The Laurissilva Forest of Madeira
The Laurissilva Forest of the Madeira island forms nowadays the remaining of a primitive covered forest which resisted to five centuries of humanisation and which made that the Portuguese navigators called the region "Madeira".
It is a forest with subtropical characteristics, humid, whose origin goes back to the Tertiary and it reached vast extensions from the South of Europe to the Mediterranean basin. The last glaciations led to its disappearance of the European continent, surviving only in the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores, Madeira and Canaries.
The Laurissilva Forest of Madeira occupies a surface of 15000 hectares (representing 20% of the total island) on the North slopes, covering in a luxuriant way the steep hills and the deep valleys of the remote interior. It is nowadays the largest and best-preserved laurel area of the Atlantic islands. This whole area is part of the Natural Park of Madeira, granting it a vigorous statute of protection. In 1992 it was integrated in the Biogenetic Reserves net of the European Council and comprises a Special Protection Zone in the scope of the Directiva Aves (Bird Directive). The Laurissilva Forest of Madeira became a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in December 1999.
As far as the trees are concerned, are worth noticing the Til, the Vinhático (a tropical tree of the Mimosa family), the Laurel tree, the Barbusano (an ironwood) and all the trees of the Laurel family. It is also worth to point out the presentation of a great diversity and development of the lichen and bryophyte communities, mainly the epiphytes, besides the numerous endured endemicities, namely on the level of the shrubby and herbaceous strata. Together with the birds, such as the Finch of Madeira (Fringilla coelebs maderensis), the presence of numerous endemic molluscs and insects is also worth mentioning.
The humidity brought by the northeast wind is held and condensed by the Laurissilva, causing large streams from which depend the irrigation of the agricultural fields and the water supply to the urban centres. Since the second half of the 20th century, the water, carried along the levadas (narrow channels), started to produce electricity in the hydroelectric power stations.