Flammable, beautiful and ecologically important, Rock roses (Cistus) are a striking feature of the Mediterranean hillside in spring

Long-used in the perfume industry, these  shrubs which are so emblematic of the Mediterranean, have aromatic volatile oils and have even been reported to self-ignite in hot conditions! Interestingly, fire may actually stimulate their seeds to germinate.

They form associations with truffles, and with a curious little parasite, Cytinus hypocistis (see photo below of plant emerging from a rock rose root), which actually lives within the rock rose’s tissues until flowering.

So much more than just attractive garden shrubs!


Tabernas: Europe’s only semi desert

Tabernas is the only true semi-desert in Europe. Situated in southeast Spain (Almeria, Andalucia), this seemingly baron landscape is in fact home to a plethora of rare succulents and sea lavenders, among other things. Well worth a visit in March when parts of the landscape are ablaze with little annuals which burst into bloom after seasonal rains.

My book on the Algarve’s wonderful flora I wrote with Professor Simon Hiscock (Oxford University) a few years ago. One of the best places to see wild flowers in Europe, and well worth a spring visit!

The Algarve

Wild flowers in the Algarve: a true botanical bonanza!

The Algarve is one of the best places to see wildflowers in the spring in Europe. Botanist Professor Simon Hiscock and I started documenting the flora a decade ago whilst teaching field botany there every spring. We compiled our work in a field guide, available from Kew’s online bookstore and other retailers:

Flora Algarve BookThe Algarve has one of the richest floras in western Europe. Here where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean, exposed cliff tops are drenched in sun in the summer months, and blasted by violent storms in the winter; the more sheltered southern coast is famous for its glittering blue seas, whilst the western seabelt is notable for its rolling white sand dunes. And as well as being an attractive holiday destination, it is a haven for botanists and nature lovers. Hillsides shimmer with white rock rose flowers in April, and clifftops are a riot of pinks, yellows and blues when the spring flowers jostle for space. Shale cliffs along the Costa Vicentina’s coast are home to rarities found no where else such as the poorly known Silene rothmaleri, believed to be extinct but rediscovered on excursions I was lucky enough to have co-led a few years ago.

Cabo de Gata, Almeria

Almeria’s southeastern Cabo de Gata has a beauty all of it’s own. Seemingly a baron desert in the summer months when rolling hills baked are to a yellow-brown crisp, contrasting glittering turquoise waters, the landscape comes to life after the winter rains. Sea quills (Drimia maritima) send up their towering spires of white flowers in the autumn; annuals burst into bloom in the spring; whilst century plants (Agave) mark the landscape throughout the year. A paradise for wild flower enthusiasts.

Cap de Formentor, Mallorca

Mallorca’s northeastern-most Cap de Formentor is a botanist’s paradise. Windswept and bleak it may be, this jagged peninsula is home to a spectacular array of rarities, some are even found nowhere else. One of the more curious species is the autumn-flowering Arum pictum which grows beneath pine trees, and which lures small flies to pollinate its flowers which produce the smell of cow dung.