Friday, May 12, 2017

Early California Landscaping with Canary Island Natives

Plant Profiles: Lotus Berthelotii, Pinus canariensis, Phoenix canariensis, Arbutus canariensis, etc, etc, etc, etc.
Image - Kelly MacDonald (June 2009)

Lotus maculatus 'Amazon Sunset'

Image -
This Parrot's Beak Flower was classified as exceedingly rare early on since 1884 and is believed my many to be extinct in the wild. But some isolated small populations are believe to be still be alive.  The plant is native to the Canary Islands (Tenerife) and believed to have been originally pollinated by sunbirds which have long gone extinct. Aren't humans everywhere wonderful ? If anything can be said about the origins of human ancestry, our first common parents endowed us with inherited stupidity when making many decisions.  Experiments have been done to see if the flowers could have found new pollinators but, as of 2008, none of these experiments have been successful, but some more recent work has shown that these plants could be adequately pollinated by non-specialist flower visiting birds, like the Canary Islands chiffchaff (Phylloscopus canariensis). Most cultivated plants do not set seed. This could be a plus in one sense in that they would not escape into the wild elsewhere. But my first experience with this plant was when I first saw them many years ago in Balboa Park, San Diego where the plants were in huge hanging planters along it's central promenade. They were beautiful and striking. At my mum's place I used them along a retaining wall for trailing down. They did fine until her insanely hyper weiner dog (Dachshund) ripped them out. Stupid dog. At any rate, these are wonderful plants for all types of setting in Southern California. But most people have no idea of their historical endemic origins in the Canary Islands.

Image -

Image - My Photo (2012)
The map above shows where the shaded areas in red where there are two possible locations where this plant may still exist in the wild. These locations are very isolated and I can understand why they prefer the secrecy as to location. This plant was almost collected out of existence as far back as 1884. Hard to believe isn't it ? The photo at right here is our vacation to Tenerife in Feb/Mar 2012. The highway is TF-12 and is in the red shaded area location on the above map in the upper right corner. We pulled over at a small bus stop because there are few pullouts anywhere on these very old highways. The plant community areas here in this part of the island are known as, "Laurel Forests," and they remind me of those high temperate mountain areas of Columbia where Coffee is grown at higher elevation than the tropical areas at lower elevations. The other area on the left side of the map is the same region as that tourist hotspot called, Masca, which I have referenced before in another Tenerife post. Both areas have remote steep access which is why the plants have been safe. However there are goats running wild over this island and inaccessibility is not a problem for them. This is why the other issue for the Parrot's Beak decline was mentioned as herbivore predation.
Interesting References about Parrot's Beak & it's Natural Habitat on Tenerife, Canary Islands
 Sea Lavender (Limonium perezii)
Image By Frank Landis (CNPS - San Diego)

Found in numerous San Diego and other Southern California gardens and landscapes, who hasn't seen this plant known as Limonium perezii, Perez's sea lavender (pictured above), which some consider these sea lavenders a weedy invasive which has easily naturalized along the Southern California sea coast. There are only about 350 plants of it left in the wild, all growing on a steep slope on the island of Tenerife in the Canaries. Sad really and the same identical fate as the Parrot's Beak above.
Image - Pacific Bulb Society

With this next flower I really have to provide someone else's photo because where we first saw it, this flower was always on the north side of Tenerife on those super narrow switch backs and curves with no pullouts. They need more moisture than is available on the more desert south side of the island, so the Laurel Forests work better for them. The plant's common name is Canary Island Bellflower. It's a scrambling vining type of plant which often covers or scrambles over other shrubs. This is similar to plants like the native clematis which scramble over chaparral shrubs in Southern California. It is also identical in habit to Southern California's native wild cucumber vines which go dormant in summer and resprouting every year from a large cluster of tuberous root system. It likes full sun in an open soil with lots of humus, but it is frost sensitive, not liking temps over 75-80 degrees fahrenheit (21-23 C). It would do best along the coast of Southern California, but not inland. Incredibly it also grows a small edible fruit, although I've never seen this. I'll leave a couple of references on it below:
Bellflower References: - Bellflower Gallery CANARINA+CANARIENSIS
Canary Island Madrone (Arbutus canariensis)
Image -

