Thursday, March 13, 2008

Flora - Azores - Açores

The vegetation of the Azores is for a significant part determined by the Atlantic climate. Because the Azores are part of the Atlantic climate system (mild winters and relatively cool summers with heavy rains scattered throughout the year), the vegetation has a constant supply of water and consequently has an elongated growing season. Plants flower all year round and there is no true resting period in the annual cycle of the vegetation. The Azorean flora is not only characterised by the usual Atlantic plant species, but also by Mediterranean, tropical and a wide range of cosmopolitan species.

Many plant species occurring on the islands are exotic and were introduced by the early colonisers as food resources. They thrive well in the warm and humid climate and were able to spread quickly in the absence of their natural enemies. At this moment, 200 out of the 500 plant species present on the islands are exotic. The beautiful ginger plant that originates from the Himalayas out-competes many endemic species plants in their natural habitat and has become a significant threat to the survival of many of them. The Hydrangea was introduced 150 years ago and since it is not grazed by cattle, it was used as a natural border in pastures. The beautiful Blue Trumpet flower was also brought in, just as the Yucca cactus, Canna Indica’s, Optuntia en Agaves. The natural vegetation above 1500 m is a dense laurel-juniper shrub-forest. The islands of Pico, Faial and Terceira have the largest remnants of these unique native forests. This forest ecosystem needs a high amount of precipitation and high air humidity to develop successfully.

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