Picos de Europa - Flora

Due to the diverse habitats present within the Picos de Europa, they are home to a wide range of flora - over 1400 species have been identified in the national park.

The mountains rise from just above sea-level in the northern river valleys, to 2648m on the summit of Torre Cerredo. Broadly speaking, this range can be divided into four vegetation belts - coline (0 to 800m), montane (800 to 1800m), subalpine (1800 to 2400m), and alpine (2400m and above). Other factors influencing vegetation include aspect, climate, and substrate.
 
Due to the diverse habitats present within the Picos de Europa, they are home to a wide range of flora - over 1400 species have been identified in the national park. The mountains rise from just above sea-level in the northern river valleys, to 2648m on the summit of Torre Cerredo. Broadly speaking, this range can be divided into four vegetation belts - coline (0 to 800m), montane (800 to 1800m), subalpine (1800 to 2400m), and alpine (2400m and above). Other factors influencing vegetation include aspect, climate, and substrate.
 
There are two main vegetation types of the coline habitat - mixed deciduous woodland, and semi-natural unimproved grassland. The latter is a result of man's clearance of woodland to create meadows (for hay) and pasture (for grazing). The resultant grasslands are rich in flora species, and are home to species such as white asphodel (from which Gamoneu cheese takes its name), semi-parasitic yellow rattle, field eryngium (a member of the carrot family that looks more like a thistle), heart-flowered serapias, tassel hyacinths (regarded as a Mediterranean species), early purple orchids, fragrant orchids (more than forty orchid species have been listed in the national park), masterwort and lungwort, to name but a few. The mixed deciduous woodland is the natural climax vegetation of the zone, with ash, oak, lime, chestnut, walnut, hazel, bay and elm, amongst others. Beneath the canopy grow herbaceous species such as wood anemone, wood sorrel, stinking and green hellebores, dog violets, primroses, and Pyrenean and martagon lilies. In the dryer valleys, evergreen holm oaks cling to the steep valley-sides, as seen in the Cares Gorge east of Arenas de Cabrales, for example.
 
The montane belt is characterised in its lower reaches by oak woodland, accompanied by other species from the mixed deciduous woodland below. With altitude, oaks gradually give way to beech, and it is beech that characterises the upper reaches of the montane belt. At first it is accompanied by birch, holly, yew, hawthorn, rowan and whitebeam, but these gradually fade away until only the beech remains. Amongst the most notable beech forests of the Picos de Europa are those of Sajambre, Valdeón, Pome, and Monte Cortegueros. Also in the montane belt are the high pastures for summer grazing, in amongst the limestone, and these can be very rewarding areas floristically. Exploration of these pastures can reveal the tall purple spikes of monkshood aconites, the Merendera montana lily in late summer (a signal to bring livestock down from the mountains), louseworts, eyebrights, gentians, carpets of wild narcissus, the dog's tooth violet (which actually belongs to the lily family), snakeshead fritillary, burnt orchids, black vanilla orchids, and common spotted orchids, amongst others. Good examples of this habitat are the area around lakes Enol and Ercina, the pastures on the way from the lakes to the refuge at Vegarredonda, and the Pandébano area above Bulnes.
 
Above the tree-line, the subalpine belt is home to upland scrub, composed of species such as juniper, St. Dabeoc's heath, ling (Calluna vulgaris), and greenweed (a yellow-flowered leguminosae similar to gorse). Where the scrub is absent, small rock gardens within the limestone play host to hardy species such as bellflowers, ferns, stonecrops, saxifrages, sedges, grasses, toadflaxes, and others that can survive the difficult conditions - long winters under snow, and short summers. Rarities found in the subalpine belt include the Aquilegia pyrenaica subsp. discolor columbine, and Linaria faucicola toadflax.
 
Very little grows in the small areas of the Picos de Europa that exceed 2400m in altitude. One exception of note is the Elyna myosoroides community, dominated by the eponymous sedge, of which there are scattered examples.


For more information on the Picos de Europa select any of the following topics:
Introduction
Climate
Culture
Geography
Geology
Walking Picos de Europa
Refuges
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