Part of a network of Botanic Gardens in Andalusia and aimed at preserving the local endemic flora, El Aljibe Botanic Gardens in Alcalá de los Gazules specialises in the plant-life within the Los Alcornocales Natural Park.
This is a small but very informative botanic garden covering about one hectare on the western edge of the Los Alcornocales oak forest easily accessed from the newly upgraded A381 dual carriageway. The gardens, which were begun in 2003 and inaugurated in July 2008, are well labelled with information not just about the plants but also the rock structures and terrain/habitat that support them.
These gardens are characterised by the sandstone terrain of their namesake, El Aljibe, which is the highest peak in the Los Alcornocales parkland. The vegetation is verdant due to the rainfall and fog created by its proximity to the Mediterranean sea and Atlantic ocean and by the mild winter temperatures.
The layout of the gardens makes good use of a small area by curving the paths which are screened from each other by the trees. A water way dissects this to represent the steep v shaped ‘Canutos’ that these oak forests are famed for. The pathways of stone or wood are well laid and only gently sloped, allowing for an easy amble that demonstrates the different zones of the area.
Map boards explain the overall layout, with smaller signs giving more detailed information on particular vegetation types. (In Spanish)
Most of the plants have signs which give scientific species name, inc sub-species, family, common Spanish name, its distribution and also if it is in endanger of extinction. The latter is shown in the form of a coloured spot, Red Yellow or Green.
The gardens collect plants or seeds from the local habitat concentrating on the emblematic and those most endangered to aid in their preservation.
The botanic gardens network aims to raise awareness in youngsters by holding educational fun days and also ‘introduction to botany’ days for adults.
‘El Aljibe’ contains around 185 trees and shrubs protected by law, some of which are included in the “Lista Roja de la Flora vascular de Andalucía”, Red list of endangered vascular plants of Andalusia. There are 300 different species of perennials and the range will continue to expand. Some of the plant species that are most noteworthy within this area are Cork Oak (Quercus suber), Pyrenean Oak (Quercus pyrenaica), Portuguese Oak (Quercus lusitanica), Canary Island Oak (Quercus canariensis), Alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus subsp baetica), Gorse species Stauracanthus boivinii, Whisk Fern (Psilotum nudum), a European Tree Fern Culcita macrocarpa and Diplazium caudatum.
The botanic gardens are fronted by the ‘Los Alcornocales visitors centre’ containing shop, restaurant and study rooms. Access is through the quadrangle behind the main building. (On my last visit the information centre, café etc were closed but I was still able to access the gardens)
Entrance Free is free
Getting to El Aljibe Botanic Gardens in Alcalá de los Gazules
Take the exit at kilometre 42 on the A-381 dual-carriageway (Jerez to Los Barrios) sign posted as Alcalá de los Gazules / Benalup-Casas Viejas.
Drive towards Benalup for 1km and the gardens are behind the “Centro de visitantes del Parque Natural de los Alcornocales” The visitors centre for the Los Alcornocales Natural Park.
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