Nature Profiles

Flora of the Cordillera Cantabrica


Juniperus communis ssp. nana (Dwarf Juniper)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

This dwarf subspecies of the widespread Common Juniper forms a prostrate, spreading shrub, rather than a typical upright small tree.  It is frequently seen in the Cordillera Cantabrica.



Arenaria tetraquetra (Imbricate Sandwort)

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

Endemic to the mountains of Spain and the adjacent French Pyrenees, this distinctive cushion-forming plant is fairly common on limestone rocks in the uplands. 

As the Latin name suggests, the foliage is conspicuously four-angled, from which the typical five-petalled, white Arenaria flowers are borne in summer. 

This photo isn't great, but it was the only flowering plant I came across!  You can see a typical, old cushion plant from the Pyrenees here.



Arenaria purpurascens (Pink Sandwort)

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

More 'suffused-with-pink' than purple, this Arenaria species is a northern Spanish montane endemic, restricted to the Cordillera Cantabrica and Spanish Pyrenees. 

As well as the flower colour, a distinctive feature is the foliage, which is rather thick, bright green and acutely-pointed (this is visible above and to the left of the flower in this photo).



Silene saxifraga (Tufted Catchfly)

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

A widespread species characteristic of limestone grassland and screes, this plant can be recognised by its loose mat-forming habitat and small white flowers borne singly on erect sticky stems. 

S. saxifraga is a variable species, found throughout the mountain ranges of southern Europe, including the southern flank of the Alps. 

In the Cordillera Cantabrica, two other Silenes can also be found: S. acaulis, a cushion-forming alpine plant with pink flowers, and S. ciliata, which has dense rosettes of hairy leaves and flowers borne in clusters.




Dianthus monspessulanus

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

This beautiful Dianthus is common in meadows and grasslands throughout the Cordillera Cantabrica, Pyrenees and into France. 

It is easily recognised by its solitary pale pink flowers with deeply fringed petals.




Dianthus deltoides (Maiden Pink)

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

A much smaller plant than the Fringed Pink, this delicate species is similarly common in open grassland, and often grows alongside D. monspessulanus.  The flowers are smaller, deep pink (not very well-shown in this photo), with notched, rather than deeply-divided petals. 

It is a much more widespread species in Europe than the Fringed Pink, and one of only a handful which occur in the British Isles.



Ranunculus sp

Lago de Sanabria Parque Natural, Castilla y León

This white and yellow-flowered species is one of the Water-crowfoots, but it's impossible to be certain which from this photo.  This colony of plants was growing in a marshy montane flush.



Aconitum vulparia (Wolfsbane)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

This highly poisonous plant (hence the common name) is widespread on calcareous soils in montane grassland and woodland in northern Spain and central Europe.  It can be distinguished from the other common montane Aconitum species (A. napellus) by its narrow tubular flowers - those of A.napellus are wide and flared, and often purple (although yellow-flowered populations are common).



Delphinium montanum (Mountain Larkspur)

Serra do Courel, Galicia

The only native Delphinium in Spain (only two occur in Europe), D. montanum has deeply-dissected leaves (so much so, they almost look like bunches of linear leaves) and pale blue flowers with long, curved backward-pointing spurs.



Aquilegia vulgaris (Columbine)

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

Two species of Aquilegia are present in the mountains of northern Spain - A.vulgaris and A.pyrenaica ssp.discolor.  They are distinguished by the shape of the spur (the backwards-pointing 'spike' behind the petal).  The strongly-hooked spurs on this flower indicates it is the common and widespread A.vulgaris - the spurs on A.pyrenaica are more or less straight.



Erysimum duriaei

flowers, Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

Endemic to the limestone mountains of northern Spain and adjacent French Pyrenees, this attractive wallflower is a speciality of dry screes, where it is especially prominent when in bloom.

in habitat




Matthiola fruticulosa

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

A widespread and rather variable perennial of southern Europe, M. fruticulosa is found throughout the Iberian Peninsula in a variety of habitats. 

