Some early accounts existed of the "(seven) islands of the Azores and two islands of Flores" (referring to the islands of Flores and Corvo), but no "official discovery" occurred until the mid-15th century. The island of Flores was discovered in the late summer of 1452 by the navigator Diogo de Teive and his son João de Teive, and first noted by the pilot Pêro Velasco to Christopher Columbus during his voyages. For his reward, Teive received the concession of the sugar monopoly on Madeira.
The earlier names of the island were São Tomás (after Thomas Becket of Canterbury, not to be confused with Saint Thomas, which in Portuguese is spelled Tomé) and Santa Iria (Saint Iria). The island's charter passed to Fernão Telles de Meneses when little was accomplished in populating the islands, except for disembarking some sheep (1475). The death of Fernão Telles (1477) was to initiate exploration and settlement on the island, as his widow (Dona Maria de Vilhena) would contract the Flemish nobleman Willem van der Haegen to explore Flores and Corvo.
After meeting with Dona Maria Vilhena (who administered the island in the name of her young son, Rui de Teles), Van der Haegen came to an agreement and moved to the island between 1480 and 1490. Van der Haegen had arrived in the Azores in 1469 and lived for a time on Faial Island by invitation of the first Captain of Faial, Josse van Huerter. Following disagreements with van Huerter over land holdings, Van de Haegen settled in Quatro Ribeiras, Terceira until journeying to Ribeira da Cruz on Flores during the reign of King John II. The historians Gaspar Frutuoso and Diogo das Chagas noted that Van der Haegen cultivated lands (primarily for wheat export) and was involved in the indigo/woad industry, as well as exploring for mineral deposits (likely silver). Due to its isolated location outside shipping lanes, its intemperate climate and infertile lands he left Flores 10 years later to resettle in Terceira, by way of São Jorge Island. At the time, the name of the island was Corvo.
According to Bartolomé de las Casas, two dead bodies that looked like those of Amerindians were found on Flores. He said he found that fact in Columbus' notes, and it was one reason why Columbus presumed that India was on the other side of the ocean.
By 1504 the island's charter passed to João Fonseca and settlers streamed through the port of Armoeira to the small hamlets. The island became permanently populated during the reign of King Manuel I, in the year 1510, by people from various regions of continental Portugal, but mainly from the northern provinces. The island became arable, and grain and vegetables were cultivated. Over the next centuries, the inhabitants lived in isolated parts of the island and were visited by vessels from Faial and Terceira which came infrequently to trade whale oil, butter, and honey for other products, or those caravels that stopped en route to Europe. Several of the main communities and local sites were named for settlers of this mid-century period, including Santa Cruz, Lajes and Ponta Delgada.
The name of the island of Flores has been made familiar to generations of English readers by the quotation: "At Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay...", which is the opening line of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's epic poem, "The Revenge, A Ballad of the Fleet". On 9 September 1591, a small English fleet of six ships under Lord Thomas Howard was anchored in the bay of Ribeira da Cruz in Flores, and was surprised by 53 ships under Alfonso de Bazán. The English ships were part of a naval patrol intended to intercept Spanish ships from the Americas and were under repair and re-provisioning when the Spanish ships appeared. Five of the English ships slipped out to sea to the west of Corvo, but the Revenge (under Sir Richard Grenville) waited for her sick crew, many of whom had an epidemic of fever, to be returned from the shore, then decided to go straight through the approaching Spanish lines from the east. Revenge fought the Spanish ships for fifteen hours, resisting multiple attempts to board her. Her fatally wounded captain eventually ordered her to be scuttled, ("Sink me the ship, Master Gunner — sink her, split her in twain! / Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain!") but her crew instead negotiated an honourable surrender. ("And the stately Spanish men to their flagship bore him then,/ Where they laid him by the mast, old Sir Richard caught at last,/ And they praised him to his face with their courtly foreign grace..."). The "Battle of Flores" as it was known culminated in the death of Grenville two days later and the Revenge became the only English ship to be captured during the Elizabethan conflict. But the ship never reached Spain; it foundered during a storm near Terceira and went down with 200 Spaniards, along with several other Spanish ships.
