Plant Life
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PLANTS UNIQUE TO THE PARK

Our park is extremely unspoilt and has been recognised by experts as the second-richest area in Europe in terms of plant life. It boasts 35 endemic species that are not found anywhere else in the world, in addition to a further 110 species that are only found in Andalusia.

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The endemic species include the beautiful Cazorla violet (Viola cazorlensis), which only grows on certain rocks and has become one of the park's true icons. The Cazorla narcissus (Narcissus longispathus), which grows near streams, is the largest wild narcissus found anywhere in the Iberian peninsula; other plants whose nomenclatures belie their park origins are the Cazorla stork's bill (Erodium cazorlanum) and the Cazorla geranium (Geranium cazorlense).


PLANTS AT RISK OF EXTINCTION

There are many plants in the park that are at varying degrees of risk of extinction, as officially recognised in the Andalusia Catalogue of Endangered Species. Twelve species have been officially declared as being threatened with extinction, including the yew (Taxus baccata) and the birch (Betula pendula ssp. fontqueri), while a further 25 are classified as vulnerable: these latter include the holly bush (Ilex aquifolium), the St Lucie cherry tree (Prunus mahaleb) and the Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus).

In a world which is losing its biodiversity at an ever-increasing rate, a plant sanctuary such as our park acquires enormous importance. Therefore, when you come to the park you are entering a true haven for European flora and a hot-spot of biodiversity in terms of the ecology of the Mediterranean. You will find that helping to preserve this environment by getting to know it and respect it is a truly satisfying experience.


THE MIRACLE OF DIVERSITY

The park's rugged terrain allows for the existence of a great variety of different species that have adapted to the varying altitudes, slope directions, moisture levels, soil types and other factors. A shady ravine and a sunny peak or slope can provide totally distinct plant environments within a very short distance. alt

Moreover, as we watch and admire the plant life we are also witnessing the mark left by the passage of time over millions of years. Owing to its location in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, this area is home to a large number of north African plants that have grown here from when the Strait of Gibraltar did not exist and the continents of Europe and Africa were joined: when the strait opened up and the continents were separated, many species survived in these mountains and developed unique adaptations.

Another decisive factor was the process of glaciation, which brought successive waves of cold weather that in turn brought with them species from northern Europe that were better adapted to the new climate conditions. When temperatures rose once more, some of these species still clung on in the park's mountains, whose altitude and orientation created a cooler, damper climate than in the surrounding areas. Some of these species include plants that are extremely hard to find in Andalusia, such as holly and hazel.


THE PINE FORESTS


The park smells of pine. Or, more accurately, pines, because there are three main species of the tree that dominate the park's landscape. Each species reigns over its own section of the mountainside, with each kingdom demarcated by altitude. Up to 1,000-1,100 metres the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) is king; from there the European black pine (Pinus pinaster) takes over, finally giving ground to the Corsican pine (Pinus nigra) at an altitude of around 1,300-1,400 metres.

All pines may be hardy and austere, but each species has its own character and its own particular predilection for water, ice, rock or light. In any case, the pine tree is tailor-made for thriving under almost any of the conditions to be found in the park.

Of the three species mentioned above, the Corsican pine ā€“ known locally as the salgareƱo ā€“ is the most majestic and the most evocative of the Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas mountain ranges, which are home to the largest forests of this species anywhere in Spain. As a result, the salgareƱo, which was used in former times to build ships, government buildings and cathedrals, is now a symbol of the park and is depicted on its official logo. Its slender trunks with their ash-grey bark dominate the landscape in the large expanses of forest at high altitude, which is where the majority of the park's most valuable ecosystems are found. alt

According to a study conducted by the Spanish National Research Council, the park is home to the oldest living wooded area in Spain: specifically, a forest of Corsican pines whose oldest trees are almost eleven centuries old.


DECIDUOUS TREES


The Portuguese oak (Quercus faginea), which is known as the "oak of the south", is abundant on the valley floors and in the fertile flat lands that are spread across almost the entire park at different altitudes. Although the great oaks of the past have given way to agriculture, livestock and charcoal production, today the robres (as they are called in the local tongue) are recovering something of their splendour, growing amongst the pines and even becoming the dominant species in certain areas. The magnificent spread of the park's ancient oaks are a sign of how magical nature can be when it is allowed to realise its full potential.

The park's other oak species is the Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica), a surprising inhabitant given its lack of tolerance for limestone soils. Between 1,100 and 1,400 metres, however, there is sandy, silecious soil with sufficient moisture to allow the Pyrenean oak to spread its striking, wavy-edged leaves.

A truly beautiful display of foliage is provided by the maples, whose leaves turn intense shades of orange and red. Maples tend to be dotted throughout the park, which boasts two distinct species: the Spanish maple (Acer granatensis), found in the mid to upper reaches, and the rarer Montpellier (Acer monspessulanum).


THE NORTH IN THE SOUTH

There are certain places in the park where the vegetation resembles a typical Christmas scene and where, despite being in the south, you will feel as though you are in northern climes. Can holly grow in Andalusia? Here, yes! Along with yew, hazel and even birch. The park's altitude, shade and abundant precipitation make this remarkable quirk of nature possible.

