Twelve BSBI la divisa Stock spent a very enjoyable week exploring the Grazalema Natural Park and surrounding area in Andalucía. Despite – or maybe because of – the occasional rain, we found the flora of the area to be extremely diverse, incorporating a large number of Afro-Iberian elements, and many species unique to southern Spain. 20 April – Churriana Members of the group arrived at Málaga Airport during the course of the morning, and once all were assembled, we were keen to get away from the city and find somewhere to have a late lunch. We had only travelled a short distance to the outskirts of the city when a suitable area of open ground was spotted at a location known as Churriana.
While some of us gave in to appetite and started lunch, others were motivated to begin botanising straight away. The site could be broadly called garrigue, but was somewhat disturbed by its ‘urban-fringe’ location. Everyone said they had never seen Olives in the flowering condition before, or at least not as profusely as the specimens before us. With everyone suitably refreshed, we set off on the journey to Grazalema, with a bit of plant spotting from the minibuses en route. 21 April – Around Grazalema Grazalema is a tightly packed pueblo blanco in the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema, lying on the eastern side of the highest peaks, which rise to 1,654 metres. The park mostly comprises well-eroded limestone, alternating with smaller areas of acidic rock. Grazalema is perched on a high cliff and the old road winds round to the base of this.
Our route out of the village led us past vegetable plots and sheds containing chickens, and so on to this ancient cobbled route. The rocks and walls edging the path provided comfortable eye-level botanising. We enjoyed lunch at the base of the cliffs, listening to Nightingales and watching Rock Thrushes and Black Wheatears flitting around the crags. In the afternoon we climbed up to a small reservoir above the village. Other plants discovered along the way were three species unique to southern Spain: the gorse Ulex baeticus, whose specific name derives from the Arabic word for this part of Spain, the beautiful Echium albicans, and Ptilostemon hispanicus: one of the many spiny composites we would see during the week. St John’s-wort Hypericum tomentosum, and Molineriella minuta ssp.
Lagunas de Espera After that rainy first day around Grazalema we decided to go in search of some sunshine in the lowlands to the west. Our main destination for the day was the Lagunas de Espera, a nature reserve with three lagoons which have no outlets and are therefore brackish, due to evaporation. A roadside stop overlooking the reserve enabled a comparison of three blue-flowered pimpernels: Anagallis arvensis ssp. The lagoons, fringed with reeds and willows, produced some notable birds: the globally threatened White-headed Duck, as well as Red-crested Pochard, Black-necked Grebe and Purple Gallinule, but diligent scanning failed to identify a Crested Coot among the many Common ones. The reedbed resounded with the guttural croaking song of Great Reed Warblers, and a Short-toed Eagle presented good views as it escorted an intruder from its territory. Benaocaz La Rana is an area of unfenced damp pasture south-west of Grazalema on the road to Ubrique and, at the end of April, is usually the place to find a host of orchid species. Afro-Iberian endemic Biscutella baetica, and the shrubby Daphne gnidium, whose berries are much favoured by warblers.
Heading down a few contour lines past Villaluenga del Rosario, through a magnificent towering gorge, spring was much more in evidence and the spot we chose to continue botanising was truly glorious. We picnicked among several species of Ophrys, including O. Orchis species abounded too, including O. Our first sighting of the lovely Afro-Iberian endemic Ornithogalum reverchonii, with its one-sided spike of white nodding bells, was thanks to Jane and Maurice, who had walked ahead and spotted it on the roadside. The ornithologists among us were rewarded with the sight and sounds of Blue Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear, Melodious Warbler, Stonechat, Cirl and Rock Buntings and Rock Sparrow. Teresa bought large boxes of strawberries and delicious loquats, the smooth, yellow, pear-shaped fruits of Eriobotrya japonica.
Most of the other stalls were laden with cheap clothing where some of us found many-pocketed gilets: the perfect garment for botanising! Our aim today was to explore the limestone hillsides and plateaux to the south of the village: the Sierra del Endrinal. We took the woodland path above the car-park and climbed up under pines and cypresses to the Monumento del Sagrado Corazón, at the base of which the villagers had placed their votive flowers. Not distracted by these garish bouquets, we found three saxifrages amongst the limestone rocks: Saxifraga granulata, S. Up here in bright sunlight we spotted a Spanish Swallowtail, a Spanish Festoon and a Small Copper, whilst Griffon Vultures soared above us and Bonelli’s Warblers sang to us from the pines. We lunched to the west of the village, at the Puerto del Boyar, where we enjoyed wonderful views to the south before the rain started once more. As we approached the tall, fissured crags, we spotted the dainty bright yellow Narcissus assoanus ssp.
As we gained height, eventually reaching the Puerto de las Presillas at around 1,300m, we noticed the vegetation becoming sparser and more closely grazed by sheep and probably Spanish Ibex. 12 km to the village of Benamahoma across a limestone sierra. Grazalema endemic Phlomis margaritae, not yet in flower. Two butterflies – Black-eyed Blue and Moroccan Orange-tip – appeared as the light rain ceased and we approached a col with a view of the pinsapar. Interesting plants of the limestone pavement here included a prostrate buckthorn Rhamnus saxatilis, and no fewer than seven Iberian and North African endemics: the crucifers Jonopsidium prolongoi and Brassica repanda ssp. The daffodils too were of interest. In addition to the abundant Narcissus assoanus ssp.
John has subsequently identified as the extremely local N. Grazalema by Stocken in the 1960s, and unique to southern Spain, as is the saxifrage – the fifth of the trip – Saxifraga haenseleri. As we emerged into an open forest of Quercus faginea, many of these being giant pollards of great age, the flora became more varied. Anogramma leptophylla, signalling the end to a long day, but an immensely satisfying one.
26 April – Cueva de la Pileta Today we were lucky to have the chance of visiting this remarkable prehistoric cave. Bullón, who descended a nearby pothole to collect bat guano for manure. To his amazement, he found himself in a vast chamber, with galleries leading to others, whose walls were covered with schematic paintings. During the next hundred years, family members gradually explored the huge cave system, finding not only many extraordinary geological formations, but also pottery, bones and a remarkable variety of cave paintings. The diversity of cave paintings and engravings, in black, red and yellow, show that the Pileta cave was occupied from the Palaeolithic era through to the Bronze Age. Pileta is one of the few remaining caves where one is permitted to visit the original, rather than a replica, and the number of visitors is strictly limited.