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:


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:


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:


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.


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):


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.):


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:


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:



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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