Friday, March 30, 2012

Canary Island Pine & Palm (Tenerifie)

Visiting the places where common everyday landscape plants are native to is a real education booster towards your experience in Life as a gardener/landscaper

Image - ASU
In Southern California, you've all seen them. Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) Long and Leggy when young. Then they fill out a little later on as they reach maturity. Common in many commercial Landscapes as you can see below. Mostly they are a pine that can handle drought dry conditions with very little water and seem to fend for themselves once planted. What is also interesting is that so many shrubs, trees and other plants from the Canary Islands work out well in southern California. In fact probably before the Canary Island Pine took hold, the other native tree, Canary Island Date Palm had a great foothold as a landscape plant. Not only in the gardens, but public parks and as a street side tree.

So we see them everywhere in the arid landscaping regions of the west. Other than Torrey Pines (Pinus torreyena) they are one of those pines that can tolerate lowland conditions of arid climates. Especially so if they have a mycorrhizal symbiosis connect going on below the ground connected to their root system, but then this is true of most pines. Most pines we only think of as living high up in the mountains somewhere. Okay, so well maybe they do in the West that's how folk think. But in it's actual for real native habitat (not the local Nursery)  the tree endures, yet thrives in some of the nastiest soil I've ever seen in a high mountain environment. Yes, the Canary Islands have very large high mountains, volcanic mountains and an area still active. Here are some pics of their habitat and associated plants when we visited there this past February 2012.

photo: Mine

photo by Jose Mesa
Tenerife landscape with plant Echium wildpretii also know as tower of jewelsred buglossTenerife bugloss or Mount Teide bugloss.

As you can well see, the soil is absolutely nasty looking, or maybe not so fine, but it works for them. But to a gardener or  landscaper by no means. The soil however should tell you something about their requirements. Those pics are on the side and foot of a volcano cone which itself is in this giant super-volcano caldera the size of say the Southern Californian communities of El Cajon , Lakeside and Santee all put together. I've always wanted to visit the Canary Islands to see all of these native plants in their own environment where so much of our Southern California Landscaping material in the way of adaptable plants work for Southern California

Another one which is also rather historical as a landscape icon for So-Cal is Canary Island Date Palm ( Phoenix canariensis ) which is also a familiar site one So-Cal boulevards and landscapes, especially in the older nieghbourhoods. Take a look below of a much younger Date Palm. Though they are called Date Palm, the Canary Island Palm is not grown commercially for dates, but the birds love them. Behind my parents house we had a neighbour in the 1960s who'd pay me a quarter to sweep up the date pits by what seemed to be in the thousands all over his front porch and walk way. That tree is gone today. Very messy trees in the wrong place. But it was always a wildlife magnet for many many birds. Especially the Hooded Oriole.
One difficulty faced with having this tree in your landscape is they tend to be messy, especially if you have the female that produces those dates. It is also a favourite target tree for the native Hooded Oriole who love to nest in them because of the available palm frond fibers they use to weave into the most perfect sock-like nest. But other birds also like them, like pigeons and sparrows. But also The Hooded Orioles build these amazing intricately woven sock-like nests with deep pockets for rearing their young and they use the fibrous Palm Frond strands to accomplish this. Take a look.

Image by Juan Jose Ramos Melos The Palm Grove of Las Carvas

Image - (Michael Chen)
Here's what the Canary Island Date Palms look like in their native environment in the Canary Islands where they often grow on the steep mountainsides on clusters or groupings.
Get a load of this next picture below. It's a popular destination for tourists traveling on the steep scary narrow roads which look like film locations for those old James Bond chase scenes along the Mediterranean somewhere. This place is called Masca and when I first saw it, it reminded me of the Peruvian Andies Inca hideaway city in the sky Machu Picchu . We weren't able to stop because there was no parking, but We briefly double parked and took some snapshots and shots as we slowly drove past as we avoided being knocked over the edge of these insanely narrow roads by Public Bus transport. A little spooky, but kool at the same time.

Image - Lonely Planet
Here is a picture of the ancient high mountain Inca city known as Machu Picchu in Peru. See if you also agree that this setting seems almost identical to Masca in Tenerife. Well those are my thoughts on visiting sites where common plants we all use in the landscape come from. There's an entire gigantic natural world out there still waiting to be explored, not through the pages of National Geographic or Arizona Highways, where someone else explains the adventure but you can do it for real. Where I have really benefitted is seeing common Southern California landscape plants in their original natural habitats and getting a feel for their requirements and replicating these conditions for the benefit of a healthy landscape.


