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  madeira : features : laurissilva forest    
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The Laurissilva from a scientific perspective, and how Madeira was "made" along the geological time scale.

The Laurissilva is a geological and natural relic from the Tertiary period on the world geological time scale. That means that the forest grew during the period of geological history when the planet was still forming itself. From the Paleocene epoch through to the pliocene epoch. The Laurissilva as we know it today has been very little tainted across the two epochs of the quaternary period (the current geological period we are living in). That is, until the arrival of man in the late 15th century:

Epoch Millions
of years
Geological events Sea life Land life
Quaternary (current) Period
Holocene 0.01 to today Glaciers recede. Sea level rises. Climate becomes more equable. As now Forests flourish again. Humans acquire agriculture and technology.
Pleistocene 2.0 - 0.01 Widespread glaciers melt periodically causing seas to rise and fall. As now Many plant forms perish. Small mammals abundant. Primitive humans established.
Tertiary Period
Pliocene 5.1 - 2.0 Continents and oceans adopting their present form. Present climatic distribution established. Ice caps develop. Giant sharks extinct. Many fish varieties. Some plants and mammals die out. Primates flourish..
Miocene 24.6 - 5.1 Seas recede further. European and Asian land masses join. Heavy rain causes massive erosion. Red Sea opens. Bony fish common. Giant sharks. Grasses widespread. Grazing mammals become common.
Oligocene 38.0 - 24.6 Seas recede. Extensive movements of Earth's crust produce new mountains (e.g. Alpine-Himalayan chain). Crabs, mussels, and snails evolve. Forests diminish. Grasses appear. Pachyderms, canines, and felines develop.
Eocene 54.9 - 38.0 Mountain formation continues. Glaciers common in high mountain ranges. Greenland separates. Australia separates. Whales adapt to sea. Large tropical jungles. Primitive forms of modern mammals established.
Paleocene 65.0 - 54.9 Widespread subsidence of land. Seas advance again. Considerable volcanic activity. Europe and Madeira emerges. Many reptiles become extinct. Flowering plants established. Dinosaurs become extinct.


The Laurissilva Forest
The Laurissilva forest with a typical gnarled branch of tree that easliy calls to mind our imagination of what Europe may have looked like 10,000 years ago and beyond..
Photo courtesy of Turivema

It was at the beginning of the Holocene epoch, about 10 000 years ago, that the Laurissilva forests disappeared from the European mainland and Mediterranean basin. The last glacier across Europe helped decrease the average temperatures across the continent where much of the forests flourished - helping slowly extinguish the lush and subtropical environment existing about that time. Remnants of those forests that have survived are the Laurissilva persisting on the Macaronesian islands of the Azores, the Canary Islands, and Madeira - the Atlantic ocean weather amenable to the humid friendly forests.


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