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:

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

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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).

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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):

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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:

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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):

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…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):

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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):

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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:

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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!

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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:

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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.

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

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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!

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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…

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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:

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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:

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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:

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The walk continues into an oak forest…

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…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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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

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An island of flowers – Part 5: Monte Tropical Gardens

As promised in my previous post, this is a visit to a nearby but completely different place, the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens.
Located slightly higher (600m above sea level), the Monte hills can be reached by an impressive cable car overlooking laurel forest:

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Where the Botanic Gardens were exposed, filled with cacti and succulents, the Monte Tropical Gardens are cool and shaded, with a splendid diversity of woodland plants. Established on the land of a 18th century quinta, the garden was created in 1987 with a very oriental inspiration. The visit starts with Japanese-like red stairs descending into the valley:

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Water is omnipresent, with little streams and cascades surrounded by Japanese lanterns, ferns, subtropical shrubs such as Fuchsia boliviana and large Clivia. The diversity of ferns and bryophytes is incredible, here’s for example a liverwort that was growing on the side of a path.

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Monte Palace is not just a pretty garden. There are artistic and historical references scattered in the landscape. This is a wall called “The Portuguese in Japan”, which depicts how 16th century Portuguese explorers brought Christianity to south-western Japan:

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The garden is home to one of the largest cycad collection in the world, with dozens of species which are threatened in the wild. Sadly, it appears that the cycads (725!) in the collection were acquired illegally, against CITES regulations by the owner of the property in 1988. I really hope that they are propagating these plants in some way as they have a great scientific value… This is the Eastern Cape Blue Cycad (Encephalartos horridus) which is endangered in its natural range (Cape Province, South Africa).

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As I know that some of my readers are fond of cycads, here are the cones of Encephalartos eugene-maraisii (Waterberg Cycad), also endangered in the wild:

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As everywhere in Madeira (you are probably getting used to them now!), there are stunning views to the sea from various terraces:

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The central lake is a bizarre mix of roman-like arches, traditional Madeiran buildings, cascades…

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but also sculptures like this sphinx and fern-rich walls:

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There’s an orchid promenade, as well as several ponds with koi carps, and to stay in the oriental theme, a large buddha statue surrounded by tree ferns:

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Every wall is covered in greenery – this corridor for example is filled with Ficus pumila. Another interesting idea is the use of tree fern caudices (trunks) as stairs – Madeiran recycling style!

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The rest of the garden is devoted to Madeiran flora and designed to imitate a typical laurel forest. Two examples here: the endemic daisy Argyranthemum pinnatifidum and the Madeira Holly (Ilex perado subsp. perado).

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Next time, I will blog about Madeira’s wild (although not necessarily native) flora. But before that, just to make you all very envious, the view of a roof terrace filled with plants and overlooking the hill…

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An island of flowers – Part 4: Madeira Botanical garden

Reached by a short drive from the centre of Funchal, the Jardim Botanico, located 300m above sea level is a relatively recent botanic garden (opened in 1960), but full of surprises. We start our visit by the spectacular Succulents zone, with the orange flower heads of Aloe striata and red ones of Aloe plicatilis :

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As everywhere in Madeira, there are fantastic views of the sea, this time through the tall stems of true cacti (Cactaceae – Cereus peruvianus for example) and false cacti (such as Euphorbia ingens):

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The succulent garden features numerous South-African groundcovers such as the  daisy-like Glottiphyllum depressum or the prostrate and vicious-looking Euphorbia grandicornis.

Glottiphyllum fragransEuphorbia grandicornis

Going down from the succulent garden, we find a palheira (traditional triangular-shaped Madeiran cottage), surrounded by frangipani trees:

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The next garden is a assemblage of elaborate topiary shapes,  reminding the visitor of famous Italian gardens. Note also the primitive conifer Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine) in the foreground – they are everywhere on Madeira:

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There’s also an impressive collection of cycads:

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Going back up the slope on the other side of the garden, there’s a display of agricultural plants that can be grown on Madeira, from mulberries and olives to mangoes and avocados:

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Possibly the most famous view of Madeira’s botanical garden is the red and green floral carpet offering a panorama of the South Coast of Madeira:

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Of course, it is still a botanic garden, with many interesting plants to discover. Two purple ones here: the Central American borage relative Wigandia caracasana and the African Ginger Bush Tetradenia riparia:

Wigandia close-up

 

For those interested in science, the garden has a tiny natural history museum, with impressive displays of fossil wood found on the island (trunks of Erica platycodon subsp. maderincola and Apollonias barbujana) and herbarium specimens (a pretty one of the Canary Islands endemic fern Asplenium aureum):

