Berber Botany in the High Atlas
Despite icy winters and scalding summers, the High Atlas Mountains are extremely fertile. Overgrazing, agriculture and wood collection for fuel has impacted the High Atlas; much of its indigenous vegetation has disappeared. But through painstaking reforestation and resourceful mountainside terrace farming using targa (channel) irrigation, the hills are alive with a diversity of flora.
Here’s what you’ll spot on High Atlas walks:
Valleys lower than 2400m Riots of flowers erupt in spring, when valley almond, cherry and apricot orchards bloom. In summer, you’ll enjoy the shade of carob, quince, pomegranate, apple and fig trees. Resourceful farmers manage to eke multiple crops from terrace plots: barley October through to May, and potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, lentils and beans from spring through to autumn. Walnuts are a major crop in higher villages, with harvest in late September.
Subalpine zone (2400m to 3200m) Thickets of gnarled Spanish juniper (Juniperus thurifer) are blasted into extraordinary shapes by the wind, and exposed roots cling like fingers to the rock. Aleppo pine is being planted to prevent erosion, and replace fragrant Atlas cedar used for woodworking.
High elevations higher than 3200m The easiest to spot are ‘hedgehog plants’, spiny, domed bushes that briefly burst into flower in spring. Even when you don’t spot plants on the trail, you’ll get a whiff of lavender, rosemary and wild thyme underfoot, perfuming your boots as you walk.