When you visit the park you will be enraptured by the experience of sitting under centuries-old yew trees, strolling in the shade of holly trees or coming across the most southerly hazel trees in Europe. Our natural park is a true feast for landscape gourmets.

And there is still more! Scattered around the park, always in spots with exactly the right balance of shade and moisture, are unusual trees such as wych elms (Ulmus glabra / Ulmus Montana), St Lucie cherry trees (Prunus mahaleb) and different varieties of rowan (Sorbus aria, Sorbus torminalis). Even the magical mistletoe (Viscum album), famed for its role in ancient Celtic rites, can be found entwined around the gnarled branches of the ancient Corsican pines.


THE MEDITERRANEAN MOUNTAINS

Mighty holm oaks (Quercus rotundifolia), fragrant honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) and strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) with their succulent fruits are just some of the dozens of trees, bushes and shrubs native to the Mediterranean that thrive in the park under the protective canopy of the pine forests and which, from time to time, take centre stage and become the undisputed masters of the landscape. In autumn, the leaves of the terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus) turn from yellow into red, while the wild rose bushes (Rosa sp.) offer up their red fruits and the laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) its cobalt-blue ones alt

The park is full of such attractive scents that, at times, four of your five senses will find themselves entirely in thrall to your sense of smell: you will not be able to resist touching or even stroking certain shrubs in order to fill the air with the perfume of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), lavender (Lavandula latifolia, called espliego by the locals), thyme (Thymus orospedanus), marjoram (Thymus mastichina) and winter savoury (Satureja montana), all of which spread their delicious scents across many thousands of hectares in the park. There are certain areas in which it could almost be said that the whole mountainside is covered with oregano (Origanum virens, Origanum vulgare).

Meanwhile, mastic (Pistacia lentiscos), juniper (Juniperus communis, Juniperus oxycedrus), barberry (Phillyrea latifolia) and many other bushes make up a dense undergrowth that is a veritable paradise for the park's wildlife. Those who admire tenacity and the spirit of endurance will be enchanted to learn of the discreet, primitive Phoenician juniper (Juniperus phoenicia), which covers entire hillsides with its twisted trunks and ensures that even the steepest, rockiest slopes are festooned with greenery.


THE PEAKS

Our park is the home of breathtaking panoramas, where visitors can watch griffon vultures soar and mountain goats climb. It is here that the natural world reveals itself in all its purity, in one of the areas least affected by human exploitation.

From 1,600-1,700 metres upwards, the ground becomes stony and the climate turns harsh: snowfall and frost in winter, drought and glaring sunshine in summer. In the face of these difficult odds, however, life wins through again and shows it is able to adapt to even the toughest conditions.

The Corsican pine is virtually the only tree capable of surviving in such an environment, and shows the scars of battle in its twisted,stunted appearance. The wind restricts the spread of certain pine trees, forcing their branches to grow in the opposite direction to the wind: these are the eye-catching pinos bandera, or "flag" pines. At ground level, savin juniper (Juniperus sabina) clings to the soil like a limpet in its attempt to withstand the strong winds and is able to remain buried under snow for long periods of time: paradoxically, the snow provides excellent thermal insulation. alt

Other plants have evolved rounded, aerodynamic shapes to defend themselves from the wind, such as the various species of broom (Erinacea anthyllis, Genista lobelii, and the like) that cover the high mountains with their bright mauve, white and yellow flowers during the temperate months. Popular tradition has given playful names to these plants, such as rascaviejas ("granny-scratcher") and asientos de monja ("nuns' seats"), in light of their spiny leaves.

It is at this precise spot, overawed by the immensity of the landscape around you, that you can also marvel at the minutest gems the park has to offer: humble little plants that are not much to look at but which possess strong roots that can penetrate into the very rock itself. These species have adapted to very specific conditions and a great number of them are endemic to the region, such as the alpine sandwort (Arenaria alfacarensis). If you appreciate minimalism and exclusivity, there is no need to visit more sophisticated locales: here you are presented with survival strategies in all their purity.


WATER


Nourished by the moist soil, the lush vegetation that grows along the banks of the park's rivers adds character and contrast to the landscape through the intensity of its greenness during the summer months and the harmony of its yellows and ochres during the winter.

The riparian plant life is distributed in bands that run parallel to the river: the parts closest to the water are occupied by willows (Salix sp.), whose red twigs dominate the scene and are traditionally used in basket-weaving. If the water course is permanent and the river is not channelled by rocky outcrops, a second band of vegetation occurs that overlooks the first, dominated by trees such as ash (Fraxinus angustifolia), poplar (Populus alba, Populus nigra) and white willow. Blackberry bushes (Rubis ulmifolius) are common, as are wild grape vines (Vitis vinifera ssp. sylvestris) and different kinds of honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.). Along slower parts of the river you can find common reeds (Phragmites australis) and bulrushes (Thypha sp.). .
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The damp areas on the riverbanks are home to rushes and a variety of grasses and herbs, including aromatic and medicinal plants such as field horsetail (Equisetum arvense), the exquisite pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) and a number of different varieties of mint. There are also species that are unique to the park, such as the beautiful thistle known as Cirsium rosulatum.

