Ten days in Vietnam part 6: from Hanoi to Lan Ha Bay

We leave Sapa in the afternoon, and head back to Lao Cai for the return overnight train journey to Hanoi. After a 2 hour train journey to Hai Phong, and an hour boat journey, we arrive on Cat Ba island, one of the two starting points to explore the very famous Ha Long Bay (think James Bond beach scenes…).
Cat Ba Town is a rather uninteresting port filled with cheap backpackers’ hotels. Note the very appropriate window paintings of Father Christmas and snowman (outside temperature: 29°C)! The street trees are far more interesting than the architecture, particularly Blackboard trees (Alstonia scholaris) and their green flower heads which fill the air with a strong fragrance (it reminded me of a woodland with lily of the valley).


At dusk the view from our hotel over the bay is very pretty…


The next day we embark for a three-day cruise around Ha Long bay and Lan Ha bay. Many tourists come here on a one or two day excursion direct from Hanoi, piling themselves on enormous luxury ferries with on-board spas and shops. We went for the slightly less comfy, but so much quieter private boat. Postcard view alert here!


Ha Long and Lan Ha Bay comprise over 2000 islands (some which barely emerging from the sea), mainly made of limestone. The karst landscape was formed by the erosion of the limestone to form small mountains, valleys and caves. The water level then rose massively to form the ensemble of little islands that we see nowadays.


A benefit of being on a smaller boat was the unlimited access to kayaks, which are the best way to come close to the rocky shores:


This gave me an opportunity for a closer look at the flora of these limestone walls. The flora is very diversified, from bamboos to palms, and changes gradually upwards (as salinity decreases and light increases). Many of the plants growing there have limited distributions and some, such as the amazing Ha Long Cycad (Cycas tropophylla) are threatened.

Animals are also threatened by the intensification of tourism, deforestation and poaching. We were very fortunate to catch a glimpse of the Critically Endangered Cat Ba Langur (Trachypithecus poliocephalus), a monkey which has seen its population decrease to only around 60 individuals.


The boat is finally anchored in a tiny bay where we will spend the night. Before dinner, we swim to a small beach with a cave that is being used a shrine. There are offerings, so fishermen must come here to pray. Sadly, marine life is minimal, with mainly dead corals, rubbish (beer cans! :( ) and urchins (probably the widespread species Echinometra mathaei).


Dusk falls on the bay…tomorrow is another day.


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Ten days in Vietnam part 5: Mount Fansipan, 2800m to 1940m

After a good night sleep on the camp, we woke up to the smell of banana and (local) honey pancakes, ad were greeted by a nice blue sky.


A few nice plants around the camp include a Viburnum with striking berries, and a Gentiana:

P1170956Gentiana (2)

Soon however, we are back to clouds, and scrambling mode:


Many Scheffleras can be seen in the area, including some in fruit!


I was quite surprised to see these two fruiting shrubs, both species of Vaccinium (related to our common blueberries and cranberries).


We pause for a while on a flat area to take some pictures. Notice the tourist style on the left, and the local style on the right! I don’t think I would dare bringing a tablet over there… :D


Along the path, the layer of bamboos is very thick. But a few interesting plants can be spotted. Here are Aster ageratoides (a wide-ranging plant grown in many gardens), the bellflower relative Pratia montana…

Aster ageratoides (2)Pratia montana

…and another daisy in the genus Gynura :

Gynura lycopersicifolia

Arisaema bulbs grow everywhere on the mountain. With their large leaves and usually tall, exotic-looking flowers, they are very prized by rare plants enthusiasts. Here’s one in fruit:


I can’t say I have seen much wildlife over the past two days, maybe because the mountain was busy with climbers. Just before returning to the park entrance, I spot a very furry caterpillar and an interesting grey moth:


I hope you have enjoyed my tour of the Fansipan mountain in the last three blog posts. Sadly, this biodiversity-rich corner of Vietnam is under threat. While we were here, we enquired about the dynamite blasts that we could hear being fired all day long, and about the queues of workers going up and down carrying tools, cement, petrol etc… You can see one in the bottom right-hand corner of this pic:


It turns out a cable car is being built to the top of the mountain. It will carry up to 2000 passengers per hour, cutting the journey time to 15 min, and will be accompanied by a luxury hotel and golf course.  Read more about the project here: http://www.thanhniennews.com/travel/vietnams-sa-pa-to-lose-its-natural-beauty-for-a-tramway-666.html and see some pictures of the works: http://www.lcs-cablecranes.com/projects/fansipan-cable-car/#.VPycDPmsX8k
All within a National Park. And with no Environmental Impact study. Wonderful world… :(

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Ten days in Vietnam part 4: Mount Fansipan, 2250m to 2800m

After at light lunch at the first camp, we set back towards the second camp where we will spend the night. The sun comes out, and makes the mountain look magnificent:


In open areas, we start noticing more and more bamboo species, some compact and shrubby, others much larger and spreading.