Three subspecies are recognised in Europe, all of which are found in Spain: ssp. fruticulosa is widespread, ssp. perennis is endemic to the Picos de Europa and ssp. valesiaca is found in the Pyrenees and eastern Spain.  Based on the location of this specimen, the plant shown is probably ssp. fruticulosa

As a species, M. fruticulosa can be recognised by its typcially downy, linear, shallowly lobed leaves (and, when present, by its bluntly-horned fruits).



Iberis spathulata (needs confirmation)

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

Identified by its spoon-shaped, dark green leaves and white flowers, this montane Iberis is endemic to Spain and Italy, where it grows in dry limestone scree. 

Most references state I. spathulata as restricted to the Pyrenees in Spain, but no other species I am aware of matches this specimen from the Picos de Europa.



Sempervivum cantabricum

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

foliage detail, Saja-Besaya Parque Natural

Endemic to northern Spain, as the Latin name suggests, this Sempervivum is common in the Picos de Europa. 

Eight members of the genus are recognised from Spain, although some are highly localised endemics. 

S.cantabricum can be recognised by its sparsely downy leaves (in common with the closely related S.tectorum) and fairly short flowering stem, which has fewer flowers than S.tectorum.  When not flowering, as here, the species can be distinguished by range - S.cantabricum is a Picos endemic, and S.tectorum is not found in this region.




Sempervivum arachnoideum


Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

Well-named for the closely-interwoven leaf hairs, which truly resemble a fine spider's web, this Sempervivum is widespread in the high mountains of Europe, from the Cordillera Cantabrica as far east as the Appennines.



Sedum acre (Biting Stonecrop)

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

Widespread on northern Spain's dry limestone mountains, this common plant is easy to find.  It is described more fully in the Flora of Derbyshire - the White Peak grasslands part 1 section of the site.



Sedum dasyphyllum (Thick-leaved Stonecrop)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Common throughout much of southern and central Europe, the combination of white flowers and thick, pale grey leaves helps to identify this Sedum.




Saxifraga hirsuta ssp. hirsuta (Kidney Saxifrage)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Apart from a disjunct population in south-western Ireland, Kidney Saxifrage is endemic to the Cordillera Cantabrica and Pyrenees.  It is similar to S.umbrosa and S.spathularis, but is distinct in its long, narrow leaf stalks (petioles) which are hairy, as are both surfaces or the rounded or kidney-shaped leaves.

The rarer ssp. paucicrenata has fewer crenations on the leaf margins, and the leaves tend to be longer and narrower.



Saxifraga paniculata (Livelong Saxifrage)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

In the mountains of northern Spain, this is one of the most frequently-encountered saxifrages. 

Easily identified by its lime-encrusted leaves and rosette-forming habit, Livelong Saxifrage soon becomes a familiar plant of limestone crags for the travelling botanist. 

In European terms, it is also one of the most widespread species, found in all high mountain ranges in Europe except in the north-west (it is absent from Britain and most of Norway), as well as at lower altitudes in the Mediterranean area.



Saxifraga aretioides

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

This yellow-flowered saxifrage of dry limestone cliffs is endemic to the Pyrenees and the Cordillera Cantabrica. 

It somewhat resembles a plant of Saxifraga aizoides in a dry, rather than wet, habitat, but when looked at closely, the leaves are seen to have a broad white border and the flowers have notched petals with wavy margins.



Saxifraga canaliculata

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

A Spanish endemic saxifrage, S.canaliculata has spiny, highly-divided leaves like several other species.  It can be recognised by its deeply-channeled hairless leaves, and broad reflexed petals on the flowers (when present).

S.canaliculata has a very limited distribition, restricted entriely to the Cordillera Cantabrica, centred on the Picos de Europa.



Saxifraga trifurcata

Lagos de Saliencia, Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

Endemic to the mountains of northern Spain, this spiny-leaved saxifrage inhabits dry limestone crags.  It is closely related to several other more localised taxa, which are often geographically distant, although S.canaliculata (see above) also occurs in the mountains of northern Spain. 

Thanks to Fred Rumsey for help with the identification.



Genista hystrix ssp. legionensis

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

The Iberian Peninsula is the centre of diversity of the European Genista species, with over 30 species, of which at least two-thirds are endemic. 