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Nested on one edge of the garden, the “Lover’s cave” provides shade and shelter, as well as offering yet another great view over Funchal:

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And I can only conclude with a picture of the emblematic Madeira Cranesbill (Geranium maderense), a plant which is Critically Endangered in the wild according to the IUCN (because of Madeira’s intensive urbanisation), but very popular with gardeners, even in the UK:

Geranium maderense

 

Next time, a very different place, the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens

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An island of flowers – Part 3: the quintas of Funchal

As this article explains quite well, the simplest definition of a Portuguese quinta is that of a countryside estate with a large house, surrounded by orchards and gardens. Many quintas have been swallowed by developments and incorporated into the urban mesh of Funchal, but they still carry a hint of Madeira’s aristocratic past.

In the heart of Funchal ‘Old Town’, the Quinta das Cruzes, which has been turned into a museum, is surrounded by romantic, 19th century gardens. There are for example very English-looking rose beds:

Rose garden

The rest of the garden however does look more suited for the Madeiran climate, with this stunning Karoo cycad (Encephalartos lehmannii - a South African plant which has been assessed as “near threatened” in the wild) for example:

Encephalartos lehmannii

The orchid shadehouse is full of surprises (not a single label to be found though!):

Orchid shadehouse

For cycad enthusiasts, there’s also Cycas circinalis, an endangered species from Southern India; and for tree lovers, the large, South American Phytolacca dioica with its long white racemes:

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The garden only covers one hectare, but there is plenty to see, from aroids to bromeliads, large palms or tree ferns:

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Even the lawn weeds have a certain exotic look (and exotic origin, as they are both from Southern Africa) – Bulbine frutescens with its fluffy stamens, and the striking Freesia laxa:

Freesia laxa

The second quinta we visited, located on the heights of Funchal, is the Quinta Jardins do Lago. Established in the 18th century, it was the home of the British Commander during the Napoleonic Wars (early 19th century), and I have to say it does have a definite British feel!

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The house is surrounded by themed flower beds, like this one which displays dry-environment flora:

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There are trellis with exotic climbers on every single wall. Here, the red flowers of Clerodendrum splendens, and the large purple Sandpaper Vine (Petrea volubilis - often nicknames “tropical wisteria”) from Mexico:

Petraea volubilis

Pathways are covered with pergolas, like this jaw-dropping one covered with Thunbergia mysorensis:

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Unusual sightings include the South African tree Schotia brachypetala and the (appropriately named!) cup-and-saucer-plant Holmskioldia sanguinea, an Asian relative of our wild skullcaps (Scutellaria sp.):

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I quite liked the gardeners’ choice of plant pots: cut palm trunks and clay pot with holes for orchids!

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And I have to dedicate this post to the local resident, Colombo, a giant tortoise from the Galapagos Islands who was born in 1958, and who has been living on Madeira for over 45 years! He is sweet, isn’t he?

Colombo, a 47-year-old Galapagos tortoise

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An island of flowers – Part 2: the parks of Funchal

As you’ve discovered in my previous post, the flora of Madeira, in particular its capital city Funchal is very diverse.

This is reflected in the numerous parks scattered in the city, and the most famous example is probably the Jardim Municipal. Located in the touristic heart of Funchal, it was established in 1878 on the site of an old convent. It now features benches to relax, an amphiteatre for events and a café where it is possible to sip a local drink under giant ferns and aroids:

Monstera & Colocasia

Flower beds bring colour to the square, with a mix of English cottage plant such as hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), stock (Matthiola incana) or black-eyed-susans (Rudbeckia),  South American bulbs (Hippeastrum – the kind you put on your windowsill in winter!), Central American and heavily scented frangipani (Plumeria sp), and South African coral trees (Erythrina caffra).

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For the plant enthusiast however, it is the trees that will catch the eye, whether they are Madeira natives or exotics. I wonder how old this giant Chorisia speciosa (silk floss tree - native to the forests of South America) is:

Chorisia speciosa

Other interesting trees include the African sausage tree (Kigelia africana – giant hanging sausage-like fruits, that’s a rare sighting in the European Union!) and a large Weeping Bottlebrush (Callistemon viminalis) from Southern Australia in full flower:

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Going towards the sea, the visitor will reach the Parque de Santa Catarina, which offers stunning view of Funchal Old town and of the harbour:

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Once again, there are trees worth noticing: the Kapok (Ceiba pentandra), a Central American tree whose fluffy seed pods can be used to make filling for duvets and pillows; and Schinus molle (the false pepper tree) – its fruits are sold as “pink peppercorns”, although they bear no relation to black pepper (Piper sp.)!

