Owing much to its Moorish heritage, Andalucía is full of fragrance, flowers and fruit: from the abundant almond, lime and olive trees to the scent of jasmine and vibrant hibiscus petals.
Not everyone has a passion for gardening and spends every weekend tending to plants and vegetable patches, but even those who don’t have ‘green fingers’ will find beauty in the ﬂowers of Andalucía.
With summer temperatures around 30 degrees, little rainfall and views of dusty mountains, the only plants I ever expect to see in Andalucía are endless olive groves and the obligatory palm trees. In actual fact, a lot of the land here is perfect for many types of ﬂora, and there are several natural parks ﬁlled with luscious greenery; so really it should come as no surprise that Andalucía is well known for ﬂowers such as the bougainvillea and varieties of jasmine.
Any Visitor to Málaga will not leave the city without seeing – or being offered – a ‘biznaga malagueña’. A ‘biznaga’ is a posy made of tiny jasmine ﬂowers attached to a“ ‘skeleton’, which is the stalk of another plant. Biznagas are generally sold by ‘biznagueros’, traditionally dressed men (or very occasionally, women) who offer their wares to those having tapas or drinking a beer outside bars in the city. Even if you don’t buy one of the traditional bouquets, you will smell the fragrant jasmine scent as the ‘biznaguero’ walks past. Biznagas are so representative of the Costa del Sol that the prize for the Málaga film festival is a ‘Biznaga de Oro’; and most tourist shops and jewellers in the city will also sell jasmine themed jewellery, often handmade of porcelain.
A variety of jasmine called the ‘Dama de noche’ in Spanish, and similarly ‘Lady of the Night’ or ‘Night-ﬂowering Jasmine’ in English is also synonymous with Andalucía especially because of its distinctive fragrance – the scent of summer nights in Spain.
The bougainvillea is another ﬂower that can be seen all over Andalucía, thanks to its ability to survive in hot and dry areas. What we see as the plants ‘petals’ are actually its leaves, known as bracts; the ﬂowers are much smaller and are white, while the leaves can be a range of colours. Some of the most beautiful bougainvillea plants in Andalucía are those in the gardens of the old Moorish castles, where the contrast of its vivid red or pink leaves and greenery against crumbling brick walls is stunning. A similar contrast is found with the Hibiscus plant, whose bright red petals stand out in the gardens of the Alcazaba, in Málaga.
It was the Muslim conquerors of Spain who brought a great number of new species of ﬂowers and plants to Spain. The Moors loved ﬂowers; their houses and gardens were filled with them, and they built numerous palaces and forts whose brick walls were ﬁlled with a variety of exotic ﬂora, planted in harmony with the architecture. They imported varieties such as jasmine from Asia, and the ﬂowers have remained in Andalucía to this day.
The gardens of Andalucía’s Muslim fortresses – from the small but pretty courtyards in Málaga’s Alcazaba, to the extensive Generalife gardens that form part of the famous Alhambra fort in Granada – are a must-see for any visitor. A particularly interesting aspect of these gardens is the system the Arab conquerors installed hundreds of years ago to keep their plants hydrated in the heat of southern Spain. Built into the bricks which pave the gardens are shallow ditches, called ‘acequias’ in Spanish, along which water was – and in most places still is today – channeled to water the ﬂowers.
The impact of Andalucía’s fascinating history on its ﬂora is obvious; plants of Asian origin, for example jasmine and hibiscus, were brought to Spain by the Muslim conquerors; while ﬂowers like the bougainvillea are native to South America, particularly Brazil, and were discovered in the Latin American colonies by explorers after Columbus’ discovery of the ‘New World’ – which, incidentally, set sail from the Andalusian port of Palos de la Frontera.
The various plants and ﬂowers of Andalucía are also heavily intertwined with the area’s gastronomy. Olive oil, used in so many Andalusian dishes, and olives themselves, are supplied from olive groves all over the region; also abundant are almond trees, whose blossom can be seen all over the region, and whose fruit is used in Andalusian dishes from confectionery to soups. There are citrus trees, providing oranges, lemons and limes; herb trees like ‘Tomillo’, or in English, thyme; and the ‘Madroﬁo’ tree, called a strawberry tree in English, on which grows a red berry, not an actual strawberry, which is edible but has a bland and mealy ﬂavour.
As well as the gardens of the regions Moorish forts, there are also several botanical gardens in Andalucía, including La Concepcion Historical-Botanical Gardens to the north of the city of Málaga. The gardens have around 2000 species of tropical, subtropical and native plants, including a collection of palms and aquatic plants, and an area called ‘Plants of our Region’, which, aside from offering a breathtaking hilltop view of Malaga, also plays host to a number of plants which represent the landscape and culture of Andalucía. Plants include ﬁg, pomegranate and almond trees; rosemary, oregano and lavender bushes; palms, vines and oaks.
Wherever you go in Andalucía, the abundance of ﬂowers, fruits and plants will be evident; taking a day off sunbathing to see the ﬂower-filled courtyards‘ of a Moorish castle, or to visit a botanical garden to see the wide range of Andalusian plants is highly recommended.