La Dehesa: a unique ecosystem of the Iberian Peninsula

The vegetation of a place depends on the climate, the rocks and the role played by human action about this, among other things. These physical and human factors determine the plant diversity of any territory. Specifically, Spain has some 6,000 plant species distributed throughout its geographical area, and the dehesa has a good part of them.

The most natural of the dehesa

In the planet, the vegetation is distributed in large floral groups referred to as ‘kingdoms’. These, in turn, are divided into smaller ones, the vegetable regions.

The region in which the dehesa is framed covers practically the entire Iberian Peninsula, with the exception of the Cantabrian coast and the highest peaks of the main mountain ranges. In it, the most characteristic plant formations are the evergreen forest and the thicket.

When we use the concept ‘forest’, instinct makes us imagine a dense and dense place covered by tall and robust trees that cover everything and hardly let the rays of light through. Perhaps international cinema has accustomed us to this.

But very different, for example, is the current reality in the Extremadura dehesa. Today It is a not very dense forest, formed by trees of medium height, with thick, wrinkled trunk and perennial leaf. Due to the climatic situation it occupies, its branches create wide canopies, responsible for projecting shade to mitigate heatstroke and evaporation.

Holm oaks and cork oaks

Holm oak and cork oak are the dominant tree species in the Extremadura dehesa. The first, moreover, presumes to be the most representative species of the Iberian Peninsula. The oak lives where the differences in temperature are more pronouncednormally supporting frosts and prolonged droughts.

Instead, the cork oak needs some precipitation, milder temperatures and siliceous soils such as those that characterize this area of ​​the southwestern peninsula. This species is the most abundant in Extremadura and forms forests, although it also appears mixed with other species with a similar ecology.

Today, most of the holm oak and cork oak forests are hollow forests where the more or less isolated specimens still want to remind us of that passage of the squirrel that could cover the entire peninsula jumping from tree to tree. However, these dehesas are perhaps the best invention or discovery of man in the field of exploitation of nature.

The varied uses of the dehesa

Human action has been the main responsible for the reduction of the primitive forest which traditionally represented the dehesa. The modification of this for agricultural uses has consisted of clearing the forest with the consistent agronomic and forestry use of the fruit, firewood, wood or tree bark.

in the pasture uses have been promoted such as the practice of livestock and cultivation and activities such as hunting. One could say that the oak is as complete as the pig, from which everything is used. Curiously, the acorns, their fruits, are what give the sausages that aftertaste that makes them so appreciated. Not in vain, the qualifier ‘acorn’ indicates quality and exquisiteness.

On the other hand, the main use of the cork oak is for its outer bark or cork, which is used for many purposes, from plugs and insulation to making shoes and clothes. In addition, it constitutes an important economic alternative for many rural areas that incorporate cork farms.

The dehesa in Extremadura and in literature

Such has been the size of the meadow, that literature has made a show of it on many occasions, exalting her like no one else. To her oaks the writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno praised in this way:


“The serious oak
dark evergreen leaf
that feels immovable
the caress of the air.”

In the meantime, cork oaks are cited up to fifteen times in The Quijote. And of them, the Cordovan writer and diplomat Juan Valera dedicated these words:


“Among the rockroses, tamarisks, mastic and durillos, in the thickness of the rugged mountains, in the shade of the tall pines and cork oaks, brave wild boars and light roe deer and deer run…”

Dress the meadow with such praise, we could only wait for his solemn passage through the Holy Scriptures:


“Then Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt in the oak of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built an altar there to the Lord.”

(Gen 13,18)

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