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The Laurisilva or the Laurel forest is a relic vegetation of the Tertiary Period. The most recent glaciations wiped out most Laurisilva forest from continental Europe and limited it to the biogeographic region of Macaronesia wich include Madeira, the Azores, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde archipelagos.

Madeira island possesses the largest and most well conserved area of Laurisilva forest, covering approximately 20% of the islands total area. It lies between 300 and 1300 metres altitude, principally on the North coast of the island and has an important role in preventing soil erosion and intercepting rainwater, which is vital for the islands water resources. It is fully protected by the Natural Park of Madeira and was granted UNESCO World Heritage status on the 2nd December 1999. It is also a biogenetic reserve.

The laurisilva forest is extremely biodiverse, comprising mainly arboreal and perennial shrubs with dark green coloured leaves associated with a complex community of trees, bushes, ferns, mosses, lichens, mushrooms and fungi that thrive in damp conditions where water is abundant and the sub tropical climate results in high humidity levels and a relatively high average temperature.

The name “Laurisilva” derives from the fact that four Lauraceous species predominate: Barbusano (Apollonias barbujana), Til (Ocotea foetens), Loureiro (Laurus novocanariensis) and Vinhático (Persea indica). However, other notable species are Aderno (Heberdenia excelsa), the Mocanos (Visnea mocanera and Pittosporum coriaceum), Pau Branco (Picconia excelsa) and Sanguinho (Rhamnus glandulosa). Associated with these are large bushes such as Folhado (Clethra arborea) and Perado (Ilex perado). Important herbaceous plants are Leitugas (Sonchus sp), the geraniums (Geranium maderense, G. palmatum and G. rubescens), the Estreleiras (Argyranthemum sp) and some small orchid such as the extremely rare Madeiran endemic Goodyera macrophylla.

Important bird species associated with the Laurisilva are the Buzzard (Buteo buteo harterti), the Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus canariensis), the Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs madeirensis), the Madeiran Laurel Pigen (Columba trocaz) and the Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus madeirensis).

The best way to reach the interior of the Laurisilva and appreciate the beauty of this unique forest is via the "levadas" walks. "Levadas" are small irrigation channels that run all over the island. They are an ideal way to get to know the island on foot and vary in grades of difficulty. [more...]