of Bumble Bee Orchids. Further to the West the lower donkey track deviates into a grassy field, and this contained at least 50 Mirror Orchids, which appeared immediately after a shower of rain. Later they were joined by a single Yellow Bee Orchid, and as we left I noticed 2 further Orchids in bud, possibly the Tongue Orchid Serapia parviflora. Other plants in this field were Hop Trefoil, the Small Catchfly Silene gallica and some low-growing bushes of Cistus crispus, which has very deep pink blooms compared with the ubiquitous Grey-leaved Cistus.
Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, Olhao
This is clearly signed from the N125 on the Eastern outskirts of Olhao. However, once you reach the campsite there are no more signs; you need to drive across the railway track, then turn left into a gateway at the next sharp right turn. After paying the entrance fee of 1.50 euros you can drive through the barrier and park. Though primarily a bird reserve, there is a variety of habitat including pine forest, salt marsh and dunes. There are some good specimens of Umbrella Pine, and beneath these we found a small nodding Snowflake (possibly Leucojum trichophyllum). There was also a colony of Yellow Lupin. Two fennel-like umbellifers can be seen here, Cachrys trifida and some kind of Thapsia. The main botanical interest of the saltmarsh was the spectacular Yellow Broomrape, often growing in little groups.
Sao Miguel Hill
This is about 400 metres high and a fine view point, despite the presence of numerous radio masts. It also seems to be a popular place to tip rubbish and shoot birds. Nevertheless, it is a botanically very rich site, reached by turning left about 1.5km North of Moncarapacho. There is a small sign indicating Cerro Sao Miguel and Capela. We parked half way up and walked the rest. Two separate Bee-eater colonies were encountered, and at the summit was a Scarce Swallowtail butterfly. Strawberry Tree, French Lavender, both pink and yellow forms of Phlomis, Yellow Gromwell (Neatostema apulum), Peruvian Squill, Spanish Bluebell, the large-flowered form of Common Centaury and the brilliant blue Scrambling Gromwell were some of the species seen here. We made a second visit around 6 o'clock one evening, and took a rough path heading north east from the road junction. This gave a view of the Western slope, containing stunning wide-open blooms of Wild Tulip, plus a few Yellow Anemones. There were also two specimens of Paeony, but the slope was too steep for me to reach them. As they were growing amongst tipped rubbish I did wonder if they might be garden throwouts, but of course this was also the right habitat for the wild species Paeonia broteroi.
The two hilltop castles are atmospheric places to visit. The larger one to the East was over-run with Poppies and Shrub Tobacco, and there were several plants of Squirting Cucumber. The other castle lies above some natural grassland over acidic rocks. There was a great variety of plants and butterflies here, with a white-flowered variety of Thrift being particularly noticeable. I also admired a grey-leaved Sorrel, which had very showy red-fruits. I can't find anything like it in my reference books, but we also saw plenty of it in the Mata Nacional (see below).
Fonte de Benemola
There is a 5km waymarked walk through this area, though we added 4km to this by starting and finishing in the hilltop village of Querenca. The geology here is mixed, some limestone, but with acidic rocks also. On the East side of the river we came across Man Orchid, Naked-man Orchid and Portuguese Milk Vetch, with a single specimen of Sawfly Orchid growing at the roadside near the old mill. On the West side there was Gum Cistus, Tree Heath, masses of Periwinkle, and the large-flowered shiny-leaved variety of Celandine. I also saw leaves of what I took to be Broad-leaved Helleborine, though I don't know for certain if this occurs in the Algarve.
Mata Nacional, Solteiras (NE of Tavira)
We followed the walk described on p122 of the Sunflower Guidebook. Way finding was fairly easy, and it took us less than 3 hours including frequent stops and lunch. It starts and finishes in Eucalyptus forest, though much of this has been felled or burnt. Azure-winged magpies were everywhere. The flora of the forested section was not varied but still interesting, with many plants of Weld, the attractive thistle Galictotes tomentosa and masses of Large Quaking Grass. After emerging from the forest you walk in an undulating landscape of colourful hillsides and small villages, where donkeys still seem to be the main mode of transport. The rocks in this area were Shales, but the hillsides were ablaze with colour, most of it coming from Galictotes, Echium and small composites. The rivers still held water, and these had Water Crowfoots and Water Dropworts. We also tended to disturb Ringed Plovers and other waders as we descended into each valley. The surprise feature of the walk, not mentioned in the book, was finding a large lake, presumably used as a fire-pool. The vegetation of the edges of this was completely different, the highlight being several plants of Coral Necklace (Illecebrum verticillatum) in flower. This is a great rarity in Britain, being mostly confined to Cornwall and the New Forest.
There does not appear to be a comprehensive field guide to Algarve botany. The following information sources are useful, but do not always agree with one another in the use of English or scientific names.
1.Wildflowers of the Algarve Mary McMurtrie, privately published
2.Wildflowers of Southern Europe Paul Davies & Bob Gibbons, Crowood Press
3.www.geocities.com/algarveflowers Irene Shepard
4.Landscapes of Algarve Brian & Eileen Anderson, Sunflower Books
Ken Balkow, 12th April 2005