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(Part 5)


Spain - Vegetation

The vegetation of Spain exhibits a variety in keeping with the differences of climate just described. The number of endemic species is exceptionally large, the number of monotypic genera in the Peninsula greater than in any other part of the Mediterranean domain. The endemic species are naturally most numerous in the mountains, and above all in the loftiest ranges, the Pyrenees and the Sierra Nevada ; but it is a peculiarity of the Spanish tableland, as compared with the plains and tablelands of central Europe, that it also possesses a considerable number of endemic plants and plants of extremely restricted range. This fact, however, is also in harmony with the physical conditions above described, being explained by the local varieties, not only of climate, but also of soil. Altogether no other country in Europe of equal extent has so great a wealth of species as Spain. According to the Prodromus Florae Hispanicae of Willkomm and Lange (completed in 1880), the number of species of vascular plants then ascertained to exist in the country was 5096.

Spain may be divided botanically into four provinces, corresponding to the four climatic zones.

In the tableland province (including the greater part of the Ebro valley) the flora is composed chiefly of species characteristic of the Mediterranean region, generally of species confined to the Peninsula. A peculiar character is imparted to the vegetation of this province by the growth over large tracts of evergreen shrubs and large herbaceous plants belonging to the Cistineae and Labiatae. Areas covered by plants of the former group are known to the Spaniards as jarales, and are particularly extensive in the Mancha Alta and on the slopes of the Sierra Morena, where the ladanum bush (Cistus ladaniferus) is specially abundant; those covered by plants of the latter group are known as tomillares (from tomillo, thyme), and occur chiefly in the south, south-west, and east of the tableland of New Castile. In the central parts of the same tableland huge thistles (such as the Onopordum nervosum), centaureas, artemisias, and other Compositae, are scattered in great profusion. From the level parts of these tablelands trees are almost entirely absent. On the lofty parameras of Soria and other parts of Old Castile the vegetation has an almost alpine character.

The southern or African province is distinguished chiefly by the abundance of plants which have their true home in North Africa (a fact easily understood when we consider the geologically recent land connexion of Spain with that continent), but is also remarkable for the occurrence within it of numerous Eastern plants (natives of Syria and Asia Minor), and plants belonging to South Africa and the Canaries, as well as natives of tropical America which have become naturalized here (see below under Agriculture). In this province the maritime parts of Malaga and Granada present scenes of almost tropical richness and beauty, while, on the other hand, in Murcia, Alicante, and Almeria the aspect is truly African, fertile oases appearing in the midst of rocky deserts or barren steppes. A peculiar vegetation, consisting mainly of low shrubs with fleshy glaucous leaves (Inula crithmoides, &c.), covers the marismas of the Guadalquivir and various parts of the south-west coast where salt-marshes prevail. Everywhere on moist sandy ground are to be seen tall thickets of Arundo Donax.

The Mediterranean province is that in which the general aspect of the vegetation agrees most closely with that of southern France and the lowlands of the Mediterranean region generally. On the lower slopes of the mountains and on all the parts left uncultivated the prevailing form of vegetation consists of a dense growth of shrubs with thick leathery leaves, such as are known to the French as maquis, to the Italians as macchie, and are called in Spanish monte bajo, [297-1] shrubs which, however much they resemble each other in external appearance, belong botanically to a great variety of families.

The northern maritime province, in accordance with its climate, has a vegetation resembling that of central Europe. Here only are to be found rich grassy meadows adorned with flowers such as are seen in English fields, and here only do fqrests of oak, beech, and chestnut cover a large proportion of the area. The extraordinary abundance of ferns (as in western France) is likewise characteristic.

Forests. The forest area of Spain generally is relatively small. The whole extent of forests is estimated at little more than 3 millions of hectares (7 1/2 million acres), or less than 6 per cent, of the area of the kingdom. Evergreen oaks, chestnuts, and conifers are the prevailing trees. The cork oaks of the southern provinces and of Catalonia are of immense value, but the groves containing this tree have suffered greatly from the reckless way in which the product is collected. Among other characteristic trees are the Spanish pine (Pinus hispanica), the Corsican pine (P. Laricio), the Pinsapo fir (Abies Pinsapo), and the Quercus Tozza, the last belonging to the slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Besides the date-palm the dwarf-palm grows spontaneously in some parts of the south, but it nowhere makes up a large element of the vegetation.

Steppes. The Spanish steppes deserve a special notice, since they are not confined to one of the four botanical provinces, but are found in all of them except the last. Six considerable steppe regions are counted:—(1) that of Old Castile, situated to the south of Valladolid, and composed chiefly of hills of gypsum ; (2) that of New Castile, in the south-east (the district of La Mancha); (3) the Aragonese, occupying the upper part of the basin of the Ebro ; (4) the littoral, stretching along the south-east coast from Alicante to the neighbourhood of Almería; (5) the Granadme, in the east of Upper Andalusia (the former kingdom of Granada); and (6) the Baetic, in Lower Andalusia, on both sides of the valley of the Jenil. All of these are originally salt-steppes, and, where the soil is still highly impregnated with salt, have only a sparse covering of shrubs, mostly members of the Salsolaceee, with thick, greyish green, often downy leaves. A different aspect is presented by the grass steppes of Murcia, La Mancha, the plateaus of Guadix and Huescar in the province of Granada, &c., all of which are covered chiefly with the valuable esparto grass (Macrochloa tenacissima).


2971-1 As distinguished from monte alto, the collective name for forest trees.

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