Image - National Arboretum Canberra
Most people in California would know of the state's native Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii). But the Canary Islands haave their own, probably more related to the Medierranean native Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) which is actually sold in Southern California home improvement centers like Lowes or Home Depot. The native California Pacific Madrone would never really make it in the Southern California urban landscapes. I think it's just too hot and dry and they do better in the cooler moister habitats to the north from Central California all the way up to British Columbia. This would make the Canary Island Madrone or Spain's Strawberry Tree far more ideal. In fact one of the best places for success in a commercial landscape I have ever seen is in Santee California at an elementary school on Cuyamaca St just below the School District office headquesters. There are about six or more large trees in front of the school next to the parking lot. Big bright deep red smooth trucks like that of Manzanita. I actually purchased one a couple years back and planted it at my mum's place in among the volunteer Canary Island Pines which was the result of Canary Pine mulch I brought in from work to spread around my Tecate Cypress setting. I allowed them to grow because I had to replace some Tecate Cypress which were blown over in a windstorm. But the Strawberry Tree is doing wonderfully when I placed it next to the back patio among the California Spicebush (Calycanthus occidentalis). Below here is a link to an Australian website where they offer sound advice for proper care of the Canary Island Madrone:
Image - Mine (2015)

Image 2015
This flower on our February 2015 trip was a wonderful surprise and one I probably would have missed were it not for the Springtime blooms because we went in February. It caught my eye because it looked so strikingly familiar to the Cleveland Sage blossoms I am accustomed to in San Diego county in California. This is the native Canary Island Lavender (Lavandula canariensis). It's different than the other Lavenders in that it has a milder fragrance and it's leaves tend to look a bit fern-like in appearance. This plant was everywhere and added to the familiarity of springtime chaparral blooms I grew up with in San Diego county. I would imagine like most Lavenders, it would do well not only for good attractive landscape plants, but also a beneficial insect predator pollinator. 

Image - Mine (2015)

Image - Mine (2015)
This shrub's common name is called in English, "Canary Island Sorrel," in Spanish it's called, "Vinagrera," which refers to it's vinegar flavour. The scientific name is Rumex lunaria. First time I saw it several years ago among the fringes of Canary Island Pine woodlands and down further in elevation among the cacti and succulents, it looked very much at a distance like Manzanita of Southern California. But as you can see close up it's much different. This is a Canary Island rarity which is endemic to the islands & this one's also medicinal! The roots are used in tinctures for respiratory issues, while the juice from its succulent spoon shaped green leaves has been used to relieve insect bite irritation & clearing up stuffy noses. Found on all of the Canary Islands growing on rough rocky volcanic soil hillsides, which means it's a super tough choice for wild rocky soils. Growing to 3' tall & wide multi-branched sprays of white flowers occur in Spring & aging to gold then a lovely deep shade of rustyness. There's not a lot of info about growing this plant available out there other than what I read from a conversation between two islanders (one from La Palma and the other from Tenerife). Cuttings are hard to get going and seed seems the only option.

Image -

Sam Mateo Gran Canaria - Almond trees in bloom

Image - Mine (Feb 2015)
These Almond trees in bloom caught my eye on my last trip. I suppose I had never noticed them on previous trips because it was later past the bloom season in late March and they had finished their blooming. But this tree beig here in the first place was spectacular. Unfortunately in many of the areas I drove our car on the way somewhere else in through the steep mountainsides in rugged country, I was unable to pull out anywhere because many of these extremely older narrow highways had not turnouts again. There was just no place to stop safely to photograph whole hillsides where the Almond trees have naturalized and moved up steep mountainsides. I use the term naturalized, because although they are present, they are not likely native and again brought in and introduced by the Spanish when they first colonized these islands in the 1300s. Almond trees are one of those well known middle eastern trees.  

Teide Volcano and Orotava valley, Tenerife Canary Islands

This is another well known iconic tree in Southern California, the Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis). This tree is one of the main reasons I  ever had the desire and motivation to visit the Canary Islands in the first place. I'm always interested in seeing any kind of tree, shrub, perennial or annual in it's native wild native habitat. For me it provides a mental glimpse of what the conditions and requirements are for caring for the plant in an urban landscape setting in SoCal. I've actually written about this tree and it's fire ecology and rainfall attracting importance to these islands, so I won't provide many more details here. You can read about this from the link below:
Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) Ecology of Fire & Water

Photo by Darren Sears (Environmental Landscape Architect)

