Many of the forested habitats of Lebanon have been severely influenced by man. Over thousands of years many trees have been cut down and sheep and particularly, goats have grazed, reducing forest cover further. Indeed, except on the most steeply sided, and therefore inaccessible hill sides, natural wood land cover has been thinned, producing habitats of scattered trees, shrubs and ground covering plants. There are many names for such habitats, and there are no precise definitions, but as a rule of thumb, if you have to force your way between the shrubs you are in maquis, where as easier walking with bare ground between the undergrowth means you are in garrigue.
Despite the changes brought by man, and our domestic animals, these habitats are very rich in biodiversity. When walking through these areas two things strike you – one, the aromatic smells and secondly (often literally) the spines of many of the plants. Both are adaptations to reduce water loss and grazing. It is in these more open habitats that Lebanon’s wild flowers come into their own. With more light than under a wood land canopy, but with protection from desiccation of barren hillsides hundreds of flowers can be found, including the selection here.
With paper thin flowers Rock Roses (Cistus sp) come in a variety of colors.
A tiny selection of some of the wild flowers of the maquis and garrigue from top left to bottom right: Michauxia campanuloides, Ophrys sphegodes, Palestine Iris (Iris palaestina), Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) Common Asphodel (Asphodelus microcarpus) and the Crown Anenome (Anenome coronaria).
With the abundant flowers insects thrive, and so this is a great place to look for butterflies and other insects.
Looking like they come from Outer Space the mantids (above) are a common sight in these shrubby habitats. Each one perfectly camouflaged to match its own vegetation background; they stay motionless for long periods as they stalk their insect prey.
Plentiful plants and insects mean that there is a rich bird and reptile fauna.
Maquis and garrigue are rich in birds as there is plenty of food around for them, as shown by these species that use the habitat. The Green Finch (Carduelis chloris) top left, eats seeds, the Blackbird (Turdus merula) top right eats worms, small insects fruit and berries, the Bee Eater (Merops apiaster) bottom left, eats bees and wasps and the Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus) bottom right, eats larger insects.
Reptiles too thrive here and two of Lebanon’s most charismatic species can be found, either in the bushes or on the ground. The Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) bottom right, is a superbly adapted hunter of insect prey. It can stalk butterflies etc with slow deliberate movements, camouflaged against any back ground. When it is in reach its sticky long tongue shoots out to seize the prey, rarely missing. The Spur thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca) bottom left, on the other hand is an herbivore, laboring its way through the under growth to find herbs and grass to eat.