Native Plants of Spain

Written by dawn r. levesque
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Native Plants of Spain
Almond blossoms produce a sweet yet toxic nectar. (almond white flower image by JCVStock from

Spain occupies the majority of the Iberian Peninsula in southwest Europe, which it shares with Portugal. Its land features rugged mountains, semi-dry deserts, a broad central plateau and river valleys. With a varied climate and landscape, "mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands contain around 8,000 of Europe's 9,000 plant species, and 2,000 of them are unique to the Iberian Peninsula," according to Damien Simonis, author of "Lonely Planet Spain." From spring to autumn, native plants of Spain flourish throughout its regions.

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Find the cork oak (Quercus suber) in the Sierra Morena and orchard-like groves throughout Spain. With a height up to 50 feet, the cork oak retains a "thick, deeply fissured, spongy bark," according to "Plant Life in the World's Mediterranean Climates: California, Chili, South Africa and the Mediterranean." Approximately every ten years, harvesters strip the tree's thick outer bark to make use of its cork, leaving behind an exposed reddish brown trunk. Harvesters then wait for the new bark to regenerate. The tree itself has evergreen leaves with dark-green upper sides and whitened undersides. Leaves possess a leathery texture with an elliptical shape.

The second largest almond producer in the world after the United States is Spain, according to Locate sweet almonds trees (Amygdalus communis) on the hillsides and cliffs of Andalucia and Valencia. The perennial tree reaches heights of 30 feet with noticeably dark, cracked bark. Wispy, sprawling branches maintain lance-shaped leaves with sharp tips and finely serrated edges. Grouped in pairs, the fragrant pale pink or white flowers appear before the leaves early in March. As the almonds ripen, their softened shells harden.

Flowering Plants

The bird's-nest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) found in northern and northeastern Spain, curiously lacks chlorophyll and leaves. This orchid thrives among the dead leaves of the forest floor or in roadside ditches. Both stem and flowers maintain a uniformly light brown colouring like puddle water. The bird's-nest orchid features brownish scales on the stem and forms thick roots with which it feeds on the decomposing leaves. Its common name derives from the nestlike appearance of the roots, according to Orchids of Europe.

Found in the southern and central mountain regions of Spain, the perennial yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea) grows at an elevation of 3,000 to 4,500 feet above sea level, states Large orange-yellow flowered clusters grow atop its tall, hollow stem which reaches heights of 4 feet or more. Yellowish-green leaves have a pointed, oblong shape which diminish in size towards the top. Harvest the root of the yellow gentian for medicinal properties in the autumn, by splitting the root crown and then drying it slowly. The root retains a brown outer surface with yellow colour within. Its long and thick root can reach up to 2 inches in diameter and a yard long.


Esparto grass (Stipa tenacissima) flourishes on the steppes of La Mancha and southeast Spain in sandy soil. This slender, wiry grass has greyish-green leaf blades about 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long. Artisans and weavers use the coarse esparto grass to make cordage, paper and baskets.

Native to the mountains in Spain, giant feather grass (Stipa gigantean) forms a spiky clump of arching deep-green foliage reaching up to 2 feet. Large, airy, long-stemmed sheaths begin as purple and ripen to pale yellowish-golden flowers that emerge from the foliage in midsummer.

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