Trees include large Magnolia, red-petioled Daphniphyllum and oaks (acorn on the left side). Because this is an area of high endemism, there are many small plant genera which can only be found in North Vietnam/South China mountains. A good example is Rehderodendron, a genus with only five species known for its sausage-shaped seed pods:


En route, we are greeted by rather lovely goats:

Goats (2)

Muddy paths are home to many earthworms, but this giant blue one is certainly the most striking:


In a narrow rocky corridor, I find these pretty Utricularia – believe it or not, this is actually a carnivorous plant which catches small invertebrates in traps on its leaves and stems. The whole plant is probably 2-3 cm tall.

Utricularia  (2)

The path becomes a little more challenging, with ladders, wet boulders and Rhododendron trunks taking the most twisted shapes:


It’s amazing how quickly the weather can change in this area. In less than 20 min, the sunny view becomes thick fog, and we end up walking in the clouds (a strange experience!):


In a slightly flatter area, we discover Zanthoxylum laetum, a distant relative of citrus fruits with impressive spines on the leaf veins. The name of the genus might not seem familiar, but the berries of several species are actually used to make a well-known spice, Sichuan pepper (which has nothing in common botanically with black pepper!).
In the bottom left hand corner of the picture you can also see Rubus lineatus with its delicate leaf pattern.


After an hour or so, the sun is back and we can enjoy yet another stunning view over the mountains, but this time a bit higher:


We continue our ascent among bamboos and rhododendrons. Another shrubby plant popular in temperate horticulture is Hydrangea. They seem to be increasingly present around 2500-2700m; I particularly like this one with creamy green flowers:


As we climb one last hill, I spot this yet unnamed Clematis with cool purple stems and leaf undersides, and a Viburnum with bright red berries:


We reach the overnight camp just before sunset, and discover our room with a view. Most of the evening is spent around a hearty dinner with Vietnamese tourists, singing traditional songs and drinking garlic wine (ouch).


The next morning we will slowly be going back down the mountain (we deliberately chose not to go to the top as it’s not the most interesting part for plant diversity)…

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Ten days in Vietnam part 3: Mount Fansipan, 1940m to 2250m

The next morning, we get up early to a sunny mountain view:


After a short car journey, we reach the permit office of Mount Fansipan National Park, Tram Ton, at an altitude of 1940m and meet with the porters who will carry our water, food and bags. Note the guide carving a bamboo stem – this would become my best friend over the next two days!

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After a brief flat section, the path turns into a mix of roots, rocks and mud, bordered by ferns and bamboos. But it is so pretty!


Along the path, twining on branches and climbing on bamboo stems are gentian relatives belonging to the genus Crawfurdia (left) and Tripterospermum (right):

???????????????????Tripterospermum (3)

It is very hard to choose what to show among so many pictures of beautiful plants, but here are two of my favourites: an Impatiens species with unusual, narrow leaves; and an unknown yellow gesneriad.


Hundreds of species of epiphytic orchids grow on tree trunks, even high up in the canopy. It was a bit unnerving to watch locals cut a tree and throw the orchids in their cooking fire… I also spotted a terrestrial orchid, with rather unimpressive flowers!

14924960823_9a9a5ffe4d_oTerrestrial orchid

At times, the path offers great views over the neighbouring mountains:


Several species of Magnolia grow in Fansipan area. This large tree was growing in the most bizarre position, almost horizontally, hanging over the bamboo forest. Magnolias have rather shallow roots, which provide them with good anchors, even in rocky soils. Right is a cone of Magnolia, with its pretty jewel-like red seeds.


The other large genus of plants that is well represented in North Vietnam is Rhododendron. I cannot count how many different species I have seen, sadly identification can be pretty difficult out of their flowering season:

RhododendronRhododendron (3)

On the ground, we notice acorn-looking fruits. These are the fruits of Lithocarpus, a genus related to oak and native to Asia. Two species here: one with grape-like fruits, and one with solitary, giant acorns (L. pachylepis; camera case as reference, it is 10 cm long).


