The Laurissilva of Madeira Island

by | 15 March 2017 | About Madeira

The Laurissilva of Madeira Island is a unique botanical relic, the origins of the laurel forest date back around 20 million years ago. At that time this forest-covered a vast area in the south of Europe and the Mediterranean. Due to the different glaciations in Europe at the beginning of the Quaternary, the “laurisilva” disappeared in a great part of Europe.

The term “Laurisilva” comes from two Latin words Laurus (Laurel) and Silva (Forest). This forest is classified by UNESCO as a natural World Heritage site since 1999.

Nowadays we can see the Laurisilva Forest in the Region commonly known as “Macaronesia”, which includes the Archipelagos of the Azores, Canary Island, Cape Green and Madeira Island, but is the Laurissilva of Madeira Island the best-preserved forests exist. This unique forest has about 85% humidity levels producing abundant sources of water used by people from Madeira for drinking, irrigation and creating clean electricity for the whole island of Madeira.

The Laurisilva of Madeira Island can be found nowadays on the northern coast at an altitude of 300-1300 meters and also along the southern coast at an altitude of 700-1200 meters. This marvellous forest is home to numerous trees belonging to the Lauraceae family such as the Laurel, lily of the valley tree, Persea indica, the Madeira mahogany and much more.

Talking about the fauna you can find the Trocaz pigeon and endemic specie found only in Madeira Island. The bird is frequently associated with the Laurissilva of Madeira island, and consequently, its distribution is limited to areas of native forest in mountainous north-facing areas and a few isolated sites on the south-facing slopes. The Madeiran firecrest (the smallest bird on the island and one of the smallest in Europe) and the colourful chaffinch also live in the Laurissilva of Madeira.

Curiosities about the Laurissilva of Madeira Island. 

  • The laurissilva of Madeira; levada walks

    The laurissilva of Madeira, photo by: Francisco Correia

    The Laurissilva of Madeira covers 20% of the Island of Madeira (15,000 hectares) most of which is part of the protected Madeira Natural Park.

  • Madeira Island have about 70 species of fern, where the common bracken is very strongly represented and much rarer, the kidneyleaved fern.
  • Laurel forest like it specially wet locations and need a moderate amount of rainfall of 1500 mm a year to survive.
  • The best ways to explore the Laurel forest is visiting one of the famous Madeira Levada walks an untouched experience full of evergreens, waterfalls, lakes and streams taking us back thousand of years.
  • About 149 of 760 plants species growing wild in Madeira Island are edemic, that is they grow only on Madeira and nowhere else in the world.
  • The “Levada do Caldeirão Verde” and “Levada do Rei” in the north part of Madeira Island provides spectacular views of the Laurel forest.
  • One of the most beautiful plant that we can find in the Laurisilva forest is the Madeira Orchid (Dactylorhiza foliosa). Yes we have our own orchid!.
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