1995, Harvey Stephens, Almeria

The Spanish Province of Almeria

By Harvey Stephens

During April of last year I joined a small group of students from Reading University on a field trip to the Spanish province of Almeria. Although my aims were numerous, I hoped to answer several key questions related to the vegetation types of the Mediterranean.

The first part of the trip was based around Las Negras, a small coastal village east of Almeria. Each day was structured with trips, walks and lectures related to local vegetation zones and niches. Much of the Mediterranean is mountainous, causing thermals and other factors to vary with altitude. As a consequence of this, zonation of the vegetation is very common. We visited sites and identified indicator species in the Thermo, Meso and Oro-Mediterranean zones.

The majority of my time was spent with the postgraduate group who devoted more time to surveying methods and practical plant identification techniques. We used the Braun-Blanquet system, which I believe is frequently used to identify and describe the Mediterranean vegetation on a hierarchal basis. The vegetation of the region can, in principle only, be classified after a full study of all the local communities by means of releves. Each releve is a description of a more or less uniform stand of vegetation. A representative sample area of each community was carefully selected and then described. The sample area had to be large enough to ensure that the community was fully developed within it and has to be of a size greater than the minimal area of the community. The descriptions included a list of all the species present together with an indication of their abundance on a `cover’ abundance scale.The releves were completed with an additional description of the site, its soil and other comments such as the phenological conditions of the species. This system is far more complex than I’ve described and there are several conflicting accounts related to the systems’ implementation.

On one occasion two other colleagues from Kew (Dave Walden from Wakehurst Place and Sarah Higgens, now Kew graduate) and I, hired a car and drove west along the coast past Malaga to Rhonda, a tiny village in the hills. The purpose of the journey was specifically to see two stands of Abies pinsapo endemic to this region. Dave was particularly interested to see it growing in its natural environment. The area surrounding Rhonda apparently has the highest rainfall in Spain and the vegetation was therefore very different. Although very long and tiring the excursion was most interesting and very useful.

From Las Negras we moved our base inland to Lanjaron, a small spa town nestling in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Two days were spent botanising and carrying out further surveys. We also took the opportunity to study the soft cushion chameophyte plants from the Oro-Mediterranean zone near the summit of the Sierra Nevada.

On our final full day we travelled to Granada. The main pupose of the journey was to visit the Alhambra and Generalife, both remnants of an Islamic medieval society. The gardens and pavilions of the Generalife date from the region of Ismail (1315-1325). Its most famous part is the Patio de la Acequia, with water fountains set in carved lotus shaped bowls. The Generalife

was a palace of retreat. The court would often retire there on summer afternoons, taking advantage of the dramatic and cooler situation. The palace of the Alhambra is not a garden but a building punctuated and linked by courtyards and water. A maze of intricate corridors guide you around the spectacularly decorated palace.

The whole trip was well scheduled and thoroughly enjoyable. I learnt many skills which I’m already applying in my new position here in The Jerusalem Botanic Garden. I’d certainly recommend this trip to future Kew Diploma students interested in the Mediterranean flora. May I once again thank the Kew Guild and its Awards Committee for their continuing support.

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