To see the flora of Portugal, spring may be the best time to visit. The weather is not too hot for outdoor activities. Rainy days give way to sunshine. It’s shoulder season (not peak or off-peak, in tourism terms) so things are not as expensive or crowded as during the summer. Flowers are blooming and living creatures are coming to life.
Flora of Portugal
From late winter until the end of May, people enjoy the peak season of flowering blossoms. The colorful displays cover roadsides, hills, and valleys.
Surprisingly, for such a small country, there are diverse growing conditions. This allows a wide variety of flowering plants to bloom.
Portugal’s only national park, Paneda Gerês, is home to many cooler-weather flowers. Early in the season, the first flowers are the hoop petticoat daffodil, Narcissus bulbocodium. These are found throughout Portugal.
These daffodils are quickly followed by the Angel’s tears daffodil, Narcissus triandrus – found only in the north and central parts of Portugal on higher ground.
The Paneda Gerês iris, Iris boissieri, bloom only in this national park later in the spring. The gorgeous purple flower is cultivated only under specific growing conditions.
The Serra Estrella mountain range is the highest area in Portugal. Certain flowering species grow only there. These include the Fritillaria nervosa and the giant single-stemmed asphodel Asphodelus macrocarpus.
Many orchids exist throughout Portugal. All of Portugal’s orchids are protected species. It’s illegal to pick them or otherwise destroy them. Many orchids take years to bloom.
Some species grow only in the northern region, but their flowering cousins are found throughout Portugal. An example of this is the giant single-stemmed asphodel Asphodelus macrocarpus, only found in the north. Its more common multi-branched cousin is found in other regions.
The famed almond blossoms with their petals carpeting the ground are best seen in the Duoro region in February.
Two plants from the central region provide unusual consumable delights. One is the yellow lupin Lupinus luteus. Its beans are pickled to make tremocos, a tasty snack. The other is the flowering strawberry tree Arbutus unedo. Its fruit makes the “fearsomely alcoholic drink Medronho” (Mok and Whitmarsh).
If you come across a field of purple flowers with red/pink buds, it’s a sure bet these are purple viper’s bugloss, Echium plantagineum. These can also be found throughout the country. You’re also likely to see topped purple lavender, Lavandula stoechas, both here and in other regions.
Gum rockrose, Cistus ladanifer, subspecies ladanifer, is native to Portugal and loves poor, dry soil. It’s quite common in the country due to deforestation.
The southern coast, with its alkaline soil, is the best place to see the wide range of wild orchids and rockrose species.
Roadsides are plastered with the bright daisy-like flowers of Chrysanthemum coronarium and the yellow pea-like flowers from the shrubby Coronilla glauca. You are also likely to find the native peony Paeonia broteroi here.
No matter which region you visit, your best bet to see the flora of Portugal is in spring, be it in February in the south or May in the north, even June in the high mountains. You’ll see “poppies, lavender, saxifrage, geraniums, buttercups, orchids, iris, broom (including the white one, found only here), rockrose, lupins (yellow, purple, miniature purple, and almost white), daisies, and so many more” (Mok and Whitmarsh).
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