Among the exotic-looking plants that can be spotted along the way are numerous Schefflera. Distantly related to ivy, some of the species can be hardy in the UK and make spectacular garden plants.


Of course it is not all about large trees and pretty flowers. The Fansipan has a tremendous diversity of ferns, mosses and lycopodes:

Fern (2)Lycopode

Arriving close to a small stream, Uoc spots on a branch two giant moths belonging to the genus Loepa. With almost a 15cm wingspan, these make for an impressive sighting!

Loepa sp

We walk for a while along the bank, but soon find ourselves ascending again. Climbing the Fansipan can feel discouraging at times because there’s actually a lot of descent within the climb (which means even more effort to climb it back!).


Under a rocky wall, we spot a Begonia species growing vertically and sporting a wonderful iridescent foliage:


On the forest floor, we see dozens of strong-smelled, star-like fruits. They should look familiar if you enjoy cooking: they are the fruits of an Illicium species, the same genus that gives us the well-known spice star anise.

Illicium fruitStar-Anise-Hero

We reach the 1st camp, at an altitude of 2250m, by midday, under pouring rain and stop for a well-deserved lunch:


But we have to get moving again if we want to reach the second camp before dark…

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Ten days in Vietnam part 2: Off to Sapa

While Hanoi is almost always hot and humid, the North Western parts of Vietnam, close to the borders with China are mountainous, offering a temperate climate with occasional snow and frosts.


To visit the small and touristy town of Sapa, the commonest way (but not easiest way, as we learned… afterwards!) is to take a night train from Hanoi, arriving in the early hours in the industrial city of Lao Cai. 9 long hours of extreme air conditioning, non-existent suspensions and snoring neighbours later, we reached Lao Cai where a driver was waiting to take us to Sapa (only 30 min drive).


We met with our local guide, Uoc Le Huu (I’m sure the name will ring a bell to some :) ), and after a hearty meal, set up for an afternoon trek around Sapa. Because of road works, we couldn’t reach our starting point by car, so had to walk along the road…


Even walking along a road proved full of surprises, since we were basically walking along a natural green wall. Highlights included several species of Rubus, gesneriads and melastomes, spectacular lycopodes, Pyrrosia ferns and even dwarf Rhododendron.

After a brief climb, we found the starting point of the walk, a cultivated field.


Among rice, cabbages and artichokes, there were trellis crumbling under the weight of Su Su (Sechium edule), a bland but nourishing crop used in many tropical countries.


Fabulous trees can be spotted along the trek, such as Magnolia sapaensis (only brought back to the UK and described in 2011! See The Plantsman article), and the huge-leaved Schefflera macrophylla, a small tree which is quite common in the area. Both can be grown in the UK…

15358328579_4485863b15_z 15359307100_9ccf266d36_z

In the forests around Sapa, local ethnic groups such as H’mong and Dzao grow cardamom (Amomum tsaoko), a very large ginger. Here’s our guide Uoc surrounded by cardamom plants:


On a rocky slope, I spot a yellow Rhododendron (possibly R. emarginatum) and an Aeschynanthus.

Rhododendron emarginatum15358300279_5b2d8a5bcb_b

The walk yields more large-leaved surprises, such as an Aesculus with leaves twice as big as my head; Exbucklandia tonkinensis with its uniquely shaped leaves; an Impatiens with yellow flowers; and interesting Begonia.

Over a just a few hours, we also spotted a fantastic diversity of caterpillars:

And some really cool insects, such as this leaf-mimicking treehopper, whose back patterns cleverly imitate leaf veins:


Fog and night come fast in the Vietnamese mountains, so we had to start our descent back to Sapa (a few bamboos may have been hurt in the process!).


Sapa in itself is a very touristy town, with dozens of backpackers hostels, restaurants and shop selling fake branded outdoor clothes. We were very lucky to stay in a hotel slightly outside of the tourist center, called Sapa View. By day:


…and by night:


Tasty, isn’t it? Next we embark on a journey up the Fansipan (or Phan Xi Păng), the highest mountain in Vietnam, to discover the even richer flora of that area…

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Ten days in Vietnam part 1: Hanoi

Our last long-haul and almost disastrous holiday was in 2011 in Indonesia. This year, we spent a lot of of time trying to determine what would be the best destination. Vietnam sounded like a reasonably good choice: tasty food, decent climate and interesting plants (many of which are being grown in UK gardens).
We spent our first full day in the Northern capital Hanoi. It is true that the city has a lot of historical character and many old buildings (particularly French colonial architecture):

It is often described as vibrant and exciting. However I personally found the traffic, the noise and the pollution totally unbearable (even to a Londoner’s standards). The streets of the Old Town look like this. Ugh.


