France, Spain, Andorra
The Pyrenees form an almost unbroken
mountain chain from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean
creating a natural geographic barrier between France and Spain. The mountain range is about 400km long and has more than 270 summits over 3,000m. The geology is complex with sharp ridges on the main divide where granitic extrusions have thrust through more easily eroded sedimentary rock. However limestone and resistant schist form many of the highest peaks; Monte Perdido at 3,355m is the highest limestone mountain in Western Europe.
The climate of the Pyrenees is as diverse as the geology. The Atlantic is a major influence at the western end, pushing cool, moisture laden air streams far inland along the northern slopes in France. The high pressure systems of the Mediterranean influence the climate of the east end of the range and rainfall decreases to the east. The southern flanks of the Pyrenees are in rain shadow and experience hot, dry air drifting up from Spain.
The varied landscape, complex geology and diverse climate support a rich variety of alpine flora. There are many species in the Pyrenees that are also found in the Alps but with higher average temperatures and the isolation of the range there are about 180 species that are endemic.
Because of the rainfall disparity between the some of the dry Spanish slopes and the much wetter French side of the range, the plants in one country are often very different to those at a similar altitude on the other side of the border. There is also a marked change in vegetation from west to east with the drier climate nearer the Mediterranean.
Some notable Pyrenean endemics are illustrated below. Some of these plants are also found in the Cordillera Cantabrica to the west. A selection of alpine flower hikes in the Pyrenees can be sampled by following the links above to the hikes and featured plants.
Useful external links:
El Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido
Flora of Pyrenees Orientales
Daphne cneorum var. pygmaea
Saxifraga pubescens ssp. iratiana