Trees, which are an essential component to the lifeblood and survival of our fragile ecosystem here on Earth have always had a dominating effect here on the Azores islands, with the landscape covered with dense forests and green pastures as far as the eye can see. Here in the mid-Atlantic ridge where only a few island chains exist; which are scattered like dots across the vast Atlantic ocean, exists a rare forest known as Laurisilva or Laurel. The mystery and magic of this forest which has also been referred to as a “Cloud forest” or a “Water forest” is said to be some 15 million years old; with only a few places where they still exist left on Earth.
The laurisilva forests were predominately all over Europe up until the middle ages when slowly with the growing expansion of cities and populations throughout Europe caused mass deforestation of the Laurel forests to take place; wiping them out completely on the European continent by the 20th century. Here on the Azores islands; which are located 850 nautical miles off the coast of Portugal, are one of the few places where you can still find yourself wandering through these ancient forests, that have seemingly gone untouched throughout history here. A delicate alliance between man and nature, these ancients forests in the Azores should not be taken for granted and need to be preserved to continue the harmonious balance that exists here in the Azores. The forest is home to ferns, moss, evergreen trees, and over 150 endemic plants in this thick forest. The moist trade winds that blow through the Azores is one of the main reasons why the Laurisilva forests in the Azores have been able to survive. The wet air forms a large form of a mist that gathers on the leaves and moss in the forest which helps the plants retain water; providing the necessity of life for the flora and fauna that exists in these ancient forests. The mist that flows through the forests treetops almost resemble clouds or a deep fog and in the recent decade, the government of the Azores has taken a great interest in preserving this natural ecosystem for future generations. There are walking trails or should I say hiking trails through some of the forested areas and are all-natural, man-made trails, allowing you to get the full experience of the untouched beauty of these forests.
Over the past 5 centuries of man’s existence here on the Azores, they have done well to keep the forests intact however in the 19th century many wealthy Azorean landowners were all rivaling each other to create the most elaborate botanical gardens. It was here that the Azorean businessman began importing thousands of rare trees, plants, and flowers from around the globe which began to change the natural Laurel forests in the region; with the seeds from various other plants being carried by wind or birds which soon began overwhelming the endemic forests in some areas. Although the intentions of the Azorean businessman were good and they just wanted to emphasize the quality of the nutrient-rich soil and unique climate which allowed almost anything to grow here. The only other places on Earth where this type of forest still exists is on the island of Madeira, which also is a Portuguese island south of the Azores archipelago and the canary islands; all-island chains on the Atlantic coast of Europe and Africa. It is now against the law in the Azores to cut down any trees that are endemic to the region, which has prevented possible deforestation of a unique ecosystem that is vital to man’s survival here on these Atlantic islands. Location of the rare Laurisilva forests in the Azores include in Furnas, Ribeira Grande, and the largest in the region, and with the highest point on the island of Sao Miguel is in Nordeste.