The street merchants are quite interesting. Many use the traditional carrying poles with two baskets to sell fruits, vegetables, cooked foods and especially herbs such as Vietnamese coriander or mint, as they are widely used in cooking.

In addition to colourful orchids and anthuriums, florists also appeared to be selling much more temperate flowers such as chrysanthemums, pinks (Dianthus) and hydrangeas. Weird!

P1170430 P1170598

To escape the hustle and bustle of the Old Town, we decided to wander around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, a major scenic point in the city:


Common trees around the lake include Flame trees (Delonix regia), crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia speciosa) and Khaya senegalensis (African Mahogany – an imported species in case you hadn’t guessed!)


There are also willows, conifers, palms and large Ficus (such as this rubber tree, Ficus elastica), Dracaena and cycads:

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Having visited the surroundings of the lake on our 1st day, where most of the ground under the trees was occupied by tropical grass species, we were quite surprised on the second day to see this scene: dozens of workers in their blue uniforms, digging grass, opening boxes and plastic packaging to unveil hundreds of pots of Anthurium, azaleas, KalanchoePoinsettia and small variegated Schefflera, all coming from China! Horror! We then found out that this was part of the celebrations for the  60th Anniversary of Hanoi’s Liberation.


Street plantings in Hanoi are a feast for the eye. Posh shops use niwaki conifers and delicate palms such as the native Phoenix roebelenii:


But there are also less civilised plants, such as this Chinese Tallowtree, Sapium sebiferum, which has decided to make its home in the  brick wall of Hanoi prison…


A big feature which I have seen in no other Asian cities is bonsai-style pots, which are used for virtually every plant, whether it is Adenium obesum, Ficus benjamina or cycads:

After Hoàn Kiếm Lake, we decided to visit Hồ Tây, the Western Lake, which is much bigger than its central counterpart. The main tourist feature is the Trấn Quốc Pagoda, a 17th century buddhist temple.


Apart from the traditional Flame trees, the banks of the lake are occupied by smaller plant such as the Panama Berry (Muntingia calabura), a South American tree which has become naturalised in parts of Asia:


To conclude our stay in Hanoi, what better than a little detour by a supermarket to discover local delicacies? It is quite amusing to see so many French products on the shelves, like Président cheese and Bonne Maman jams (links between the two countries are still very much alive). But for something more authentic, I could offer Boga Tra, a herbal remedy for liver problems made of artichoke (Cynara scolymus), Tora (Cassia tora), Chamberbitter (Phyllanthus urinaria), the foxglove relative Adenosma glutinosum, mempat (Cratoxylum prunifolium), the loosestrife Lysimachia christinae, Panax pseudoginseng and a bit of sugar substitute Stevia rebaudiana. Tempted?


Next, we embark on a trip to the mountainous areas of Western Vietnam, around the town of Sapa…

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An island of flowers – Part 9 (the end): By the mountain and the sea

Thanks to our absolutely wonderful host in Madeira (no publicity intended, but someone might need it one day :D), we did get a second tour of the island, this time without German grannies. This was also a more adventurous one, taking local routes with spectacular views. Not sure the car enjoyed them as much as we did!


Our first stop, coming from the eastern town of Machico offers great panoramas of the mountains, and of the Northern coast:


The ground is dry and rocky, and the flora there is very different to the heather scrub in my previous post:

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We continue our way westwards, and stop at the even more spectacular (although a bit touristy) Pico do Arieiro. An air defence radar was built a few years ago at the peak which is 1818m high. There’s also a pathway going to the highest peak in Madeira, the Pico Ruivo (1861m).


The peak can get frost and snow in winter as well as high winds, so as you would expect from that sort of habitat, the plants are low growing and tend to take shelter along rocks and crevices.

After half an hour drive on the sinuous mountain roads of Madeira, we arrive at the slightly lower Eira do Serrado, a 1094m peak overlooking the very famous Nun Valley (Curral das Freiras). The name comes from history – apparently, in 1566 the nuns from the Santa Clara convent in Funchal fled the city to escape pirates and settled in the village at the bottom of the valley:


A small path leads from the car park to the viewpoint, but I’m actually more interested in the flora growing on the cliffs. Lots of mosses and liverworts there, and also a few grasses. I am slowly working my way through the IDs…

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The rocks are also home to animals, such as countless of lizards and millipedes:


The view at the end of the path is breathtaking. But don’t look if you’re prone to vertigo!


