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Plant Life

Table of contents

General notes on vegetation and flora

The vegetation of the Rock of Gibraltar is, on the whole, typical Mediterranean in nature. This consists largely of dense scrub of the type known as maquis, but there are other areas of more open, lower scrub known as garigue.

However due to the geologic and geographic nature of the Rock there is considerate variation in the type of scrub, and also in the variety of habitats available to plants. Apart from scrub we have extensive sea cliffs, a limited but important rocky shoreline, the unique great sand slopes of the east side, rocky limestone outcrops and fissures, the steppe conditions of Windmill Hill, and the remains of the sandy isthmus which linked Gibraltar to Spain found at North Front Cemetery.

Gibraltar is a limestone mountain and so the soil is alkaline. In contrast the mountains in the surrounding area of Spain are largely sandstone and so the soil is more acid. As a result of this there are many species found on the Rock which are rare or not found in the surrounding region. At the same time, the geology of the Rock is similar to that of North Africa, and so there are species common to both regions. All these factors provide a variety of habitats which give rise to an extensive flora, including some plants which are unique to the Rock.

The flora of Gibraltar consists of some 530 species, representing almost 90 families and 330 genera. The majority of these are native species, but some of the 530 are species which have been introduced and become naturalised. The principal flowering months are March to May, but flowers may be seen virtually all the year round. However, very few will be out in the summer months (July to August) when very little if any rain falls. Shortly after the first rains in September, new growth quickly becomes evident, and by November, a large number of plants are already visible.

Types of vegetation and habitats

This consists of a dense, almost impenetrable mass of small trees and shrubs together with creeping and climbing plants, which can be between 3 and 5 metres high. The bulk of the Upper Rock comprises this type of vegetation.

The main trees/shrubs found here are: Rhamnusalaternus (Mediterranean Buckthorn); Osyrisquadripartita (Osyris); Oleaeuropaea (Olive); Pistacialentiscus (Lentisc); Pistaciaterebinthus (Turpentine Tree); Bupleurumfruticosum (Shrubby Hares Ear); Smilax aspera (Rough Smilax); Clematis cirrhosa (Virgins Bower); Aristolochiabaetica (Pipe Vine); Asparagus album (White Asparagus); Loniceraimplexa (Honeysuckle); Ruscushypophyllum (Southern Butchers Broom); Coronillavalentinaglauca (Shrubby Scorpion Vetch); Calicotomevillosa (Spiny Broom); Teucriumfruticans (Tree Germander); Laurusnobilis (Sweet Bay, Laurel); Celtisaustralis (Nettle Tree); Ceratoniasiliqua (Carob); Chamaeropshumilis (Dwarf Fan Palm); Ephedra fragilis (Joint-Pine); Jasminumfruticans (Wild Jasmine); Prasiummajus (Prasium).

This consists of fairly open vegetation formed by low shrubs, between knee and waist high. This type of vegetation is not extensive locally, and is generally found in the southern parts of the Rock, e.g. around Martins Path, Levant Battery, Hole-in-the-wall, etc. The more open nature of this type of vegetation enables the growth of a greater variety of species than is possible in the more overgrown maquis.

Many of the shrubs found in the maquis are also found here, but of a lower stature. Many of the shrubs are aromatic, such as Teucriumlusitanicum (Felty Germander); Rosmarinusofficinalis (Rosemary); Rutaangustifolia (Narrow-leaved Fringed Rue); Sideritisarborescens (Shrubby Sideritis); Lavanduladentata (Toothed Lavender); Lavandulamultifida (Cut-leaved Lavender). Here we also find Euphorbia squamigera (Warty Spurge); Stipatenacissima (Esparto Grass); Telinelinifolia (Teline); and Chamaeropshumilis (Dwarf Fan Palm). In a small area along Mediterranean Road we also find Cistusalbidus (Grey-leaved Cistus) and CistusSalvifolius (Sage-leaved Cistus). This is rather surprising since these are plants of acid soil. It must mean that this restricted area is more acid than the surroundings. Bulbous plants abound, e.g. Scillaperuviana (Giant Squill); Urgineamaritima (Sea Squill); Allium ampeloprasum (Great Round-headed Leek); Gladiolus communes (Common Gladiolus); Asphodelusaestivus (Common Asphodel); Asphodelusalbus (White Asphodel), and a proliferation of other herbaceous plants which provide an explosion of colour during the Spring months (March to May).

Rocky outcrops
The formidable limestone cliffs which form the North Face of the Rock and the East side, the rocky upper ridge and the outcrops and roadsides within the maquis, provide a habitat where can be found a large number of interesting and unique species. Here we find Silenetomentosa (Gibraltar Campion), a very rare plant found nowhere else in the world. This plant was believed extinct until rediscovered in 1994. Other plants are Iberisgibraltarica (Gibraltar Candytuft), a plant of North Africa and found nowhere else in Europe except Gibraltar; Cerastiumgibraltaricum (Gibraltar Chickweed) also unique to Gibraltar, Saxifragaglobulifera var. gibraltarica (Gibraltar Saxifrage), a variety unique to Gibraltar; Thymus willdenowii (Gibraltar Thyme), very common locally and very rarely, if at all, found elsewhere. Apart from these special species we find Iris filifolia (Narrow-leaved Purple Iris); Dianthus caryophyllus (Clove Pink); Scillaperuviana (Giant Squill); Narcissus papyraceus (Paper-white narcissus) which grows in huge quantities between the months of November and January; Colchicum lusitanum (Southern Colchicum); Lobulariamaritima (Sweet Alison); Antirrhinum majus (Snapdragon) which is also found on walls and rooftops in the town area; Gladiolus communes (Common Gladiolus); Euphorbia characias (Large Mediterranean Spurge); Aeoniumarboreum (Tree Houseleek), and many others.

