With Covid restrictions preventing us from travelling beyond our own province, our options for leisure activities are more limited, but this does give us the chance to see the place in which we live in a different way and discover things we had never noticed before. Normally, as we walk or drive we are thinking of where we are going and not particularly enjoying the journey, but our urban ecosystems contain some hidden treasures and unexpected curiosities.
Parks and gardens, for example, are nice places to visit and are good for physical and mental health, but they are also a haven for numerous woodland birds.
One tree which is particularly interesting in the urban environment is the silk floss tree, which can be seen in Avenida Ricardo Soriano and the Parque de la Constitución, for example, and also on some of the roundabouts in the town where it stands proudly. It is sometimes known as the bottle tree, because of the shape of the trunk. It is striking to look at because the trunk and branches have thick prickles to deter animals from climbing up, and it has spectacular pink flowers.
Antonio Figueredo, of the Marbella Activa association, says there is something even more unusual about it: "If you look at the trunk of one of these trees you might see that it is green, and that is because this is one of the few species with a high chlorophyll content, so it can perform photosynthesis through the trunk as well".
Both Marbella and San Pedro might seem to be full of ornamental palm trees, but not all are what they seem. In fact, some of them are not even palms.
"Some of the ones along the Paseo del Mar are this type. They are called sago palms, but they are not palms and are considered living fossils because they inhabited the Earth even before the dinosaurs," says Antonio.
"It is a very basic form of life on a botanical level and has nothing to do with palm trees".
On the subject of plants that are not what they seem, José Luis Casado, the president of the San Pedro Alcántara 1860 association, tells us that "on the corner of Avenida de la Constitución in San Pedro, there is an ombú, or bella sombra, and it is a magnificent example of something that, surprisingly, is not a tree at all but a herbaceous plant," he says.
Also in San Pedro, in Avenida Pablo Ruiz Picasso, "there is a ginkgo biloba, or maidenhair tree, a species which is said to hold the secret of eternal youth," says José Luis. "It's in a private garden, but you can see it perfectly from the street outside".
The ginkgos, with their leaves resembling small fans, have a resistance that makes them almost immortal. As an example, several of this species survived just a few kilometres away from where the Hiroshima atomic bomb exploded.
As well as a stroll through the streets, walking in parks is another urban pleasure. In La Alameda you can't help but notice some huge banana trees and three monkey-puzzle trees, tall conifers that tower above the rest of the other plants. These are the oldest examples in the park, since it was remodelled. It used to have numerous black poplars, a species called álamo negro in Spain, which is where the park got its name. The only feature that remains from that period now is the fountain on the eastern side.
Look up to the sky
The Parque de la Constitución, Marbella's other green space, has a mass of vegetation and is a paradise for birds. "We like to call it the cosmopolitan wood," says Antonio Figueredo, "because you can see birds from all five continents there. One of the most unusual is the common firecrest, which only measures nine centimetres and weighs just six grammes".
If you pay attention and listen carefully, you might even hear a tawny owl, a nocturnal bird of prey which has also been spotted in Vigil de Quiñones and the San Bernabé cemetery.
The town is also home to birds like starlings, who find it a good place to rest and keep away from predators, although it must be said that raptors like booted eagles and Bonelli's eagles seem to find pigeons an easy prey. Soon the swifts will be arriving, born fliers who are very beneficial because they are insectivores, eating while in flight, and they like to use our buildings to build their nests and raise their young.