Monday, 29 March 2010

PLANT: A rare endemic wormwood: Artemisia granatensis in Spain

July 1, 1995:
Nowadays, this extremely rare endemic is only occasionally found on the upper peaks of the Sierra Nevada, southern Spain, at altitudes of 3200 metres upwards. Its typical habitat is the stony or gravelly schistose slopes and consolidated scree found there. Commonly known as "manzanilla de la sierra", at one time it was frequent down to 2500 metres but has since been grossly over-collected on a commercial basis. This was by the 'manzanilleros' for its value as a medicinal herb and as an ingredient for the sherry-like aperitif, manzanilla, but the plant can still occasionally be found. In the past, miraculous cures were attributed to it although its main medicinal property was its use in alleviating digestive problems. As it became over-collected and scarce the price rose so that it was often unscrupuously adulterated with wild thyme and other aromatic plants collected from the upper regions of the mountain.

A. granatensis is a small plant with crowded, deeply divided, basal leaves and more entire upper leaves. The inflorescence, which can be up to 10cm tall, bears up to three capitula in a rather crowded, short raceme. The whole plant is covered with a dense, setaceous indumentum which gives it a distinctive silvery-grey, silky appearance. When bruised, the leaves give off a strong but very pleasant aromatic odour.

Artemisia granatensis can still be found on the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada, such as Mulhacen, Puntal de Siete Lagunas, La Alcazaba and, where photographed in early July, on the upper slopes of the Veleta at 3250 metres. It has also been recorded in the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada on Buitre and Borrachera in Almeria province.

Above, the barren upper slopes (left centre) below the Veleta summit where A. granatensis was seen and photgraphed.

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