  1. I have also wanted to see the Canary's incredibly dry there and those plants that can survive really work elsewhere in the world. I lived on the Cape Verde islands. These are right below the Canaries and it was here that I discovered that our UA had a botany sector to help reforest these islands with native Arizona plants. Great post.

  2. Hi Roherbot

    That was actually my second trip to the Canary Islands. I'd love to also see the islands of Gran Canaria and La Palma one day. We always stayed in the city of Puerta de La Cruz on the north side of the island. The first time we visited we were on a sort of Swedish tour group , though it was flexible as we didn't have to go on recommended bus outings with the rest in the group.

    We did however take the bus trip up to the volcano the first time around and with each stop you only get arond 30 minutes max to walk around, take pictures and explore things in general. Our second trip(Feb 2012) we rented a car and it was well worth it. We went many places the bus couldn't and explored on our own at our own pace. I'll have to post some more pics and places later, but I do love being in the Canary Islands.

    I love all things hispanic when it comes to food, architecture, lifestyle etc. But I don't think I'll ever go back to Mexico as an American Tourist ever again. From what I read and see in the World News from over there it's insane. But that problem was a long time coming as a result of the type of historical governing as you know and it's not necessarily a unique problem of Mexico either. Most of those Latin Countries from Mexico on down to South America have their own issues over the years and for the same exact reasons. However, unlike other Latin cultural environments which have the extreme poverty and drug gang cartel culture, etc, you don't really see any of this in Tenerife. Not that it probably doesn't exist, as everywhere has it's problems. But the filth and degraded urban areas don't exist there. Everything is fairly clean looking and beautiful as far as decorative housing, gardens parks, city streets etc. Things are exceptionally clean and neat as a pin, something that does not characterize other Latin country visits.

    It's worth going for a visit.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. You asked for information about African acacias.
    I always thought our invasive pines were stone pine from the Mediterranean.

  4. Thanks Elephant

    I remember seeing a documetary on CNN up here in Sweden. I was certain they were Pinus canarensis, maybe I was wrong. Never the less they seemed to be taking away water from the native species. Now I'm wondering what mycorrhizal fungus has colonized them to make them so successful.

    In Australia and New Zealand, they actually had to bring in Pisolithus tinctorius fungal spores in order to get the Montery Pines and douglas fir trees to grow successfully.

    Thanks for the link - Kevin

  5. Interesting post on the pine trees and the Canary Islands. I have seen similar pines in California. In my area we have tall pines called Virginia or Scrub pines. It is cool to see the hooded orioles and their nest. The view and scenery shot is gorgeous. I did not expect such scenes in the Canary islands, very nice. Great post, I am glad I found your blog.

  6. Thanks Eileen

    I have been to the Canary Islands twice. I think our next visit will be to the island of La Palma, which is not as busy and Touristy. There are a couple islands that are more like the desert (like maybe Gran Canaria in parts), which kind of works for me since I love deserts. The south side of Tenerife is more desert-like.

    This part of the three blogs deals in more fun light hearted things to do and enjoy!

    Thanks for coming by.


  7. I have a Canary Island Pine in the sandy loam, river bottom soil of Burbank. It is over 20 years old and keeps on growing. It must be over 90 feet tall and it is the highest thing in blocks. The water table is probably down 50 feet, so the tap root must be getting water from there. In a drought year it doesn't grow much. In a wet year, it grows at least another 5 feet. Oh when will it ever stop growing? It is becoming a monster. Fortunately the roots go deep and no surface root problem. Never had the tree pruned. It really likes it here. I don't water the lawn much(because the grass grows and I have to mow it), so it must be getting the under ground water that the city wells get.

    1. Interestingly, on Tenerife and other Canary Islands where they create large woodlands, the rock is extremely porous volcanic rock and rain is often scare as they have had drought the last several years. Water is a major issues on all the Canaries. So the root system must also be augmented with an incredible infrastructure of mycorrhizal networkings.

      Interestingly, they are also one of the few conifers which do not die in fire, but re-sprout from the trucks and branches after being burned from fire.


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