Monday, 23 November 2015

Arbutus unedo


 The strawberry tree has this name in the English language due to lack of originality. In Portugal we call it Medronheiro; in Spain Madronheiro, in France Arbúsier. The fruits are not the regular strawberries you see in the market. They are also edible, red and yellow. They have a spherical shape and rough texture, almost resembling a litchi. The fruits may contain an alcoholic beverage, since their sugars start fermenting on the tree, when it's ripe. 

 This tree actually belongs to the heather family, as you might tell by the bell-shaped flowers. It's a remnant of the Laurissilva, the old kind of Forest that existed in Europe before the Glacial Ages.
 There's many known insect associations with these tree, namely some butterflies that have larvae eating the leaves of this tree.

 The Portuguese people make a very strong fruit brandy called "àguardente de Medronho": The Medronho firewater.

The white bell-shaped flowers of Arbutus unedo

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Crocus serotinus

 These flowers will make you think it's Spring all over again!

This the second species of Crocus appearing throughout the year in Gerês, blooming in the end of September and in October, announcing the Fall and thus earning the name of Autumn saffron.

You can tell the difference between the two by looking to the female part of the flower, that is bigger and branched in this species.

 Despite it's name, it's unusable as a spice. The "saffron" spice comes from a very similar species (Crocus sativa) found in Greece and Southwest Asia. This one, C. serotinus, is found in western Iberia and Morocco, in the mountains.

 I have also found white flowers in this species, adding colour to the fields of flowers. 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Asphodelus lusitanicus

Family: Xanthorrhoeaceae

 You can find the Asphodelus in the mountains of the Nacional Park. It's an herbaceous evergreen plant that only develops a flowering stem in Spring. It's common in areas affected by fires.

This flower had a strong mithological meaning in Classic times. The Greeks though that one's soul would roam in Asphodel meadows after death. They planted them in graves, relating them to the passage to afterlife. 

 It is also in the Greeks that we find references to their edibility. The poor used to eat their roots (tubers). They must be cooked, though, otherwise they are slightly venomous. The flowering stem and seeds are also edible when cooked.

 Rabbits seem to avoid eating them.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Erica umbellata

Family: Ericaceae

This is an heath, belonging to the heather family. In April and May, you're able to see entirely pink cliffs or hills in Gerês, called heathlands. They gain this color due to the tiny urn shaped (urceolate) flowers  of this heath. Their power over the landscape comes from the sheer quantity of blossoms that each plant has.

 This is a very hardy plant, colonizing driest areas in the mountains, with poor and acid soils. They are also very resistant to fire and cold temperatures.

These flowers have a sweet scent that is very appreciated in honey.

Saturday, 21 March 2015


  Here you go. Spring starts today. We've been seeing many flowers and blossoming life already, but today it's official! This is, in my opinion, the best time to visit Gerês. The lizards are crawling out of their hidings, their small hatchlings doing so for the first times in their lives. The Amphibians are now very aroused, being on their reproductive season, since its warm but there's still a lot of water for them.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Salix atrocinerea

Detail of a flower and
young leaves
Family: Salicaceae

  In winters end, the Rusty Sallow is the first deciduous tree to paint the landscape in green. The flowers come first, with a tannish green colour. Then come the leaves, bearing a sharp light green.

  This sallow is a riparian tree, which means it can be found mostly in riverbeds and pools, being very important to stabilize the rivers and their margins. It is also normally one of the first species to colonize degraded or humanized habitats.  Needless to say, it provides food for a lot of insects that are eaten by larger animals.

  It contains salicine, which is the basic component for the aspirin. The salix bark was already used to deal with headaches before the pill was invented.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Lamium purpureum

Family: Lamiaceae

  In Gerês you can easily feel the thrill for adventure but if you pause a little you can see its humble rural side. The purple dead-nettle is not as scary as its name suggests. The name serves to differentiate it from the stinging nettle: “A dead nettle doesn’t sting”. It thrives the most in rural environments.

  Not many people know this, but young dead-nettles are edible (the leaves and flowers), although not particularly tasty.