A FLORA RICH IN VARIETY, MEDICINAL PRODUCTS AND RARITIES
There are about 7000 known species of Moroccan flora. Vascular flora are massively represented within the forest ecosystems where almost two thirds of the species are to be found; the remaining third is mainly divided between steppe formations and humid biotopes. The mountain regions of the Rif and the Atlas are the most important sectors in terms of endemic types.
Moroccan forest formations, like Mediterranean forests, are composed of very heterogeneous species, often with very diverse structures.
These formations are mostly state-owned and extend over an area of approximately 9,038,000 ha, or 12.7% of the national territory. Moroccan forests are made up of natural hardwood forests (Holm Oak, Cork Oak, Pyrenean Oak, Argan, Carob, Acacias) and coniferous trees (Atlas Cedar, Berber Thuja, Aleppo Pine, Maritime Pine, Black Pine, Juniperus thurifera, Red Juniper, etc.), distributed between the different bioclimatic stages from semi-arid to humid. Cedar forests occupy mountain areas in the Middle Atlas and the Rif, oak forests occupy mountain plains and foothills, while the only fir in Morocco finds refuge in Talasemtane in the heights of the Western Rif near Chefchaouen. In the Southwest, the argan forests and plantations occupy semi-arid and arid areas of the Western High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas. Further south, the acacias are in pre-steppe and pre-forest regions, in areas with arid and Saharan bioclimates.
The Argan tree:
The argan tree is a tree with thorny twigs - hence its name spinosa which means "thorny" - 8 to 10m high, with long and oval leaves that have a rounded apex. It is very hardy and can live from 250 to 300 years.
The argan tree provides a very hard wood, called ironwood, used mainly for firewood.
The argan tree produces a fruit which is in the form of a false oval drupe containing a very hard nut sheltering two or three seeds. It takes about 38kg of fruit or 2.6kg of seeds to produce 1 litre of argan oil.
Argan oil extracted from the fruit of the argan tree is well known for its pharmacological properties and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine.
The Atlas pistachio:
The Atlas pistachio is a beautiful deciduous tree providing food of high nutritional value for livestock. It exists scattered in the Hauts Plateaux region (Djelfa, Messaad), south of Laghouat and also north of Ghardaia (Berriane and Guerrara). This tree can reach impressive dimensions. Some authors suggest that the pistachio trees in the Atlas can live up to 1000 years.
Its pea-sized fruit is edible. It is called El Khodri (green) by the local population, because of the predominance of a dark green colour when fully ripe.
A high-calorie oil can be extracted from this fruit which is kneaded with dates and eaten with milk. Rosin can be extracted from its bark, which exudes naturally in the heat and is used for medicinal purposes.
The Western red cedar is a tree of the conifer family which grows in Morocco in the Atlas Mountains and Essaouira, Azemmour and Idaoutanane. It is a slow-growing species, 6 to 8m at 60 years, with an extended longevity (400-500 years).
Thuja wood, rare, aromatic and dense, is unique among all other types of exotic wood.
Special and luxurious, it is a hardwood recognizable by its dark red colour speckled with groups of small dark brown dots and sometimes patterns of veins of gold. The qualities relating to this wood are its hardness, its rarity, the hundreds of different patterns it presents, the luxury of its appearance, the very beautiful brilliance that it gives off after polishing, and finally the beautiful almost aphrodisiac odour that this exotic wood gives off.
If left to itself, the oak easily lives for 500 years and up to more than 1000 years on occasion.
Oaks are hardwood trees. In Morocco there are several species of oak whose individuals are sometimes several hundred years old. Oak types are holm oak, Mirbeck's oak, Pyrenean oak and cork oak:
The Holm oak:
In Morocco, holm oak is the premier forest species by its surface area (1,415,201ha) and by its fuel production as well as by its leaf biomass (all organic matter made up of leaves of trees or any other plant).
Its ecological and socio-economic roles are very important. Present in all the non-arid regions of the country, it is qualified as "the living cement which connects the forest massifs". It is a tree 5 to 25 meters high that grows slowly and lives for a very long time.
The Cork oak:
Small in size, the cork oak rarely exceeds 20 metres. It is a typically Mediterranean species. This tree can typically live for 150 to 200 years but some have lived for 800 years and can reach 20 to 25m high (the tallest having reached 43m) but they generally do not exceed 12 to 15m.
The Pyrenean oak:
A tree 5 to 20 meters high with an irregular shape branching from the base but eventually losing its lower branches.
Its bark is smooth, greyish green to dark grey, hence its nickname of black oak. It can live for 500 years. It hybridises easily with other oaks.
This is a tree that can reach more than 30m high and the circumference of its trunk can exceed 6m. Its bark, which is grey-brown in colour, is smooth for the first few years and then quickly cracks.
Its foliage often remains in a dry state until new leaves appear (it is said to be marcescent). It can live more than 200 years. At the beginning, its growth is slow and it does not start to bear fruit until it is about 15 years old. Fruiting is annual.