Despite the isolation, the waters of Flores were frequently raided by pirates. Sir Walter Raleigh the English privateer was one of the early profiteers; he captured, after a bitter battle, the Portuguese carrack Madre de Deus laden with tonnes of spices, precious gems, and pearls, equivalent to half the public finances of the English court. Unusual for its time, the Madre de Deus was three times the capacity of a normal English brig, and the pirates towed it to the port of Dartmouth rather than destroying the ship. The pirate Peter Easton, who commanded a fleet of 40 privateers, made Flores a regular port-of-call, provisioning meat, water and kindling for his travels and supposedly getting married to a daughter of the Captaincy of Flores. Doubly inconvenienced with the damages caused by this pirate's ships and with the complicity of local Florentines, Philip II of Portugal (Philip III of Spain) ordered, on July 30, 1611, the necessary means taken to capture Pirate, Admiral Peter Easton. He was never captured, although the local Florentine magistrate and Captain were arrested.
From the 1760s to the early 20th century, American whalers hunted sperm whales in the waters of the Azores, and many of the islands' inhabitants were recruited as whalers. The American whaler, Wanderer, operated off the coast of Flores between 1878 and 1924.
The CSS Alabama, an American Confederate States Navy ship, was the most prolific commerce raider in the waters off Flores, responsible for 69 sinkings in the course of two years beginning in the summer of 1862. Between 5 and 18 September 1862 it was responsible for capturing and setting ablaze the schooner Starlight, along with whalers off the coast of Flores.
The island's isolation has been remedied during the 20th century, first with the installation of telegraph services, then the establishment of Radio-Flores (1909), and later with point-to-point telephone communication (1925). Service between the island and the rest of the archipelago was handled by small sailing ships until the beginning of the century, with ships such as the 36-ton yacht Santa Cruz or 80-ton yacht Flores, until the latter was lost in the bay of Porto Pim, Horta, Faial during a storm.
In July 1962, the French laid the foundations for a missile tracking installation on the island, which was inaugurated in October 1966. In the following years, a hospital, a power station, and an airport were established, which brought a financial upswing to the entire island. After the French left the island in 1994, tourism became the island's dominant industry.
Flores, along with the island of Corvo, is situated on the American Continental Plate of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and belongs to the western group of islands in the Azores archipelago. Geomorphologically, the island is composed of two units:
The island developed initially from a submarine volcano from the Pleistocene epoch that constructed small calderas and numerous pyroclastic cones. Following a long period of quiescence beginning about 200,000 years ago, several young phreatomagmatic craters and associated lava flows erupted during the Holocene epoch, including two about 3000 years ago. The Funda de Lajes tuff ring formed about 3150 years ago, accompanied by a lava flow that traveled toward the southeast reach the area of Lajes. The Caldeira Comprida tuff ring in Caldeira Seca (west-central Flores) later, at about 2900 years ago, producing a lava flow that traveled towards the region of Fajã Grande.
Azevedo et al. (1986) divides the lavas and deposits into two major volcanic complexes:
During the summer, the island is covered with thousands of hydrangeas, which have large blue or pink flowers; this is the origin of the island's name (Flores is the Portuguese word for flowers).
The island has deep valleys and high peaks; Morro Alto is the highest place on the island, reaching an altitude of 914 meters, while Pico da Burrinha, Pico dos Sete Pés and Marcela are other high peaks on the island. Flores has several inactive volcanoes; Caldeira Funda last erupted in 1200 BCE, and Caldeira Comprida in 950 BCE. In many situations where water collected in volcanic calderas (or caldeiras in Portuguese), lakes formed: there are seven of these lakes on the island. The Águas Quentes are small hot springs of boiling sulfurous water. The Gruta de Enxaréus is an enormous cavern, about 50 meters long and 25 meters wide.
By the sea in the municipality of Lajes das Flores is Fajãzinha, a typical Azorean village that includes ruins of water mills. There one can also find the waterfalls of Ribeira Grande, of which there are at least 20. They drop from a height of three hundred meters, some directly into the Atlantic Ocean.
On May 27, 2009, Flores was chosen as one of the several areas to be included on UNESCO's list of World Network of Biosphere Reserves at the Man and the Biosphere Programme meeting held in Jeju, South Korea, along with the islands of Graciosa and Corvo. The program targets the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity loss and the reduction of this loss. It uses its World Network of Biosphere Reserves as vehicles for knowledge sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making with local communities.