Ceiba pentandraSchinus molle

Being more exposed than parks on the heights of Funchal, the Parque de Santa Catarina is full of dry-loving plants, such as this gigantic Dasylirion serratifolium from Mexico, surrounded by the cactus-like Euphorbia E. ingens on the left; brown-leaved croton Codiaeum variegatum on the right; and tall Yucca in the background.

Dasylirion serratifolium

There is plenty to see on the ground too, with the pink flowers of the Mexican melastome Heterocentron elegans , and the stunning leaves of Farfugium japonicum:

Melastome maybe (2)Ligularia tussilaginea

And because I know you like that, here’s a bit more of Madeira’s blue sky, with a view of the central mountains…don’t worry, I will get you there in one of the next posts!

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An island of flowers – Part 1: the streets of Funchal

This is the first post in a long series on the island of Madeira, where I went on holiday last month. With stunning landscapes and very interesting flora, I’m sure you will enjoy the trip!

Located approximately 500 km off the African coast, and 1000 km south of continental Europe, Madeira is in fact a volcanic archipelago made of 20 islands, only two of which are inhabited : Madeira sensu stricto and Porto Santo. Whereas Madeira is rocky and humid, Porto Santo, seen here from the plane, is very dry, with a large plain in the centre, and a 9 km long sand beach popular with tourists:

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Porto Santo is only 40 km away from Madeira and can easily be visited by boat, but we stayed on Madeira this time! Before venturing in the rest of the island, I wanted to show you the main city, Funchal, which has over 100000 inhabitants. The first thing that will strike the visitor (unless you come from the Alps or know Lisbon) is how hilly everything is! Every road is just sloping more or less gently down to the sea; and this is for example the view that we had from the terrace of our flat:

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Houses are arranged vertically (with terraces, water reservoirs, kitchens etc on the roof) because the streets are often narrow (this keeps windows shaded and helps cool down the houses) and mainly designed for pedestrians:

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Thanks to its geography, Funchal gets a lot of water from the central mountains; so while the air can get dry in summer, the soil will rarely lack water. A very diversified range of trees can be spotted in the city, from the iconic purple Jacaranda avenues, to the imposing Araucaria (New Zealand pines), familiar-looking London planes (Platanus x acerifolia) and dozens of species of palms.

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Abandoned houses are often overgrown with vines such as morning glories (Ipomoea), grapevines (Vitis), or the Balloon Vine (Cardiospermum sp.); and occupied houses require a lot of maintenance work (a brave gardener pruning Bougainvillea, which grows very quickly in Madeira):

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The strangest thing about Madeiran flora, particularly in Funchal, is that almost everything can be grown on the island, which yields strange mixes of plants from the four continents. It is very easy to go in one glance from New Zealand (Agathis sp.), to Africa (Cyperus papyrus), to Central America (Tecoma stans),  and Asia (Pandanus sp.):

continents

Of course the island has many endemics, and a trip to the (free!) local museum gives a good overview of Madeira’s iconic plants. There were a lot of herbarium specimens (botanist heaven), this is one of the famous Madeiran foxglove, Isoplexis sceptrum. Some Madeiran plants are also widely cultivated, see for example Dracaena draco, the Dragon Tree:

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Gardening appears to be a popular activity among Funchal inhabitants, and even in limited spaces such as this patio, Madeirans have found clever ways to grow flowers and edibles – such as these recycled gutters:

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The next post will focus on the parks of Funchal – there are over 30 “Jardim”, 2 vast”Parques” and a few “Quinta” (large estates surrounded by gardens), so plenty to entertain you with!

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From industrial site to contemporary garden

If you live in the UK, and/or like garden and plants in general, you can not have missed this week’s big event: the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show. Temple of gardening overindulgence, shrine to bizarre landscaping trends, and showcase of nurserymen’s skills, it’s also an inspiration for designers all over the planet, and this time I want to show you a real garden, near my hometown in France, ambiguously named the “Jardin des Traces“.

The Lorraine, region of North-Eastern France where I was born has a long tradition of steel industry, and landscape has always been dotted with tall blast furnaces. Many have closed and been demolished over the last decade, but one, the “U4″ has been preserved and become a listed building. To give you an idea, this is a view of the site in the 1970s, with the Moselle river on the right:

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The red lines show the site that has now become a 10-acre garden, divided into three themes. The first one is called “the alchemy garden“, and portrays the four elements needed to produce cast iron: earth (iron and coal), fire, water and air.

In the “earth” garden, rocks are represented by concrete walls encrusted with fossils, while soil fertility is suggested by the use of green walls and raised beds filled (not yet as it was a bit too early in the year!) with medicinal, edible or fiber plants:

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The “fire” is embodied by tall, flame-shaped metal sheets. There are burnt tree trunks painted in red, and acid-loving plants like maples (Acer palmatum) or Pieris; plus seasonal plants like red and yellow tulips.

