With spring in full swing, it’s time to shine on the island of São Miguel, proving how it got its nickname from Ilha Verde. Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, its isolation helped to maintain the island’s uniqueness, making it home to 56 indigenous species and hundreds of endemic plants. With its fertile volcanic soil and mild climate, it is the perfect habitat for all green things to grow and prosper, making this island one of the richest in biodiversity in Europe.
It is a perfect trip through the island of São Miguel, with roads flanked by a bright pink of the Azaleas and with white spots by Calla Lilly. Along the road there are also hydrangeas that bring soft tones of blue, white and purple in the summer.
Hydrangeas are predominantly used as property markers by local farmers who grow this low maintenance flower around their fields, as can be seen especially in the Sete Cidades area. The use of bamboo, giant reeds and camellias is also common and used to create borders, in addition to acting as robust windbreaks to protect plantations, vineyards and fruit farms from strong salty winds. Ornamental trees and plants like Bougainvillea, Hibiscus and succulent plants with flowers like Aloe add color and personality to many Azorean houses.
Steep slopes and valleys are covered with a carpet of Yellow Ginger Lily, whose beautiful and fragrant flowers are dangerous to the Azorean landscape. Difficult to kill and with seeds blown by the wind, it spread like wildfire across the island, becoming one of the most invasive plants in the region, putting at risk the subsistence of native plants and putting biodiversity at risk. Another innocent-looking but invasive plant is the purple morning glory, which when left unchecked, turns into a dense undergrowth commonly seen in rural areas, smothering any plant in its wake.
Fortunately, there are several Protected Areas around the island that are well protected through local efforts, allowing nature lovers to stroll through forests full of endemic plants and trees, such as the Laurisilva Forest in the northeastern part of the island. This type of forest was previously common throughout Europe, however, it was eliminated by drastic climate change during the Ice Age, leaving the only surviving Laurel Forest to grow in the Macaronesian region. Because it is geographically isolated, with light daily showers, high humidity and insolation, the Laurissilva Forest has had the appropriate environmental conditions to withstand the test of time and is home to several species threatened with extinction. With a dense canopy of trees formed by Loureiro, Cedro-do-Mato Açoriano, Azorean Blueberry and Cereja dos Açores, different species of mosses, ferns and perennial shrubs of Azorean Holly, Buckthorn and Hera dos Açores, it’s really like going back in time while wandering through these forests.
A common scenario in the Northeast of the region are the dense forests of Japanese Critomeria, grown here for the production of sawn wood, as well as the occasional Acacia tree that is used locally for wood and heating.
Over the centuries, several owners have taken great pride and joy in their own private gardens and through their passion for botany and neighborhood competition, they have traveled to the ends of the earth bringing home exotic trees, plants and tropical flowers. Today, some of these botanical gardens are open to the public, where you can take a stroll through sensational nurseries.
Surprisingly, two of these botanical gardens, the António Borges garden and the José do Canto garden, are in the heart of the city of Ponta Delgada, both with a unique landscaping of artificial caves, water lily ponds and hosting one of the largest collections of living plants. from Europe, are well worth your visit. Other exceptional botanical gardens are found in Furnas, including the Parque Terrra Nostra and the charming Jardim Florestal de José do Canto.
Whether you are a simple nature lover like me or have a green thumb, spring is the best time of year to explore, enjoy and learn more about the world we live in, taking a closer look at all the different shades of green that we have surround this fascinating São Miguel Island.