The Fanal Forest on Madeira Island, Portugal
© Val Thoermer/Alam
These laurels are hardy
Go back 15 million years and you'd find most of Southern Europe looking like this fantasy forest: thick, scrubby underbrush canopied by wizened laurel trees. An epoch or two of human agricultural advances cleared those ancient woods, but patches persist on a few temperate Atlantic islands—especially here on Madeira, a Portuguese-held island off northwest Africa.
The Laurisilva of Madeira, at almost 60 square miles, is the largest surviving laurel forest in the world. Ninety percent of the forest's growth remains uncut, and some of these long-in-the-root laurels have stood for 500 years.