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Sculptures have also been added to the garden, and I particularly love this one called the “Fire Doors”. Thanks to a switch in the doors, visitors can trigger a mister, forming a smoke-like cloud.

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The “water” garden is all transparency, with blue glass being used as mulching; and water is shown in all its states. Plantings are in shades of white and blue, with irises, geraniums or aquilegias, and grasses to display movement.

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Finally, the “air” garden uses bamboo hedges, with large wind chimes at the entrance, tall flowers swaying with the wind like Delphinium, and wicker globes hanging over the visitor’s head.

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The second part of the garden is dedicated to immigrant workers who came from all over Europe, from Poland to Italy or Algeria to help develop the industry in the region. Plants native to these countries have been used, such as the bladder senna (Colutea arborescens) which comes from the Mediterranean region:

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Parts and memories of the steel mill have been incorporated into the design, such as these giant valves:

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A few other examples include a little wagon used to carry ore or coal, and a warning sign that was found on pipelines transporting gas produced by the blast furnaces:

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The last part of the garden focuses on “energy“:  wind (with windmills), sun (with solar panels) and water (with japanese shishi-odoshi fountains).

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I hope you enjoyed the visit…I personally think that while it is a bit young (the garden only opened in 2009), it has been transformed into a peaceful yet thought-provoking place.

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I’ll let you have a look at the mind-boggling “pond with a hole”….

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A botanical walk with no frontiers

As some of you will know, I was born in North East France, very close to Luxembourg and Germany, in a region known as “The Land of the Three Borders“. Two years ago, I had introduced you to the orchid-rich nature reserve of Montenach.
This time, I visit a nearby hill with an interesting geological background….

The town of Sierck-les-Bains is located in a bend of the Moselle River (the V at the top of the maps).

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We start our walk at the top of the Altenberg, a hill made of shelly limestone (pale pink on the geological map). In a small woodland, I notice my 1st orchid of the season, Neottia ovata (Common Twayblade), sadly not yet in flower. Viburnum lantana (the Wayfaring Tree), a chalkland loving shrub, is flowering profusely along the path.

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The woodland quickly gives way to a plateau with large fields, many of which are filled with colza at the moment (bad for allergy sufferers, good for the photographer!). The chimneys in the distance are the cooling towers of Cattenom nuclear power plant.

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The paths and fields’ edge are filled with dry soil-loving plants such as the cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) or the chamomile (Matricaria recutita):

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The white bryony (Bryonia dioica), a toxic plant belonging to the gourd family enjoys the heat brought by rocks; and the (very) Common Field-speedwell (Veronica persica), forms little mats of blue flowers along the paths:

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Crop fields have always been associated with wildflowers, often annual plants which can withstand disturbance, drought, competition and complete their life cycle over a few months, sometimes less. Although they cause little disturbance to the crops, “arable weeds” have been deemed bad, and destroyed with large quantities of herbicides. It has been shown that they can actually have a positive role, providing shade and water retention for the crop, and attracting more pollinators to the fields.
Thankfully, the fields here don’t appear to be heavily sprayed, and we can still enjoy the pretty sightings of the Field Pansy (Viola arvensis), the Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis)…

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but also the Wild Mustard (Sinapis arvensis); and a very dainty but pretty mustard relative, the edible field pepperweed (Lepidium campestre):

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The walk then leads back into the forest with a steep descent:

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The flora here comprises many indicator species of ancient woodland (woodland that has suffered little disturbance for over a century, often much more), such as the Sweet Woodruff (Gallium odoratum), the Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) and a carpet of Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis):

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The banks of a little stream are home to the wonderful Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. montanum) and the vigorous creeper Veronica montana (Wood Speedwell):

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Probably my favourites of all woodland plants, a large clump of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) and the striking Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia). Herb Paris normally has a whorl of four leaves under its flower (hence the name quadri-folia), but it can sometimes have one or two extra leaves, like here!

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The deeper we are descending into the valley, the shadier and wetter it gets. The path becomes a heaven for fern lovers:

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Among the ferns that can be found here are the Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare); the Hart’s-tongue fern, Phyllitis scolopendrium, the Maidenhair spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes and a Dryopteris sp.

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As we start climbing back to the plateau, the edges of the path become drier again, and a different flora can be observed. Here’s the European columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris and a strange and uncommon umbellifer, the Sanicle (Sanicula europaea):

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The walk leads back to the fields of the Altenberg and….to a well deserved rest! :-)

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