On 13 October 2010, the Regional Secretary for Environment and Ocean (Portuguese: Secretaria Regional do Ambiente e Mar) declared that the Rocha dos Bordões would be given a regional monument designation as part of an overall plan of integrating the Flores Nature Park (Portuguese: Parque Natural da Ilha das Flores). The park is formed from the central plateau, descends in the northern coast and along the southern coast from Morro Alto, including the many lakes, ending at the Rocha dos Bordões. In the government's decision, the regional secretary included an area "especially rich in peet and humid zone vegetation" and in the extreme, the geological formation of the Rocha dos Bordões.
The microclimate of the forest park of Fazenda allows the development of a great number and variety of exotic species from all over the world. Under the Köppen climate classification, Flores Island has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa) that closely borders on an oceanic climate (Cfb). Its climate is largely influenced by the warm Gulf Stream and the surrounding ocean, resulting in a narrow temperature range and a wet climate. Winters are mild and rainy with a February average of 13.6 °C (56.5 °F). Summers are mild with the average temperature in August averaging 25.3 °C (77.5 °F) during the day and 19.1 °C (66.4 °F) during the night. Throughout the year, temperatures rarely exceed 30 °C (86.0 °F) or fall below 5 °C (41.0 °F). Precipitation is significant throughout the year, although summer months are drier than winter months (with July, at less than 2.5 inches the driest month on average) and there are 240 days with measurable precipitation. From November to February, average monthly precipitation is over 7.5 inches each month, with a peak in December, which averages 8.3 inches.
Due to the generally rugged landscape of the island, many of the early settlements developed along the flatter coastal lands. The few settlements that are located in the interior are only dotted by small homes or agricultural buildings. Administratively, the island of Flores is divided into two municipalities (concelhos in Portuguese), which in turn are composed of several civil parishes, with their own civil committees and administrative executives:
Santa Cruz das Flores, located in the north, has 2,493 inhabitants (2001 census), and includes the islands largest community (Santa Cruz das Flores), a community located on the eastern coast, and where the local airport, as well as the principal governmental services, primary and secondary schools, and regional health center are located. It comprises the following civil parishes:
Lajes das Flores, the southern municipality includes many of the natural landscapes of the island and is inhabited by approximately 1502 inhabitants (2001 census). The principal parishes are:
The economy of the island is mainly agricultural, with taro and grain cultivation the principal activities. Due to the early settlers being from northern Portugal, the island's houses and streets resemble those found there. Portugal has a military agreement with France permitting France to have a base in the region. Santa Cruz das Flores houses the only airport on the island. Its primary commercial seaport is located in Lajes das Flores. In Santa Cruz is located the ferry to Corvo Island, and to the south of the village commercial fishermen operate out of the Porto Boqueirão.
The island is serviced by the Flores Airport (IATA: FLW, ICAO: LPFL), a regional airport operated by ANA – Aeroportos de Portugal, and located in the centre of the parish of Santa Cruz das Flores. In fact, the airport is unique in dividing the parish in two: an area along the coast, separated by the airport, from the remaining residential homes and businesses along Monte and Pau Pique.
On 26 August 2012, the Regional Secretary for Science, Technology, and Equipment oversaw the requalification of 17 kilometres (11 mi) of regional roadways on the island. The public works were intended to upgrade many of the island's roads, considered the worst network in the Azores during the late part of the 20th century. An initial investment of 22 million Euros had recuperated 77 kilometres (48 mi) on the island prior to this, and 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) of roadways were proposed to complete the improvements to the region.
In addition to the traditional meat and fish dishes that are popularly Azorean, peoples of this island are traditionally known for a variation of meals that include: Papa Grossa, Sopa de Agrião, Cozido de Porco, Molhos de Dobrada, Inhames com Linguiça and Feijões com Cabeça de Porco, as well as producing a local cheese and creamy butter. The fishery is also the base of many interesting seafood meals: Caldeirada de Congro, Bonito Assado no Forno, and Pasteis de Ervas Marinhas, in addition to Atlantic lobster, Cavacos, Crab, Limpet and Barnacles.