Genista hystrix ssp.legionensis is sometimes regarded as an endemic species in its own right, but whatever the species status (the current European flora recognises only G.hystrix), this plant is unique to the Picos de Europa, and is common on rock outcrops, where it forms spiny, sprawling shrubs which bear typical yellow Genista flowers.



Echinospartum lusitanicum

Rio Tera valley, Lago de Sanabria Parque Natural, Castilla y León

Spain is home to three Echinospartum species, all occupying a distinct range.  E.lusitanicum is found in western Spain, and can be recognised by its very woolly, clustered flowerheads. 

The two other species, E.boissieri and E.horridum, are restricted to southern Spain and the Pyrenees (and central France) respectively.



Trifolium pratense (Red Clover)


A common lowland plant, Red Clover is just as happy at moderate elevations up in the mountains, where it grows in open, sunny areas.  The flowers can be red, pink  or white (as here) - the best feature for recognising the species is the lanceolate green leaflets with a white crescent marking.




Anthyllis vulneraria (Kidney Vetch)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

In Britain, Kidney Vetch is familiar as a yellow-flowered plant of lowland calcareous meadows.  In Spain, Kidney Vetch is frequently seen as a pink-flowered plant in mountain pastures.  It can be distinguished from other pink-flowered legumes such as Onobrychis by the silky-hairy flowerheads which occur in rounded clusters with a set of green leaves underneath them.



Geranium sanguineum (Bloody Cranesbill)

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

This beautiful perennial favours warm, dry limestone hillsides and slopes, especially where there is a little shade, such as along woodland edges. 

I've described it more fully in the Flora of Derbyshire section of the site.



Erodium sp

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

Currently unidentified!



Linum viscosum (Sticky Flax)

Puerto de Palombera, Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Despite its uninspiring name, Sticky Flax is a beautiful wildflower found in a wide range of habitats in the northern half of Spain and south-western Europe.  It can be recognised by its large, strongly-veined bright pink flowers and sticky leaves.




Acer opalus (Italian Maple)

Izki Parque Natural, Alava

Recognisable by its five-lobed leaves, each of which is rather ovate and distinctly toothed, Italian Maple is an upland tree of Mediterranean Spain, reaching its northern limit on the southern edge of the Cordillera Cantabrica.



Malva moschata (Musk Mallow)

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

A common meadow plant of limestone mountains in Spain, this lovely plant is easily recognised. 

I've described it more fully in the Flora of Derbyshire section - the White Peak Grasslands part 1 section of the site.



Daphne laureola ssp. philippi (Spurge Laurel)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

One of several northern Spanish Daphne species, Spurge Laurel is common in rocky areas in the Cordillera Cantabrica.  It can be recognised in bloom by its axillary clusters of greenish-yellow flowers.  Ssp. philippi is endemic to Spain and France.



Hypericum nummularium

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

A specialist of rocky habitats in the mountains of northern Spain, this Hypericum species can be recognised by its foliage, which is distinctively glaucous underneath, and its often solitary flowers. 

The species is endemic to south-western Europe, with its distribution extending as far east as Italy.



Cistus salvifolius (Sage-leaved Cistus)

Izki Parque Natural, Alava

A classic small shrub of warm, Mediterranean habitats, Sage-leaved Cistus is easily recognised by its wrinkled sage-like leaves and white flowers with orange centres. 

It is a species found throughout southern Europe.



Potentilla nivalis ssp. asturica (Woolly Cinquefoil)

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

Text coming soon!



Helianthemum nummularium (Common Rock-rose)

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

This common species is described in the Flora of Derbyshire section of the site. 

Two forms occur in Spain: the normal yellow-flowered form, and a pink-flowered form (ssp. pyrenaicus).



Helianthemum croceum

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

Rather similar to the common and variable H. nummularium (see above), the most obvious distinguishing feature for this species is the dense covering of tiny hairs on the leaf surfaces, giving them a pale, velvety appearance. 

It is a widespread species on the Iberian Peninsula, from lowlands to mountain slopes, and its range extends east as far as Italy.



