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Laurisilva of Madeira*
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Type Natural
Criteria ix, x
Reference 934
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1999  (23rd Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.
Laurisilva in the Garajonay National Park on La Gomera, Canary Islands
Laurisilva in La Palma, Canary Islands
Laurisilva canopy in Tenerife, Canary Islands

Laurisilva or laurissilva ("laurel forest") is an endemic type of humid subtropical laurel forest found on several of the Macaronesian islands of the North Atlantic, namely Madeira Islands, the Azores and the Canary Islands, a precious relic of the Pliocene subtropical forests, supporting numerous endemic species.

The forests are made up of laurel-leaved evergreen hardwood trees, reaching up to 40 meters in height. Many of the species are endemic to the islands, and harbor a rich biota of understory plants, invertebrates, and birds and bats.

Laurisilva formerly covered much of the Azores and Madeira and parts of the western Canary Islands, but the forests have been much reduced in extent by logging, clearance for agriculture and grazing, and the invasion of exotic species. The most extensive laurisilva forests remain on Madeira, where they are found between 300 and 1400 meters altitude in the northern slope, and 700-1600 meters altitude in southern slope, and cover 149,5 km². In the Canary Islands, roughly 60 km² of laurisilva remain on Tenerife, smallest areas on La Palma, over 20 km² in Garajonay National Park on La Gomera, and relic areas in Gran Canaria. In the Azores, small patches of laurisilva forest remain on the islands of Pico, Terceira, and São Miguel.

The Madeira laurisilva forests, the largest remaining stands, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.[1] Predominant lauraceous trees include Til (Ocotea foetens), Loureiro (Laurus novocanariensis), Vinhático (Persea indica), a valuable hardwood, and Barbosano (Apollonias barbujana); other important trees include Aderno (Heberdenia excelsa), Pau Branco (Picconia excelsa), the Mocanos (Visnea mocanera and Pittosporum coriaceum), and Sanguinho (Rhamnus glandulosa), and the small trees or large shrubs Folhado (Clethra arborea) and Perado (Ilex perado). The forests support a diverse understory of ferns and bryophytes,[2] which both require moisture for reproduction, and of herbaceous plants, including the Leitugas (Sonchus spp.), geraniums (Geranium maderense, G. palmatum and G. rubescens), the Estreleiras (Argyranthemum spp.) and the endemic orchid Goodyera macrophylla.

The laurisilva forests of Macaronesia are relicts of a vegetation type which originally covered much of the Mediterranean Basin when the climate of the region was more humid. With the drying of the Mediterranean Basin during the Pliocene, the laurel forests gradually retreated, replaced by more drought-tolerant sclerophyll plant communities. Most of the last remaining laurisilva forests around the Mediterranean are believed to have disappeared approximately 10,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene, when the Mediterranean basin became drier and with a harsher climate, although some remnants of the laurel forest flora still persist in the mountains of southern Spain, north-center of Portugal and northern Morocco, and two constituent species (Laurus nobilis and Ilex aquifolium) remain widespread. The location of the Macaronesian Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean moderated these climatic fluctuations, and maintained the relatively humid and mild climate which has allowed these forests to persist to the present day.

See also


  1. ^ UNESCO: "Laurisilva of Madeira
  2. ^ Susana Fontinha, et al. Os briófitos da laurissilva da Madeira: guia de algumas espécies ("The bryophytes of the laurisilva of Madeira: guide to some species"), Serviço do Parque Natural da Madeira, 2006.

Coordinates: 32°46′N 17°0′W / 32.767°N 17°W / 32.767; -17


Laurel forest is a subtropical or mild temperate forest, found in areas with high humidity and relatively stable and mild temperatures. They are characterized by evergreen, glossy-leaved trees, with members of the Laurel family (Lauraceae) prominent, either as the predominant trees or in association with other species.

Laurel forests occur in small areas where their particular climatic requirements prevail, in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Northern hemisphere laurel forests include the laurisilva forests of the Azores, Madeira Islands, and Canary Islands[1], the laurel forests of southern Japan, and the North Western Ghats montane rain forests of western India. Southern hemisphere laurel forests can be found in the Valdivian temperate rain forests ecoregion of central Chile and on Madagascar.


Macaronesia and the Mediterranean Basin

Main article: Laurisilva

The laurisilva forests are found in the islands of Macaronesia in the eastern Atlantic, in particular the Azores, Madeira Islands, and Canary Islands from 400 to 1200 meters elevation. Trees of the genera Apollonias (Lauraceae), Ocotea (Lauraceae), Persea (Lauraceae), Clethra (Clethraceae), Dracaena (Ruscaceae), and Picconia (Oleaceae) are characteristic. [2] The Madeira Islands laurel forest was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

Millions of years ago, Laurel forests were widespread around the Mediterranean Basin. The drying of the region since the Pliocene, and cooling of the region during the Ice Ages, caused these forests to retreat. Some relict Mediterranean laurel forest species, such as Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis) and European Holly (Ilex aquifolium), are fairly widespread around the Mediterranean basin. Spanish endemics Rhododendron ponticum baeticum and Rhamnus frangula baetica, still persist in humid microclimates, such as stream valleys, in Spain's Baetic Cordillera and the Rif Mountains of Morocco.[3]

East Asia

Laurel-oak and laurel-Castanopsis associations are common in Eurasia; laurel-Castanopsis forests recur as a climax vegetation type from Taiwan across southern China to the eastern Himalayas.

In ancient times, laurel forests (shoyojurin) were the predominant vegetation type in the Taiheiyo evergreen forests ecoregion, which encompasses the mild temperate climate region of southeastern Japan's Pacific coast. There were three main types of evergreen broadleaf forests, in which Castanopsis, Machilus, or Quercus predominated. Most of these forests were logged or cleared for cultivation, and replanted with faster-growing conifers, like pine or hinoki, and only a few pockets remain.[4]

Ancient California

During the Miocene, oak-laurel forests were found in Central and Southern California. Typical tree species included oaks ancestral to present-day California oaks, as well as an assemblage of trees from the Laurel family, including Nectandra, Ocotea, Persea, and Umbellularia[5][6]. Only one native species from the Laurel family, Umbellularia californica, remains in California today.


  1. ^ Madeira Laurel Forest, Madeira Wind Birds 2005
  2. ^ Madeira Laurel Forest, Madeira Wind Birds 2005
  3. ^ Interpretation Manual of European Union Habitats 2007
  4. ^ Karan, Pradyumna Prasad (2005). Japan in the 21st century: environment, economy, and society. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington. p. 25.
  5. ^ Axelrod, Daniel I. (2000) A Miocene (10-12 Ma) Evergreen Laurel-Oak Forest from Carmel Valley, California. University of California Publications: Geological Sciences, Volume 145; April 2000. University of California Press; Berkeley, California.
  6. ^ Barbour, Michael G., Todd Keeler-Wolf, Allan A. Schoenherr (2007). Terrestrial vegetation of California. University of California Press, Berkeley. p. 56


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