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Phillyrea (Phillyrea angustifolia)

Diputación de Málaga

Phillyrea (Phillyrea angustifolia)

IDENTIFICATION

It is an evergreen bush (up to 5 m high) with a dense bearing and thin flexible branches sprouting from the base. The bark is somewhat smooth and of a greyish brown colour, turning darker with age. The leaves are simple, with an opposite setting, elongated and generally with a full edge or with some small-spacing teeth. They have a tough consistence, are green on the beam and pale on the underside. The flowers are very small and perfumed. They appear in small clusters linked to the base of the leaf-tips and are of a greenish-white colour. The fruits are some kind of drupes (fleshy and with a single pit, like olives), of a blueish-black colour when ripe and with a rounded shape at the beginning turning somewhat sharp on the apex. 

WHERE DOES IT LIVE?

It is a typical plant from warm forests. It can bear very well high summer temperatures or drought but not cold. It is indifferent to the kind of substrate (calcareous or siliceous) and it can live on sandy or clay soils, as well as substrates poor in nutrients and organic matter. It usually develops from sea level (in dunes and sandbanks) to up to 1300 meters above sea level. It is a very common species of our woods, especially in holm oaks, gall oaks and cork oaks forests.

HOW DOES IT LIVE?

It is an androdioecious species: there are specimens with hermaphrodite flowers and others with apparently hermaphrodite flowers but actually working as male flowers. The strong smell released by its flowers attracts insects, most of all bees, helping pollination (entomophil). Flowering occurs in spring and takes place from February to May. Fruiting happens in summer, from June to September. Fruit dispersion is made by birds. It is an important source of food that, when passing through its digestive tract, exposes the small pit where the seed goes.

WHERE CAN WE SEE IT IN THE MALAGA PROVINCE?

It is a very common species in the Malaga province, and it can be found on a very dispersed way all over the territory, always associated with very developed holm-oaks, gall oaks and cork oaks forests. It is very abundant in calcareous coastal saws like Sierra Blanca and the Mijas mountain range or in Sierra Tejeda. On the Great Path, it can be detected on stages 5 to 8 and 32 to 34.

CURIOUS FACTS

It is commonly cultivated as an ornamental plant due to its persistent foliage. It stands pruning very well so it can form hedges. Due to its resistance to water stress, it is considered as a particularly interesting species to repopulate places very exposed to the sun and for its introduction and recovery in degraded areas. The gender name, Phillyrea, comes from the Greek and was the name given to a plant with leaves very similar to those of the olive tree; the specific epithet, angustifolia, refers to its specially narrow leaves.

SIMILAR SPECIES

It can be confused with the wild olive tree (Olea europa var. sylvestris) or with the olive tree (Olea europea). It differs from them for its small fleshy fruits  (drupes) of less than a centimetre in diameter.

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