Astrantia major (Great Masterwort)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Well-known in horticulture as a cottage garden plant, A.major is common in mountain meadows in northern Spain.



Eryngium bourgatii

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

This elegant species is the common Eryngium of montane pastures in the Cordillera Cantabrica.  Key distinguishing feaures are the very long, spreading bracts which bear few spines, and relatively large flowerheads. 

The species is largely restricted to south-western Europe and adjacent North Africa.



Loiseleuria procumbens (Mountain Azalea)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Although a rare species in the Scottish mountains, in mainland Europe Mountain Azalea is a much more commonly-seen plant in rocky upland areas.  It grows on dry, acidic soils, but is common in limestone districts (as here) where the soil is leached.

Mountain Azalea can be recognised by its tiny pink starry flowers and glossy green rounded leaves with a prominent central vein.



Erica vagans (Cornish Heath)

Puerto de Palombera, Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Erica is a diverse genus in Spain, although many species are restricted to drier, Mediterranean habitats. 

In the mountains, E.vagans is a common species, distinguished by its small, pale, widely bell-shaped flowers.  Each cluster of flowers usually terminates in a tuft of leaves, as seen here.



Erica lusitanica (Lusitanian Heath)

Tolibes cork oak forest, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

A woodland margin species of heather, this plant can be distinguished from its close relative, E.arborea (Tree Heath), by a combination of subtle features: it has longer, deeper pink, cylindrical (rather than bell-shaped) flowers, and longer, thinner leaves. 

Thanks to Fred Rumsey for the identification.



Daboecia cantabrica (St Dabeoc's Heath)

Puerto de Palombera, Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

This species is surely one of the most beautiful of Europe's heathers.  It can easily be recognised by its rich pink-purple bell-shaped flowers which hang from the flower stems, and are much larger than those of other bell-shaped flowers such as Erica cinerea

St Dabeoc's Heath is common in coastal western Europe, from Portugal, through Spain and France, with a disjunct population on the central west coast of Ireland.



Androsace villosa

Saja-Besaja Parque Natural, Cantabria

The Pyrenees are the place to go to see Spanish Androsaces; in the Cordillera Cantabrica this is the only species you will come across. 

A.villosa, as its name suggests, is characterised by its hairy leaf rosettes.  I wasn't fortunate enough to see it in flower, sadly.  A.villosa is widespread in all the major mountain ranges of southern and central Europe.



Armeria maritima ssp. alpina (Thrift)


Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

This very variable, widespread perennial is just as at home in the mountain pastures of northern Spain as along the sand dunes of the Mediterreanean coast. 

In the mountains, the only other members of the genus present are A.splendens and A.alliacea, but A.maritima has broad rather than narrow papery margins to the bracts, which are a conspicuous shining green.





Cuscuta epithymum (Common Dodder)

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

This widespread parasitic plant is described in the Flora of Dorset section of the site.

ddrSaja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria



Gentiana occidentalis

Lago de Sanabria Parque Natural

Endemic to the mountains of northern Spain and the Pyrenees, this gentian can be distinguished from the closely-related G.acaulis and G.alpina by the acute lobes of the petals (corolla) and the absence of spotting in the flower throat.  Range is also helpful - G.occidentalis is the only one of the three species found in the Cordillera Cantabrica.



Gentiana lutea (Great Yellow Gentian)

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

This giant gentian is common in damp mountain pastures throughout northern Spain.  Individual flowers are more spreading and less tubular than other gentians, although given that this plant had long since finished flowering, this isn't visible in the photo!



Gentianella ciliata (Fringed Gentian)

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

Easily recognised by the large blue flowers with fringed petals, this widespread species reaches the western limit of its distribution in the Cordillera Cantabrica.



Centaurium erythraea or somedanum (Centaury)

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

Serra do Courel

Text coming soon!



Myosotis alpestris (Alpine Forget-me-not)

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

One of Britain's rarest montane wildflowers (you can see a photo here), this small Forget-me-not is far more common and widespread in the limestone mountains of northern Spain.



