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Posted by portugalpress on April 26, 2018
Antirrhinum majus
Cistus albidus and Coronilla
Cistus ladanifer
Lavandula stoechas luiseri
Ophrys bombyliflora
Ophrys lutea
Ophrys speculum
Paeonia broteroi

Southern Portugal, the Alentejo and the Algarve are a joy to visit from January through to the end of May. For anyone interested in the wild flowering plants, this is the peak season to see the natural colourful displays which cover roadsides and fields, hills and coastlines.

The interrelated influences of geology and climate allow the definition of three broad geographical regions of the Algarve: Littoral, Barrocal and Serra, each with its own characteristic vegetation and flora.

The Littoral consists of the land running along the south coast and up into the west. It has a mixed geology of sedimentary rocks, alluvia, and sand of relatively recent origin. Inland, the Barrocal is an area of rolling hills, composed principally of limestone, that increase in height upon moving north, where they merge with the mountainous Serra. The Serra is composed of older rocks, particularly shale and syenite, mainly carboniferous in origin.

The flora of each of these regions has distinct plant communities which have lessons for gardeners wishing to make sustainable gardens from native plants of the region. Match your soil types and conditions to the surrounding natural areas and make your own spectacular spring display.

Coastal (Littoral) zones are under huge pressure from development and this makes the rare natural areas even more precious. The alkaline soils of the coast and the Barrocal are the best places to see the incredible range of wild orchids in abundance as well as the rock rose family (Cistaceae), with lime-intolerant and acid-loving plants being confined mainly to sandy areas and shale outcrops.

By contrast, the acid Serra is dominated by plants that prefer lower pH soils, for instance Ericaceous species such as tree heath (Erica arborea) and the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), together with the iconic Cistus ladanifer.

Probably the best place to see the full potential of coastal plants in challenging conditions is to visit Cape St Vincent in the spring months. A mix of sand dune and shrub dominated vegetation known as matos.

The dunes have the salinity of the sea winds but still hold a rich community of aromatic herbs, bulbs and small shrubby perennials. Stipa gigantea and Ammophila arenarea (Marram grass) support populations of bright yellow-flowered Lotus creticus and Pancratium maritimum (Sea Daffodil) as well as thyme and purple snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus). The dominant cistus here is the lovely white-flowered Cistus palhinhae.

Barrocal zones have their own distinct displays, Cistus albidus, Lavandula stoechas, Phlomis purpurea and the glorious butter yellow Genista hirsuta giving a mix of pinks, purples and yellow with the white Cistus monspeliensis.

Roadsides are plastered with the bright daisies of Chrysanthemum coronarium and the small shrubby Coronilla glauca with yellow pea-like flowers. Iconic spring flowers of the Barrocal region include the large blue flowers of the Scilla peruviana bulbs and the lovely native peony (Paeonia broteroi).

In the Serra, the dominant rock rose is the Cistus ladanifer, the large white petals each with a distinctive purple blotch. Stands of the green lavender, Lavandula viridis, mingle with the tree heath (Erica arborea) and the yellow broom (Cytisus scoparius).

Wherever you are making a garden, there should be opportunities to introduce native species which are suited to your conditions. Spring is a great time of year to be inspired to make changes in your garden and plan to use native plants in your own patch of the Algarve.

For more information on wild flower walks in all the regions of the Algarve see

For Algarve wildflower books in English, contact

By Rosie Peddle
|| | 289 791 869
Mediterranean Gardening Association – Portugal