PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Rocha da Pena

This is another post about the time I spent in Portugal earlier this year. To read the first post in this series please click here.

Our first day wildflower hunting in the Algarve was sensational. Rosie took us to the protected landscape of Rocha da Pena, near Loulé. It was spectacular to look at, the Table Mountain of the Algarve. It has a well-marked 6.4 km trail, a short side trail leads to the summit, Talefe, which is the maximum altitude of 479 metres. The walk was an uphill hike at the beginning, we didn’t get very far that quickly because every metre or so we kept seeing new plants!

The track up Rocha da Pena

The track up Rocha da Pena

Me, on top of the world!

Me, on top of the world! Photo by Jo Huckvale

At every turn in the winding track upwards were small grassy areas which are full of the wildflowers that make Rocha da Pena such a famous place. It offered excellent reasons to stop along the route for a breather and to take some photographs, which we did. The panoramic views from the top across the typical Barrocal landscape for which this part of Portugal is famous for were stunning.

Rocha da Pena has a very rich flora with over 500 species, some of which are endemic. This includes the rare Iberian endemic Narcissus calcicola. It flowers in very early spring, February time, and is found right at the top of the walk in clumps across the plateau and on the way down on the Penina side. This bulb is found in a few places in Spain and Portugal and is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Iris close-up

Iris close-up

Me with Paeonia broteroi

Me with Paeonia broteroi, photo by Dagmar Mueller

Calcareous soils (with high levels of chalk content) are famous for their wild orchid populations. It was a fabulous place to see many of the orchids for which the Algarve is very well known, particularly the Ophrys (Bee Orchid) species. We were lucky and stumbled across Ophrys lutea, Ophrys speculum, Ophrys scolopax and Anacamptis morio. Ophrys scolopax, the Woodcock orchid, was simply stunning. Its perfectly formed flowers were hypnotic, they looked exactly like a cheeky grinning face!

Anacamptis morio

Anacamptis morio

Ophrys scolopax

Ophrys scolopax

My favourite find was Paeonia broteroi, most of them had gone over but we found one clump in a shady spot which were at the peak of flowering. This wild peony is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, it only grows in Spain and Portugal.

Paeonia broteroi

Paeonia broteroi

Close-up

Close-up of Paeonia broteroi

We saw a patch of Scilla peruviana which was unmissable thanks to their vivid blue pyramidal clusters of flowers. It was strange seeing them growing en mass like a weed, like dandelions do in the UK, when I’d only ever seen them growing in cultivation before.

Scilla peruviana

Scilla peruviana

Close-up

Close-up of Scilla peruviana

Rosie pointed out a daphne, Daphne gnidium, which has foliage very similar to Euphorbia species. It’s evergreen and poisonous with fragrant white flowers when in bloom.

I was pleased to discover the name of two groundcover plants we had seen everywhere at Quinta da Figueirinha. Paronychia argentea is a mat-forming perennial with striking fluffy silvery bracts. It had completely covered parts of the ground, the effect was like snow. The other was Anthyllis tetraphylla, bladder vetch, a low spreading hairy annual with yellow flowers.

Daphne gnidium

Daphne gnidium

Paronychia argentea

Paronychia argentea

An interesting find was the holoparasite Phelipanche ramosa, branched broomrape. Its host was Oxalis pes-caprae which wasn’t a bad choice seeing as it is an invasive alien species from South Africa.

Phelipanche ramosa

Phelipanche ramosa

The dominance of members of the Cistaceae and Fabaceae families in the general matos was a memorable sight to witness. I’ll never forget seeing rockroses plastering the hillsides the same as gorse bushes do back home on Dartmoor. The same goes for Pistacia lentiscus, Quercus coccifera and Rhamnus alaternus making up the common vegetation, seeing the plants which make up the structure of the landscape was just as exciting as finding orchids.

Views from the top

View all the way out to the sea

Another view

We saw a great diversity of plants in our morning at Rocha da Pena, we couldn’t have had a better start to the week. It was the promise of more wonderful days yet to come. . .

Plants noted:

  • Adiantum capilus-verenis
  • Anacamptis morio
  • Anthyllis tetraphylla
  • Asphodelus fistulosus
  • Aristolochia baetica
  • Bellis perennis
  • Ceratonia siliqua
  • Chamaerops humilis
  • Cistus albidus
  • Cistus ladanifer
  • Cistus monspeliensis
  • Daphne gnidium
  • Euphorbia characias
  • Ferula communis
  • Fumaria capreolata
  • Genista hirsuta
  • Gladiolus illyricus
  • Hypericum perfuratum
  • Iris albicans
  • Iris xiphium
  • Juniperus phoenicea
  • Lavandula viridis
  • Myrtus communis
  • Olea europaea
  • Ophrys lutea
  • Ophrys speculum
  • Ophrys scolopax
  • Oxalis pes-caprae
  • Paeonia broteroi
  • Paronychia argentea
  • Phelipanche ramosa
  • Phillyrea angustifolia
  • Pistacia lentiscus
  • Quercus coccifera
  • Rhamnus alaternus
  • Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Ruta graveolens
  • Scilla peruviana
  • Sedum sediforme
  • Smilax aspera
  • Thapsia villosa
  • Thymus capitatus

NaBloPoMo_2015

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