Lithodora sp

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

Currently unidentified!



Thymus serpyllum (Wild Thyme)

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

This familiar grassland plant is a tough survivor and can be found at high altitudes in the Spanish mountains.

Three Thymus species are found in Spain: the widespread T.serpyllum and T.pulegioides, and the Pyrenean endemic T.nervosus.

T.serpyllum can be recognised by its unstalked leaves which have hairy margins.



Teucrium pyrenaicum (Pyrenean Germander)

Puerto de Palombera, Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Teucrium is a diverse genus in Spain, and in mountain grasslands T.pyrenaicum is a common sight. It can be distinguished from other members of the genus by compact flower heads with dense clusters of white flowers, and is restricted to limestone rocks in northern Spain and southern France.



Lavandula sp

Lago de Sanabria Paqrque Natural, Castilla y León

Currently unidentified!



Sideritis hyssopifolia

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Identified by its dense spike of typical yellow Labiatae flowers, this shrubby plant is common throughout the Cordillera Cantabrica, where it scrambles over rocks in mountain pastures. 

As a species, it is endemic to south-western Europe, ranging from central Portugal to Switzerland.



Stachys monieri (Alpine Betony)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Distinguished from 'normal' Betony by its bristly hairs and pink flowers, Alpine Betony can be seen throughout the mountains of northern Spain, as well as further east in the Alps.

Thanks to Fred Rumsey for the ID.



Prunella grandiflora

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Although the flowers of this plant look like typical Prunella flowers, the one thing that catches the eye immediately is their size - they are very large in comparison to the plant, and far bigger than any others in the genus. 

It is a common species thoughout much of Europe, although absent from Britain.



Linaria alpina (Alpine Toadflax)


Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

This pretty little plant is fairly common in the limestone screes of the Cordillera Cantabrica. 

It can be recognised by its very small greyish-green leaves and violet flowers with a bright orange centre.




Linaria supina

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

Recognisable by its two-toned yellow flowers, this adaptable plant is widespread throughout the Iberian Peninsula, from lowland habitats, to montane scree (where this photo was taken). 

It is very much a south-western European species, with a distribution extending into adjacent northern Africa.



Chaenorhinum origanifolium

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

A common small plant of limestone rocks, this species has characteristic purple flowers with a yellow throat and rounded, lanceolate leaves, resembling those of Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), hence the Latin name.



Digitalis parviflora

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

Easily identified by its tall spires of narrow cylindrical, reddish-brown flowers, this foxglove is common in rocky. montane grassland throughout northern Spain, where it is an endemic species.



Erinus alpinus (Fairy Foxglove)

Fuente De, Picos de Europa, Cantabria

A common-grown rockery plant, Fairy Foxglove is a widespread species in the mountains of central and western Europe.

It is easily recognised by its flower spikes, which bear pink flowers with notched petals.  The foliage is also distinctive, being bluntly ovate with prominently toothed margins.




Globuria nudicaulis


One of the common Globularia species of northern Spain, G.nudicaulis is characterised by its leafless flowering stems and the absence of any stolons.  Its distribution extends east to the Alps.

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria



Pinguicula grandiflora (probably)

Saja-Besaya Parque Natural, Cantabria

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

It's difficult to be completely certain which of the two Pinguicula species found in the Cordillera Cantabrica these photos show.  They could well be P.grandiflora, which has noticeably larger flowers, but as the flowers were beginning to wilt, I'm not so sure! 

P.grandiflora is a species of northern Spain, distinguished by larger flowers with a proportionately longer spur.  The other species these photos could be showing is the widespread P.vulgaris, which has smaller flowers with a shorter spur.




Asperula sp

Somiedo Parque Natural, Asturias

Without a clear view of the leaves, it's impossible to tell which Asperula species this photo shows, although I think it's likely to be the tall A.cyanchica - the most widespread European member of the genus.



Viburnum opulus (Guelder Rose)

Sierra de Urbasa, Navarra

This common large shrub or small tree is widely distributed in Europe, and easily recognised in late summer by its clusters of bright red berries, and maple-like foliage which turns a brilliant red in autumn.