On our way to the North Coast, we stop at the Pico do Galo (also known as Crista do Galo or “Cock’s Comb”), which does bear a certain resemblance with Polynesian landscapes:


We reach our host’s house by the evening. What a view…


…and we end our holiday with a glass of Madeiran wine while watching the sun set:


I hope you all enjoyed this little overview of Madeira. Here’s a quick recap of the posts if you haven’t already seen them:

Part 1: the streets of Funchal
Part 2: the parks of Funchal
Part 3: the quintas of Funchal
Part 4: Madeira Botanical garden
Part 5: Monte Tropical Gardens
Part 6: The Levadas
Part 7: Marine treasures
Part 8: The West (well, actually mostly the North!)


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An island of flowers – Part 8: The West (well, actually mostly the North!)

As car rentals on-the-spot proved to be extremely expensive, and local buses rather impractical on a limited amount of time, we decided to go with one of the hundreds of minibuses that tour the island every day carrying German grannies from one viewpoint to the other…never mind the German grannies, the “West Tour” that we chose was actually decent value. This is an illustrated overview:


The first stop was the small fisherman’s town of Câmara de Lobos, with its displays of local cat fishes drying in the sun:


The next stop, still on the South Coast is the most impressive viewpoint of Cabo Girão. Located 580m above the sea level, it features a glass platform (which did frighten the German grannies).


The flora around the viewpoint consists mostly of Eucalyptus and Acacias (sigh), though there are some less exotic plants too : the endemic Echium nervosum and the Mediterranean native Bituminaria bituminosa (aka Arabian pea):


After a spot in the unimpressive touristy town of Ribeira Brava and a brief drive through more Eucalyptus forest, we climbed up the central part of the island, and made a stop near Rabaçal. Here the landscape is dramatically different:


And so are the plants. The most common shrubs are the endemic heather Erica scoparia subsp. maderincola, and yet another endemic, Vaccinium padifolium (Madeira blueberry). Other shrubs include gorse (Ulex sp) and brooms (Cytisus scoparius). Among the herbaceous plants, there are many Asteraceae and dry-loving flora such as Erodium cicutarium and Crassula tillaea.


We reach the North Coast around the town of Porto Moniz. Madeirans are certainly used to “extreme gardening”!


The main attraction here is the natural sea water pools, which look amazing:


But the rocks and boulders surrounding the pools are also a good playground for botanists. On this picture you can see many endemics, such as the pink Matthiola maderensis with Helichrysum melaleucum at the back. The groundcover with bluish leaves and orange flowers is Lotus glaucus, while the one with larger, yellowish leaves is Aptenia cordifolia.


Other interesting records include these two daisies, Tolpis succulenta (with thick fleshy leaves), and the sticky Andryala glandulosa ssp. varia.

Tolpis succulentaAndryala glandulosa ssp. varia

The next stop of our tour was the waterfall at Seixal. Whilst it is apparently very impressive in the rainy season, it wasn’t so much when we visited.


The flora growing on the cliffs here is very interesting though. From left to right an Helichrysum, pink rosettes of Aeonium glandulosum and the – guess what – endemic Sonchus ustulatus subsp. maderensis:


Here’s a close-up view of Aeonium glandulosum, because it is just so pretty. The beads at the tip of the leaves are trichomes (glandular hair) – their function is not yet confirmed.

Aeonium glandulosum

The trip ended in the small town of São Vicente, as a much-needed last stop for the German grannies to buy souvenirs. A large canal there brings water down from the mountains, and the bridge overlooking the valley is filled with Aeonium glutinosum rosettes:


But what I really want to finish my post with is this view of a lush and almost untouched valley that we crossed before reaching São Vicente:


Not convinced that you should visit Madeira? I have one last post to convince you :)

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An island of flowers – Part 7: Marine treasures

As promised, this post won’t be dedicated to terrestrial, but marine creatures.
We’ll start with a nice little cruise off the Southern coast of Madeira:


Very popular with tourists, these 3-4 hour cruises on catamarans offer the visitor a chance to catch a glimpse of Madeira’s marine fauna. There are 10 species of whales that can be spotted in these waters (including two of the world’s largest, the sperm and blue whale), 9 species of dolphins as well as seals and turtles. We had the chance to encounter several pods of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis):


…as well as a Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming at the surface. Juveniles like this one are frequently seen in Madeiran waters. Despite their wide range (they are found in Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans), loggerheads are still an endangered species. It doesn’t show clearly on the picture, but it was accompanied by a large pilot fish (fishes which follow sharks ot turtles and eat the parasites that develop on their skin):