Another very common feature of the park are watery bogs, usually located on the mountainsides and covered almost exclusively with bog rush (Schoenus nigricans).

There are also a number of trees and bushes that, without being riverside plants in the strictest sense, nonetheless find on the areas around the riverbanks the moisture they require: these include hazel (Corylus avellana) and boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), the southernmost examples of which are found in these mountains and in the neighbouring Sierra MƔgina Natural Park.

THE ROCKS

Contrary to their barren appearance, the endless abundance of cliffs and crags in the park provide a rich environment for vegetation. They are home to an enormous variety of plant species that despite their humble forms are true champions of the plant world, given the harshness of the conditions in which they are able to survive.

The ecological value of these "hanging gardens" is augmented by the presence of numerous rare and endemic species that are the result of the area's isolation, the difficulty of livestock in accessing the area and the ability of these species to adapt to very specific locations.

There are a great many plants that have developed powerful , woody roots that are able to utilise the small amounts of soil that accumulate in the fissures in the rock. The visible parts of these plants are often very discreet. Examples include a particular variety of St John's wort (Hypericum ericoides) that is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa and "rock tea" (Jasonia glutinosa), a plant from the daisy family that is prized for its medicinal properties.
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Rock faces that ooze water or which are splashed by nearby waterfalls are miniature paradises for vegetation. Among the many species that make their home in these locations are the small geraniums that grow near waterfalls (Geranium cataractarum), whose purple flowers can be observed in the dark cavities carved out by water, and the abundant Venus-hair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) with its small, delicate, fan-shaped green leaves and black petioles. However, the most striking plant in this environment, and one of the most intriguing in the whole park, is a certain variety of butterwort (Pinguicula vallisnerifolia). It is an insectivorous plant that uses its sticky leaves to trap small flies and mosquitos, whose nutrients are absorbed by the plant's external parts. The white-blue flowers of this particular butterwort, a species that is endemic to these mountains, can sometimes cover entire rock faces.


THE OLIVE GROVES

The nature of the olive tree is highly conditioned by current methods of cultivation, although these methods are increasingly more respectful of other flora and fauna. In fact, the groves are a type of "cleared forest" that, although artificial and lacking the structure and diversity of natural forests, nevertheless constitute a complex agroecosystem that is home to a wide range of plant and animal species.

In spring, the ground of the olive groves can become carpeted in a dazzling array of rainbow colours with the arrival of the yellow flowers of the pot marigold (Calendula arvensis), which are joined by white mustard (Sinapis alba), the pinks of the field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), the purples of the African valerian (Fedia cornucopiae), the blues of the wide-leaved iris (Iris planifolia), the mauves of the wild cabbage (Moricandia moricandiodes), the reds of the field poppy and the blue-purples of the Italian bugloss (Anchusa azurea) and the grape hyacinth (Muscari neglectum).

The gathering of wild asparagus, an extremely popular pastime in the park, partly occurs in the area's extensive olive groves.


AROMATIC AND MEDICINAL PLANTS

The park's plant life is a great boon to both health and cuisine, given the abundance of aromatic and medicinal species that the residents of these mountains have always used wisely. There are still a few artisans who continue to extract essences from some of these plants. The list of beneficial species is almost endless, and so below we have listed some of the most popular:

  • Field horsetail (Equisetum arvense). This grows next to streams and is very popular throughout the area for its traditional use as a cure for rheumatic pain, skin diseases and circulatory problems. It is also useful in treating cystitis.
  • Lavender (Lavandula latifolia). With its antiseptic properties and delightful aroma of eau de cologne, lavender essence is used when giving remedial massages that tackle rheumatism. It has been harvested in great quantities so that its essence can be extracted and used by the pharmaceutical and perfume industries.
  • St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum). This plant is called pericĆ³n by locals and in addition to its traditional uses for treating rheumatism, gastritis and varicose veins, current practitioners of phytotherapy have discovered certain properties that can help treat depression.
  • Marjoram (Thymus mastichina).This extremely abundant plant has stimulant and antiseptic properties, which are traditionally extracted from it in the form of essential oil.
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare).An essential herb for the kitchen.
  • Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)The most popular of the seven types of mint found in the park, prized for the flavour of pennyroyal tea and for its properties as an aid to digestion.
  • Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis). Perhaps the most abundant and well-known herb in the park. Along with lavender, it is the most widely used plant for the extraction of essential oils. It aids digestion and circulation and helps with the treatment of hypertension.
  • "Rock tea" (Jasonia glutinosa).A member of the daisy family, this plant grows in cracks in the rock and has always been popular in these mountains for its use with a variety of problems: digestive disorders, heart conditions and all kinds of wounds and infections.
  • Thyme (Thymus orospedanus).Extremely abundant in the mid to lower reaches of the park and popular thanks to its use as a condiment, thyme also has beneficial effects against colds.


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