As the highest mountain range in continental Portugal, Serra da Estrela offers many unique habitats for an abundance of plant species. A paradise for botany lovers and a haven for rare species. In this article, we will delve into the extraordinary flora of Serra da Estrela, showcasing some of the region’s most notable plant species.
When to Visit
April, May and June are the best months to visit Serra da Estrela to enjoy the maximum number of species in bloom. Walking along the ancient trails in spring time, you will encounters dozens of species on every side, flush with pollinators.
In June, over 400 plants burst into flower, culminating in a grand show of color and fragrance that fill the rocky landscapes with life.
For a different kind of display, autumn is also a beatiful season in the botanical calendar. Serra da Estrela’s secretive deciduous woodlands turn amber and gold as oaks and sweet chestnuts shed their leaves. The Rota da Caniça (PR10 SEI) near Lapa dos Dinheiros and the Rota das Faias (PR13 MTG) near Manteigas are excellent choices to enjoy the autumn colour.
Where to Look
Thirty-two unique floral habitat types have been identified in Serra da Estrela. Among them you may encounter:
|Still water (lakes, reservoirs, ponds and pools)
|Flowing water (streams, rivers, waterfalls)
|Submediterranean scrub heath
|Sphagnum acid bog
|Rocky slope deposits
|Rocky slopes with chasmophytic vegetation
|Temperate European Forest
|Mediterranean deciduous forests
|Mediterranean deciduous forests
|Mediterranean scrub forests
|Mediterranean coniferous forest
As you ascend the mountain you will move through a mosaic of habitats, transitioning from well-tended orchards and Arcadian groves to high meadows, mixed woodlands and, on the high mountain-tops, the iconic ‘Zimbral’ juniper thickets and boulder-strewn plateaus.
The Rota da Fervença (PR12 SEI), Rota das Ladainhas (PR15 SEI) and Rota das Canada (PR7 SEI) are all great choices for walkers and hikers looking to enjoy the floral landscape.
PR12 SEI –
Great Yellow Gentian (Gentiana Lutea)
The rare Great Yellow Gentian thrives in the mountainous terrain of Serra da Estrela, commanding the landscape with tall stems and vibrant yellow bell-shaped flowers.
This herbaceous perennial holds cultural significance and has a history rooted in traditional herbal medicine. Explore the meadows, slopes, and rocky areas of Serra da Estrela during the summer months to witness its striking beauty of this resilient plant species. It grows in mountain meadows above 750m elevation.
Cardoon Thistle (Cynara cardunculus)
The cardoon is an iconic species of Serra da Estrela – a true emblem of the region’s heritage. A close relative of the globe artichoke, it has been cultivated in the region for centuries and plays a vital role in the production of the famous Serra da Estrela cheese.
The cardoon’s large buds are used instead of rennet, coagulating the milk and imparting a distinct flavor and texture to the cheese. To witness the splendour of this large plant, head to the fertile meadows and fields surrounding the mountain villages in Serra da Estrela. Keep an eye out for its tall and spiky purple flowers and robust, silvery-green leaves.
Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens)
In Guarda – a small city nestled in the North East of Serra da Estrela – one can enjoy an incredibly rare sight in Europe: a grove of over 50 giant redwood trees. The small park with its gigantic trees was established by King Dom Carlos in 1907. Now over 100 years old, the redwoods have reached an impressive size. The largest is around 150ft tall (45m). One can also be found in the village of Sabugal.
Portuguese Laurel (Prunus Lusitanica)
The Portuguese Laurel is a relic of the wet ‘Laurissilva’ forests which once covered Iberia. Now more commonly seen as a hedge in landscaped gardens than in its native habitat, Serra da Estrela harbours one of the only remaining fragments of Laurissilva woodland in Iberia. These humid forests evolved 66 million years ago, just after the death of the dinosaurs, when Iberia was a subtropical habitat dominated by laurel and other plants with large, waxy leaves adapted to a hot and humid climate.
The Portuguese Laurel looks similar to its relative, the Bay Laurel. It produces white flowers and clutches of shiny black berries that are very popular with birds.
The laurel forest can be found in steep, sheltered valleys with copious water.
Strawberry Tree (Arbutus Unedo)
Well known in Portugal for the strong Medronho liquor distilled from its round red fruits, the strawberry tree flourishes on steep slopes with poor soil.
This evergreen shrub or small tree showcases a distinctive combination of glossy, dark green leaves and ornamental, bell-shaped flowers that bloom in late autumn. Uniquely, it often enjoys the simultaneous presence of both ripe fruit and flowers.
The bright red, knobbly strawberry-like fruits, known as ‘medronhos,’ are edible and have a sweet, slightly tart flavor.
Images in this article: CC BY-SA 2.0 Bernnard Dupont via Wikicommons CC BY-SA 3.0 Javier Mar via Wikicommons