Of course, being on an island, we also had the opportunity to go diving. There are no postcard-perfect beaches on Madeira. Instead, it is just rocks and boulders gently sloping down to the sea. This is an ideal playground for animals such as starfishes. My favourites of the trip are the impressive Astropecten aranciacus (which can reach a whopping 55 cm!) and the spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis):


Octopus are highly intelligent animals, and they can be quite curious of divers. Here’s a very friendly chap who decided to play with us for a few minutes:


There are some less friendly creatures in the sea, one of which being moray eels, which sit in crevices waiting for their preys. Here, a bluefin damselfish (or fish with the most unpronounceable name, Abudefduf luridus) is getting a bit too close to a moray!


The second site we had the chance to discover is a natural reserve located at the South Eastern tip of the island, at a very scenic site, Ponta do Garajau. The dives there are deeper, the waves bigger, but there’s still a nice view of Funchal in the distance:


In Garajau there is a wide diversity of fishes, from white seabreams (Diplodus sargus) to tropical-looking ornate wrasses (Thalassoma pavo) or parrot fishes. We even saw some barracudas (Sphyraena barracuda) passing above our heads, and a stingray.


On almost every rock there are bearded fireworms (Hermodice carunculata) – whose bristle can inflict a painful sting. Better not touch…


The area has been protected since 1986, and the big attraction here is the population of  dusky groupers (Epinephelus marginatus), some of which weigh up to 60kg!


Despite being good predators, they tend to be very nice to divers, and even like being petted! The biggest of all in the reserve, nicknamed Elvis, is deemed to be over 50 years old…


It might not be the Red Sea, but Madeiran waters still hold many treasures :-)

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An island of flowers – Part 6: The Levadas

Madeira’s landscape is dotted with over 2000 km of levadas, which are unique irrigation channels bringing water down from the mountains to fields and coastal towns. Started in the 15th century, the network of levadas has been extended and improved (the first ones were built in wood!). These narrow (20-100cm wide) channels following the contours of the landscape are flanked by maintenance footpaths, which are now very popular with hikers:


We chose to walk the Levada da Serra do Faial, a popular daytrip from Funchal offering plenty of viewpoints and an interesting flora. The 20 km walk starts off a hilly road, and runs for a little while among houses. Madeiran inhabitants grow a very diverse range of flowers, from temperate hydrangeas to cacti and succulents, such as these stunning carpets of pink Delosperma:


Madeira’s climate is extremely favourable, and a lot of plants introduced to the island have therefore become invasive. Pretty Nasturtiums are covering entire fields, while the South African groundcover Oxalis pes-caprae is competing with native arable weeds:


The walk continues into an oak forest…


…and the garden flora quickly gives way to wild plants. There are over 130 endemic plant species in Madeira, such as the now rare (but recovering) groundcover Sibthorpia europaea. Along the levada, several Sonchus species can be spotted, here the Madeiran endemic Sonchus fruticosus.


There are also typically Mediterranean plants, like the showy Echium plantagineum (much smaller than its cousins E. candicans or E. pininana!), or the three-cornered leek (Allium triquetrum):

Echium plantagineumAllium triquetrum

In the 19th century, Eucalyptus species (mainly E. globulus) and Acacia (A. melanoxylonA. mearnsii), were introduced from Australia to the island to produce timber. These fast-growing trees have since become invasive, altering the soil composition and encroaching on native laurisilva forest:


A lot of small annuals are growing along the dry paths of the levadas. This is the stunning Lathyrus sativus var. cyaneus (the grass pea), a wild relative of cultivated peas which has gained much interest in the past years, as it could behold interesting genes:


The Acacia and Eucalyptus forest has a very exotic feel (and smell!), and for a moment it becomes hard to believe that this is still technically located in the European Union! Note the enormous Agapanthus on the left side: introduced from South Africa, they are now growing along every road and footpath in Madeira.


Of course, despite the abundance of introduced plants, the forest is still home to many native species. Under Eucalyptus trees, the tree heath (Erica arborea) is very common. In wetter parts of the forest, under Lauraceae trees, the shrubby Rubiaceae Phylis nobla steals the show with its glossy leaves:

Erica arboreaPhyllis nobla (2)

Sadly all good things must come to end, and after a fantastic, botanically-rich walk, the descent over Madeira was in sight again:


The next post won’t feature plants but underwater creatures. Watch this space if you want to know more!

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