Canary Island Date palms in the Valle Gran Rey

Los Angeles Urban Forestry Division
This is yet another major Canary Island native which is another one of those historical iconic trees which lines many of Southern California Boulevards and other roadways, especially in San Diego's and Los Angeles' oldest neighbourhood locations. This is another one of those trees I grew up with and saw first hand. In our neighbour behind our home in El Cajon, the Dreybus family, had one large Canary Island Date Palm right in their front yard. I earn a whole 25¢ for sweeping up their porch back in the early 1960s. Next day it would be a mess all over again. While I find them attractive, they are often very messy trees with all those dates. People don't really eat them, but birds love them. I think it's not only the messiness that turns landscapers off to inserting them into today's modern landscapes, but also the tricky maintenance of trimming these very long palm fronds. The difficult and sometimes dangerous part is near the base of the frond where the frond is attached to the trunk. The usual feather leaves are actually sharp spikes or daggers here. You get stuck by one of those and you'll experience pain for weeks. One of my landscapers who was a tree trimmer by previous profession had one long frond fall and the base end swung down and hit his heavy leather construction grade boot and the needle injected itself into the boot. His foot swelled up and he was out of action for a month.

Canary Island Date Palm-King of the Dates
Canary Island Cacti & Succulent Plants
Image - Teresa Farino

Image - Alflo Cloffi - Crassulacea
There is not much I can say in detail about the Canary Island cacti & succulents except to say many of the succulents you find in Southern California come from these amazing Canary Islands. Often times when I was in San Diego County, I'd go to the Del Mar Fair and at the landscape displays there they would exhibit a coral reef theme made up of entirely different types of succulents and unusual cacti among volcanic rocks. And yet it's this part of the world where many of those plants come from. I never spent a lot of time researching succulents from here, different varieties and their names, photography, etc. There was never enough time. There's so much to see here and not everyone I am with when I visit here is as obsessed with plants as I am. But I'll provide this link which describes their habitats, names and how they can be used in the landscape. The one on the right here may be recognizable to many.
Succulent Plants Grown in the Canary Islands
Some of the Unwanted Plants from the Canary Islands
Image Tom Chester
Tom Chester of Fallbrook California has written about one such plant which is invading the deserts of the Southwestern United States like Anza Borrego State Park. Without further comment you may read about it here: (Volutaria_canariensis)
Another Iconic tree for honorable mention
image - Peter D'aprix photography, Ojai CA

Image - Ken Harris - Australia
This tree's common name is known as California Pepper (Schinus molle). This is neither a native to California nor is it native to the Canary Islands. But I give it honorable mention here because of it's historical presence in both California and the Canary Islands. Spanish Missionaries no doubt are the ones responsible early on for it's introduction to both locations. I grew up on Pepper Drive area of El Cajon California, even went to Pepper Drive Elementary School across from my house. Both street and school are anmed after this Pepper tree. It can naturalize, but rarely a pest invasive like it's other South American cousin which I dislike. The Brazilian Pepper seems to require more water than the Peruvian or California Pepper. That may be what keeps the California Pepper in check. The Brazilian Pepper is spread by birds who love the pepper corns. Especially will you notice young saplines along fence rows where the birds poop. If you have a chain link fence, you need to immediately eradicate the pepper seedling as the Peruvian will be multi-trunked and destroy the fence. They are hard to get rid of because even a small piece of rootsystem left behind will sprout. It can be a landscaper's nightmare. California Pepper will also need periodic pruning because it want to sprout from the entire trink from ground up. Stil it does wonderfully in hotter drier interior valleys of SoCal and once established needs no water. 
image -

San Miguel de Abona in south Tenerife
I could easily live in Tenerife or any of the other place in the Canary Islands. I could leave home, move there and never look back. The familiarity is so strong. It's the hispanic influence and architecture and especially the native plant community there. But also other Mediterranean and sub-tropical plants like Bouganvilla, Plumerias, Papaya, Mango, Yuccas, Prickly Pear Cactus, Banana Plantations, etc, etc, etc. Also charming is the quaint little towns and the outstanding cleanliness everywhere, something I am not use to seeing having lived in and around Latin America much of my life. There are no filthy shanty towns. The fear of criminal activity doesn't exist there (not that it doesn't) and the insanity of all these modern day rent-a-riot protesters which plague the USA now and Europe for even longer don't seem to be there. Well, maybe that's all changed now like everything else across the planet. But at least Southern California landscapers can appreciate a little better some of the history of plants they use in their landscapes and where they originally came from when the Spanish discovered California.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Gee, what a surprise. Another Spammer with a phony comment and from India pimping a worthless product or service. You've been reported to Google.


Thanks for visiting and for your comments!

I will try to respond to each comment within a few days, though sometimes I take longer if I'm too busy which appears to be increasing.