Formentera is the Mediterranean's best-kept treasure, the last paradise. Despite the rise in tourism and its small size, it's packed with Mediterranean vegetation. Its plants and wildlife vary from north to south and from east to west.
Visitors are surprised that an island covering just 83 square kilometres that can be toured perfectly by bike has such a wide range of environments, with lagoons, beaches with dune systems, cliffs and rocky coastlines.
The savin juniper, which dates back 270 million years, is the tree that reflects the spirit of Formentera. It's a small, slow-growing tree found in dry, rocky soils, that flowers between February and March and produces both top quality wood and resin. In the past, when materials from the mainland didn't reach the island, the people of Formentera used juniper to make beams, doors, window frames and all kinds of other traditional items, making the most of its properties. Juniper is a very tough wood, which doesn't rot and isn't attacked by insects because of the resin.
The juniper grows alongside typically Mediterranean trees like almonds, carob, olive, vines and fig. The fig tree is the one that amazes visitors the most because of its size and shape. Fig trees often grow in groups, usually isolated in the middle of the countryside or in a field of crops, and you can sometimes see sheep taking advantage of the shady spot under their branches on a hot summer afternoon.
Their traditional ‘estalones’ (sticks supporting the branches and making them grow horizontally) make them a perfect place to shelter from the sun.
In terms of shrubs, like in any Mediterranean climate, the most common are rosemary, thyme, mastic, juniper and grey-leaved cistus.
In the wetter parts of the small island of Formentera, such as in the Estany Pudent lagoon, you can find rushes, ‘solseres’ (samphire) and large expanses of meadowland. And of course, around the island's country houses there's no shortage of prickly pear and agave.
In terms of wildlife, the iconic creature of the island of Formentera is a lizard, very common all over the island and with its own particular rainbow of colours ranging from the bright green of the sea through to light brown. It's not the only reptile, as it's joined on insect hunting trips by the gecko and the common bearded dragon.
Other wild animals inhabiting the island include rabbits, hedgehogs and bats. The most common birds are sparrows, goldfinches and greenfinches. There are very few birds of prey, just the common kestrel hunting by day and the owl at night.
In the countryside you'll find more or less the same birds as on the mainland, including quail, partridge, hoopoe, migratory birds like swallows and swifts and, as you might expect with so much coastline, an abundance of sea birds, especially seagulls and cormorants. On the cliffs, if you're lucky, you might spot the Balearic shearwater, a species endemic to Formentera with a current population of around 3,000 breeding pairs.