For the most part, the Azores began as lava rock until the winds brought grasses and bits of organic debris. By the time humans arrived, plants and evergreen forests had sprouted throughout the islands. Wandering sailors then brought their own new plantings, such as the cryptomeria conifer (Japanese cedar) from Japan. Of the more than 800 species of plants now living on the islands, only 300 of them are native to the region. Cedar trees, heather, ling, mountain grapes, white wood, ginger, dogwood and the tamujo bush are a few of the local species, while the newcomers include the acacia tree, flowering hydrangea and azaleas, camellia, incense and other ornamental plants.
But the wildlife on the Azores is equally as stunning and impressive. Birds are abundant throughout the islands, with more than 150 species to add to one’s “life list.” Birders can listen for the night calls of the cagarro or watch for one of the 35 species which breed here, including seagulls, plovers, terns, chaffinches, sparrows, bullfinches, buzzards, goshawks and doves. And, for life list birder, there is better news yet, The native priolo, the hawk, blackbird, wood pigeon and red garajau are also common.
Even more impressive is the Azorean dedication to keeping the islands naturally pristine. In 1995, the European Union recognized the people of Portugal and the Azores Islands for their commitment to the environment, as evidenced in the numerous nature reserves and protected parks and forests. The National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations has named the Azores islands as the world’s second most appealing islands destination in it fourth annual Destination Scorecard survey. A panel of 522 experts aided by George Washington University reviewed conditions on 111 islands and archipelagos. The Azores were outscored only by Faroe islands, and received the title of “Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so.”