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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 01 April 2015 by John Richards

More spring flowers from Andalucia. Entry 294.

El Torcal

Yes, I know, indecent haste, only three days since the last entry, but I want to get our Andalucian holiday down and out of the way while it is fresh in the mind, as there is a lot going on at home which I would also enjoy reporting.

Having devoted most of the last epistle to narcissus, which were the main point of the trip, I shall ignore them from now on. Despite the dreadful weather we encountered, there was a lot else in flower, and this is a very rich region. I think the best way of approaching it is to major on six rewarding localities, in the hope that these might help guide future visitors to useful destinations.

I shall start with El Torcal, south of Antequera, an easily reached National Park reknowned for its remarkable limestone rock formations. Due to bad weather, we only spent a limited time there late in the day, and mid March was far too early to enjoy most of its special plants (or birds). However, one of our main ambitions, narcissi apart, was to see Europe's only Juno iris, Iris planifolia, in flower. This is exceptionally common, even locally dominant throughout the region whereever limestone rock appears. Interestingly, it seems to be graze-tolerant, and is often commonest in highly bitten areas. However it flowers principally in mid-winter, and we were told we would be lucky to see any in flower. So it proved, except for by the road between Antequera and El Torcal where some remained in quite good condition.

Iris planifolia Iris planifolia

Here is a lovely dark one.

Iris planifolia

There was another bulb there, perhaps the tiniest in Europe, the minute Romulea requienii.

Romulea requienii

The roadsides hereabouts were stained purple with the wallflower relative Moricandia moricandioides which can be a very spectacular subject.

Moricandia moricandioides

Another lovely roadside plant is Convolvulus tricolor, sometimes used in annual bedding.

Convolvulus tricolor

Here is a glimpse of the rock formations at El Torcal.

The crevices contain many ferns, such as the rustyback, Ceterach officinarum, and the endemic saxifrage S. biternata. Here they are side by side, the saxifrage unfortunately not yet in flower.

There were attractive forms of Euphorbia seguierana already in flower, as well as E. characias.

Euphorbia seguierana

We only saw four orchids on the entire trip, including Barlia robertiana here at El Torcal.

Barlia robertiana

El Chorro

El Chorro is a gorge south-west of Antequera, made famous by the 'Camino del Rey', an extremely hairy footpath built high on the canyon wall which the King of Spain famously walked when he opened it. It is now in considerable disrepair, but some crazy folk do apparently attempt it. You can see part in this photo.

El Chorro

We walked up a footpath to the south of the gorge, seeing lots of Ranunculus rupestris and other goodies. We loved this Aristolochia, I think A. baetica.

Aristolochia baetica

There were lots of confusing leguminous shrubs here. I think this is Lygos sphaerocarpa, but have no idea what the second one is. Any ideas please? (in Discussion section).

Lygos sphaerocarpa


Teba is a remarkable hill-top village between Antequera and Ronda which is well worth a visit in better weather than we enjoyed. You can drive right onto the top of the hill, where windswept rocks host many interesting plants, including Cytisus fontanesii, an intriguing dwarf broom.

Teba Cytisus fontanesii

Below the village, several approach roads run past steep limestone cliffs with masses of Lavatera maritima. The endemic Antirrhinum graniticum is common here.

Antirrhinum graniticum

Amongst masses of blue Echium lycopsis, the American Nicotiana glauca made a brave show.

Nicotiana glauca

Centaurea pullata is a most attractive, if somewhat weedy, knapweed which is common in the area which we saw at Teba and elsewhere.

Centaurea pullata

Carratraca, Sierra de Aguas

This is the road along which we found Fritillaria lusitanica and Narcissus cantabricus. The local rock is acid, I think Peridotite, but harbours a rich and distinctive flora. I was greatly taken by this dwarf Jerusalem Sage, Phlomis lychnitis, only 20 cm tall.

Phlomis lychnitis, Carratraca Spain

The sinister Linaria aeruginea is exciting to find, but a nightmare to photograph successfully, having almost black flowers.

Linaria aeruginea

This is perhaps the most attractive of all the twenty or so subspecies of Anthyllis vulneraria, Ladies Fingers.It seems to be ssp. atlantis, and would be an excellent introduction to gardens.

Anthyllis vulneraria ssp. atlantis

I looked at the next subject, next to where we picnicked, for some minutes before seeing it, and then thought momentarily that it must be a little Aloe! In fact this is the retiring Dipcadi serotinum, supposedly a member of the Hyacinthaceae. Not all bulbs are beautiful!

Dipcadi serotinum

Ulex parviflorus is extremely common in Andalucia, but this dwarf gorse was particularly fresh along this road.

Ulex parviflorus

Montejacque cliffs

North of the village of Montejacque, west of Ronda, and just south of where we found fields of Narcissus assoanus, the road runs past some exceptional cliffs and gorges. The beautiful Orchis olbiensis is common here. 

Orchis olbiensis

Ranunculus rupestris occcurs again, growing here with abundant cushions of Saxifraga haensleri, not yet in flower.

Ranunculus rupestris

The local ophrys is the real O. fusca, so often reported from Greece where it probably does not occur.

Ophrys fusca


I am finishing with a few plants from the spectacular cliffs below Grazalema, which have a very rich vegetation.


In the second photo you can see the spectacular rosettes of the silver-leaved endemic Centaurea clementei, and the white flowers of the local 'Cincherinchee' Ornithogalum reverchonii. There are many other good plants on these cliffs, many not yet flowering or in growth. Here is the Centaurea.

Centaurea clementei

And the chincherinchee.

Ornithogalum reverchonii

The local celandine has very pale flowers and is most attractive. It is Ranunculus ficariiformis.

Ranunculus (ficaria ssp.) ficariiformis

The big Sierra between Grazalema and Zahara to the north was mostly still asleep, but I was surprised to see Anagyris foetida coming into flower. I last saw this on top of Monemvasia in Greece!

Anagyris foetida

Much is made of the rare Spanish Fir, Abies pinsapo, and I believe it was severely threatened at one time. Now it is readily encountered and we saw it is several places, not least the Sierra de las Nieves. However, there are also substantial stands by the road north of Grazalema.

Abies pinsapo

I am finishing with an attractive little flower which is found on the walls of many villages, not least those of Grazalema, and indeed Villaluenga del Rosario, our last abode. This is Linaria platycalyx.

Linaria platycalyx
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