The Strawberry tree:
An ericaceous tree that often accompanies oak forests producing a sweet, fleshy fruit, with a granular structure, called Boukhannou, Bakhennou or Sasnou.
The hawthorn, which comes in the form of thorny trees or shrubs, produces edible red berries called "Bousrouroud" in the Moroccan dialect.
The Atlas cedar:
There are several types of sub-species that live in mountainous areas between an altitude of 1500 and 2500m. The landscape architecture of the Rif, Middle Atlas and High Atlas Mountains is largely shaped by the forest ecosystems organised by the Atlas cedar.
When they are well preserved, these ecosystems impose themselves on the landscape by their extent, the height of the trees, their beauty, and their majestic looks and height, which in some valleys exceeds 65m.
Conversely, some highly degraded cedar forests, which are declining in areas that have marginal ecological conditions, offer a landscape of great desolation.
The Chestnut tree:
The chestnut tree is a majestic tree 25-35m in height which can measure 4 meters in diameter at the base. It has a very long lifespan of 500 to 1500 years.
Juvenile growth is rapid and is sustained up to 50 to 60 years. Inside the husk are one to three chestnuts in number.
The Orange tree:
In Greek mythology, among the twelve labours of the Hercules is the picking of the "golden apples" of the Hesperides.
Many locate the gardens of Hesperides in northern Morocco, and identify the "golden apple" as citrus fruits (orange, lemon, etc). The reference is certainly "mythological", but who would have thought that in reality, citrus fruits come to us from Asia?
The Dragon tree:
The species has an exceptional longevity. In the garden of the Franchie House in La Orotava on the island of Tenerife there was a 500-year-old dragon tree that was destroyed by a hurricane in 1868. In 1996, a small Moroccan endemic population was discovered in the Western Anti-Atlas on the Jbels Imzi and Adad Medni, near Agadir. The subjects grow on the cliffs of the mountains, in the rocks, up to 1400 metres above sea level.
The Dog Rose :
A shrub with climbing stems bearing prickles. Alternating evergreen leaves, composed of 3 to 7 leaflets. Delicately fragrant white flowers; 5 whole sepals ending in a point; 5 petals in the heart; numerous stamens; pistils as long as the stamens. The mature orange-red fruit is called the rosehip. The fruit contains irritating hairs well-known to pranksters and is the basis of itching powder. The flesh of the fruit is very rich in vitamin C.
The European Fan Palm:
The dwarf palm, doum palm or false doum palm (Chamaerops humilis L.) is a small palm tree, native to the regions bordering the western Mediterranean Sea. It can live up to 400 years.
In addition to the "heart", the slightly bitter "berries" are eaten in certain regions of Morocco.
The palm, famous for its hundreds of varieties of dates, is native to the Middle East. The European fan palm, on the other hand, is a natural species in Morocco. It is the northernmost naturally occurring palm in the world, with the most northerly standing at Hyères-les-Palmiers.
The Fig tree:
The Fig Tree is a Mediterranean tree par excellence. In Morocco, it has two sexes: the male fig tree (caprifig) whose main function is to produce grains of pollen and does not produce edible figs. Then there are the fig trees which produce the figs that we consume. In some regions of Morocco, there is a different type of fig tree, one that is "parthenocarpic" and which produces fruit without fertilisation.
The Jujube tree:
This is a tree or shrub of 6 to 10 m high with thorny branches (but there are varieties without spines).
The deciduous leaves are oblong, finely toothed, with thorny stipules.
The small, yellowish flowers appear in the axils of the leaves. They are used to make a famous honey in Yemen.
The fruit, of ovoid shape, is a drupe, first appearing yellow then red when ripe and contains a hard, elliptical core. The pulp is sweet and gelatinous, with a bland taste.
The jujubes, rich in vitamins A and C, are used in various medicinal preparations.
The Fir tree of Morocco:
Endemic to Morocco, the Moroccan fir (Abies maroccana) is a majestic tree that engenders very beautiful forest ecosystems.
Some firs reach up to 50m in height and others can have trunks of 5m in circumference.
The Moroccan Fir is a tree that requires a lot of water and seems to be strictly linked to calcareous substrates. It is located in the country's wettest regions where annual rainfall can reach 2,000mm on average. The Moroccan fir can live up to 500 years.
Juniperus thurifera has remarkable capacities of resistance to hostile environments.
It fears neither drought nor cold, and is satisfied with a mediocre or even totally absent soil. Healthy individuals can be seen growing in cracks in rocks, or on slopes that are completely dry.
In addition, it regenerates very easily if it is cut, broken by wind, herds of animals or rock falls or even if struck by lightning. Its high content of aromatic essences seems to protect it effectively from attacks by insects, fungi and other pests, but it has one major parasite, the Megastigmus Thurifera. Its only weak point is its extremely slow growth.
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