There are many magnificent tree species in the Natural Parks around Ronda. Four of these species can probably be called “emblematic” for the area: Western Holm Oak, Portuguese Gall Oak, Cork Oak and Spanish Fir. The Western Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) is an evergreen tree with small silvery-green leaves which can be quite spiky on the edges especially when the tree is young. The Holm Oak may not look like an oak to visitors from cooler climates accustomed to seeing the large-leaved deciduous oaks. Its small leaves are shaped a little bit like holly´s leaves. The alternative name for the Holm oak is “Holly Oak”. Upon a close inspection you will notice the acorns, a sure sign that the tree belongs to the Quercus genus. The acorns are edible and used to be ground for flour or roasted. Another evergreen oak is the Cork Oak (Quercus suber), a very important tree species both for wildlife and humans. The porous bark is a great home for many insects and subsequently, cork oak forests (alcornocales) support rich wildlife: birds, lizards, mammals. The old cork trees also make for excellent nesting places.
Both Holm Oak´s and Cork Oak´s acorns used to be ground for flour but nowadays they are used to feed the black Iberian pigs. Cork Oak groves in Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, France, Tunisia and Italy are the unique source of the world´s cork production. Other than being great for wildlife, the cork is an important source of income for locals. By supporting cork industry we support a truly sustainable agriculture, traditional jobs and crafts which require knowledge and skill and which will otherwise disappear. Cork harvesting does not hurt the trees; they are stripped every 8-9 years on rotational basis. You will encounter many ancient Cork Oaks which had been stripped off their bark regularly as a proof that cork harvesting is not harmful to the trees. What is harmful is lack of demand for cork which will eventually render the alcornocales useless from an economical point of view. Then the Cork Oaks would be replaced with another crop, possibly a green desert of a monoculture. In order to learn more about cork please visit Los Alcornocales Natural Park page. For the WWF page on cork forests click here and to learn what you can do to help click here.
Portuguese Gall Oak (Quercus faginea) is probably the most “oak-y” looking species of Andalucían Quercus genus as it grows to great proportions and it is deciduous, granting the area a bit of colour in the autumn. The galls are small ping-pong sized balls created as a defence of the tree when a certain species of wasp lays an egg on a leaf bud. The galls are neither fruit nor nuts. The tree produces acorns which are less-prized as animal feed. The Portuguese oak has another curious variety which can be seen in Sierra de Las Nieves, the alpestris subspecies. These trees are smaller, gnarlier-looking and they can survive extreme changes of temperatures in the high mountains at about 1500 metres. Only small numbers of them are known to exist in the area.
Sierra de las Nieves south-east of Ronda and Sierra del Pinar north east of Grazalema, together with a small patch in Sierra Bermeja, are the only places on our planet where the Spanish Fir (Abies pinsapo) grows. This relic from ice age has found favourable conditions to continue growing in our area. These trees are the main reason why walking permits have been introduced in their proximity as a lot of funds and effort have gone into their protection. Young pinsapos look like perfect “Christmas trees”; it is the old ones which are immediately recognizable with their wizened beauty. Click on photos for better view. Visit our Photo Gallery for more tree images.