One of the most attractive and interesting things about the Atlantic Islands is its fantastic flora. On the different archipelagos, you will find a great variety of flowers, plants and trees which are native to the islands, and others that were brought in from other places but which now form part of the island’s ecosystem. In today’s article, we tell you what they are and where you can find them.
The biodiversity of the Atlantic Islands
The Atlantic Islands of Galicia Maritime-Terrestrial National Park consists of four archipelagos situated in the entrance to the Rías Baixas, facing the coasts of Pontevedra and A Coruña: the Cies Islands rise up in the Vigo estuary, the island of Ons in the Pontevedra estuary, and the archipelagos of Salvora and Cortegada in the Arousa estuary.
The richness of their surroundings is due to their environmental characteristics, which favour the coexistence of various species that are typical of warm and cool latitudes. Unusually, and because of this, endemic Atlantic species and Mediterranean species can be found on these islands.
The climate and the ocean shape the biodiversity of the Atlantic Islands
The Atlantic Islands consist of natural elements that are similar to the neighbouring coastal areas, mainly dominated by rock and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. This is due to their being connected to the coastal high ground in the past. Because of this, the natural park consists of islands which form a chain that protects the Vigo, Pontevedra and Arousa estuaries.
As the eastern part of the islands is situated in front of the coast and the western part is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean, both sides contain differences in their landscapes and, therefore, in their vegetation. The eastern part is more protected and therefore has a softer landscape, which is notable for its lovely beaches and its interesting dunes. However, the western part has a more abrupt character, which is notable for its impressively steep slopes and cliffs.
The climate on the islands also determines the natural conditions. This area has a mild climate, which is very similar to that of the Mediterranean. Generally, rainfall is light, but the wind is strong and brings with it salt spray from the sea which has a direct influence on the diversity, giving rise to a unique landscape with over 200 terrestrial plant species and 300 species of marine algae.
The island flora has adapted to protect itself from the wind, the saline conditions and the aridity on the islands. The plants that grow in these landscapes have deep roots, are light in colour and have bulbs in which to store water and nutrients. These plants are very special and are totally protected. Both the inhabitants and the visitors of the islands are prohibited from uprooting them or damaging them in any way. Some of the most unusual species that you will find in this location are the sea daffodil (stores water in its bulbs or tubers), the sand stock and the marram grass (develops large roots with which to capture water).
The heaths and scrublands found on the Atlantic Islands extend throughout the whole archipelago, from the dunes and beaches right to the cliffs. They represent the largest part of the terrestrial zones on the islands and contain endemic species of the Galician-Portuguese region and species that have been recorded as in danger of extinction on a national and global level.
The cliff area of the islands also conceals extremely resistant plants that have to contend with the strong winds that buffet the area. On the cliffs, you will find various scrublands with gorse, spurge and Montpellier cistus. You can also see a species of broom that only grows in the park and is known as the ‘xesta de Ons’ (Cytisus insularis). It is the only species that is exclusive to the National Park, a woody shrub that can grow up to 2 metres in height, with unifoliate leaves and flattened fruits.
In the dunes zone, you can also find strong and resistant plants, such as the shrub known as crowberry, which grows on the Cies Islands. Also on the islands, you will find areas of plantations with tree species that are native to the area, such as the Pyrenean oak and the blackthorn. There is also repopulation of non-native trees taking place, such as pines, acacias and eucalyptus.
The plants that are found in the Atlantic zone, and which also surround the islands, also form part of their ecosystem. In the deep sea, there are extensive forests of marine algae made up of various species that grown abundantly due to the amount of nutrients in the deep waters and the marine currents that reach the area.
The Atlantic Islands have an extremely varied landscape
The Atlantic Islands have extremely varied landscapes. All the archipelagos share certain characteristics, but they also have their own specific features when it comes to their flora and fauna.
These differences are due to two important factors: environmental ones and those arising from the human occupation in some areas.
In the case of the Cíes Islands, there is an extremely varied landscape which consists of three differentiated zones: rocky zones and cliffs, beaches and dunes, and scrublands. In each of these areas, different types of plants can be distinguished. A quarter of the island is occupied by two families of trees: pines and eucalyptus, although you can also find other trees, such as willows and acacias. In the dune areas, there are shrubs like crowberry, gorse and sea pinks. In the rocky and cliff areas, there are colourful pillows of sea thrift. And the sea that surrounds these islands contains a great variety of marine algae.
The flora on the island of Ons mainly consists of different varieties of scrubland: gorse, heather, ferns, blackthorn and broom. It also has some tree species such as willows and alder, and in lesser amount, you can find Pyrenean oak, eucalyptus and pines.
On Sálvora, there is a small sized herbaceous flora among which gorse and ferns are notable. In contrast, the island of Cortegada offers a landscape populated by various types of trees, such as willow, oak, laurel, pine and eucalyptus. It is also notable for its creeping plants which cover the ruins of an old settlement which was once inhabited on the island.
As you can see, the Atlantic Islands consist of rich and varied ecosystems. At Mar de Ons we recommend that you visit them so that you can observe the beauty of these locations and their great biodiversity with your own eyes.
If you are planning to visit the Atlantic Islands, remember that, at Easter and from 15 May until 15 September, it is currently necessary to request permission from the Galician Council to visit both the Cíes Islands and the island of Ons. Permission can be obtained after purchasing your tickets from us. Outside these dates, you should purchase your tickets on the Mar de Ons ferry and remember that you need to make your booking in advance, as places are limited. Book your tickets and discover the amazing flora that embellishes these beautiful islands!