The general appearance in Spring is that of a giant rock garden run wild. It is in this habitat that one can find any of the ten species of wild orchids found on the Rock. These are very rare and difficult to find. The ones found in Gibraltar are Ophrysapifera (Bee Orchid); Ophrysfusca (Brown Bee Orchid); Ophryslutea (Yellow Bee Orchid); Ophrystenthredinifera (Sawfly Orchid); Ophrysbombyliflora (Bumblebee Orchid); Ophrys speculum (Mirror Orchid); Gennariadiphylla (Two-leaved Gennaria); Serapiasparviflora (Small-flowered Tongue Orchid); Spiranthesspiralis (Autumn Ladies Tresses Orchid); Anacamptispyramidalis (Pyramidal Orchid).

Sea cliffs and shoreline
This seemingly inhospitable environment, whipped by the Easterlies and South-Westerlies, and lashed by sea spray, provides the ideal habitat for certain plants which are only found close to the sea. These include Limoniumemarginatum (Gibraltar Sea Lavender), a plant which is believed to be a North African species, and very rarely found elsewhere in Europe. Other species found here are Crithmummaritimum (Rock Samphire); Suaedavera (Shrubby Seablite); Limoniumsinuatum (Winged Sea Lavender); Asteriscusmaritimum (Sea Daisy), actually found throughout the Rock; Frankenialaevis (Sea heath); Seneciobicolor cineraria (Cineraria). Here we also find the very rare Senecioleucanthemifolius (Coastal Ragwort), and Mesembrianthemumcrystallinum (Ice Plant).

Great Eastern Sand Slopes
These are prehistoric consolidated sand dunes, created by wind-blown sands during a time when sea levels were much lower than at present, and sandy plains spread eastward from Gibraltar. This sandy soil provides a unique habitat not only for plants of sandy shores, but for many others. The plants that can survive in this habitat are adapted to withstand salt-laden winds, high temperatures with no cover from the sun, and scarcity of water. Here we find Ononisnatrixramosissima var. gibraltarica (Gibraltar Restharrow), a variety which is unique to Gibraltar. We also find Eryngiummaritimum (Sea Holly); Linariapedunculata (Branched Toadflax); Daucuscarota (Wild Carrot); Cyperuscapitatus (Sand Sedge); Silenenicaeensis (Sticky Catchfly); Silenelittorea (Shore Campion); Medicago marina (Sea Medick); Pancratiummaritimum (Sea Holly); Dipcadiserotinum (Brown Bluebell); Euphorbia baelica (Southern Spurge); Cachryslibanotis (Sand Cachrys); Cakilemaritima (Sea Rocket); Allium sphaerocephalon (Round-headed Leek); Crucianellamaritima (Coastal Crucianella); Delphinium nanum (Violet Larkspur); Dianthus broteri (Fringed Pink); Glauciumflavum (Yellow Horned Poppy); Lotus creticus (Southern Birdsfoot Trefoil); Malcolmialittorea (Silver Sea Stock); Verbascumgiganteum (Giant Mullein). A number of these species are also found in North Front Cemetery which is all that is left of the sandy isthmus which separated the Rock from mainland Spain.

At Windmill Hill Flats we find a rather hostile environment: a flat, wind-lashed terrain, with thin, poor stony soil. Despite all this, Windmill Hill is a treasure-house of plant species. In Spring it is a riot of colour, albeit for a brief period. Here we find a number of species which are not found elsewhere on the Rock, including Crocus serotinussalzmannii (Southern Autumn Crocus); Salvia verbenaca (Wild Clary); Echiumparviflorum (Small-flowered Bugloss); Plantagoserraria (Saw-toothed Plantain); Hedysarumcoronarium (Italian Sainfoin); Mantisalcasalmantica; Minuartiageniculata (Pink Sandwort); Tetragonolobuspurpureus (Winged Asparagus Pea); Lathyrusannuus (Annual Yellow Vetchling). Other important plants found here better than anywhere else on the Rock are Ornithogalumorthophyllum (Star of Bethlehem); Romuleaclusiana (Romulea); Gynandririssisyrinchium (Barbary Nut); Boragoofficinalis (Borage); Ecballium elaterium (Squirting Cucumber); Echiumplantagineum (Purple Vipers Bugloss).

Introduced Species
A number of species have been introduced either deliberately or accidentally. Many of these come from countries with a climate similar to that of Gibraltar e.g. South Africa and parts of South and Central America. These have no trouble in settling in and spreading, sometimes to the detriment of native species. Among these plants are Oxalis pes-caprae (Bermuda Buttercup); Agave americana (Century Plant); Carpobrotusedulis (Hottentot Fig) which was introduced in order to stabilise the great eastern sand slopes; Opuntiaficus-indica (Barbary Fig); Freesia refracta (Freesia); Aloe arborescens (Tree Aloe).