Saturday, 3 January 2015

Plant Lists for the New Year

First flower of the year, Lesser Celandine in garden

It was only the end of last year that I heard about Tim Rich’s BSBI New Year “Plants in Flower” listings. It wasn’t until December that I heard about it, but I determined to give it whirl. I have been year-listing in various groups of organism since 1st January 1977, (there will be more of that in another blog shortly).

January 1st 2015 here in Sussex turned out to be a miserable, overcast and drizzly day. At the time, I thought that listing was confined to three hours on January 1st. I had noted Cymbalaria muralis in the centre of the village, and after finding five species in a garden, including Ranunculus ficaria, which I now evidently have to remember to call Ficaria verna, I had noted a few species on a roadside going to the local supermarket. After this, apart from stretches of dual carriageway verges between Worthing and Arundel, that I had noted in mid-December to be rich in plants still in flower, I had no prior information or plans.

With my wife driving to give me the best chance of seeing plants on verges, we set off for the stretch of road on the A27 between Worthing and Arundel. West Sussex County Council in their lack of wisdom for the requirements of New Year botanists, had mown all the verges to a maximum of one inch high. All I got between Burgess Hill and the A27 was Heracleum sphodylium, Petasites fragrans and considerable eye strain!

Eventually we found a lay-by on the A27, and with traffic whizzing past at high speed on the road, I set off to do some recording. The productive tall ruderal vegetation I had noted was now blackened by frost, and the vast majority of the plants I had seen just a fortnight earlier were now dried up, shrivelled and lacked any flowers. Things like Sonchus asper, Senecio jacobaea and Picris echioides were all gone. Walking the four hundred yards odd to the next lay-by where my wife had parked, I added just six species to my list. Not good! Time was passing. I decided to go down to the coast at Angmering in the hopes that the sea might have ameliorated the recent frosts, and all I added was Ranunculus repens. However frost damage did seem less.

Although I thought I had twenty five species, I had to remove Dactylis glomerata and Lolium perenne as the plants had no anthers, and Mistletoe which, at over fifty feet up in a tree, could not have been confirmed with the presence of its microscopic flowers! This reduced me to 22 species. This did not impress me, especially when I heard of botanists in West Sussex, and Tim Rich himself in Cardiff, achieving over sixty.

When I got home, I reviewed the day, and realised that I needed to be closer to the sea all day to minimise frost impact, and to include industrial sites with waste ground. Next year, I thought to myself, I must take this into account, and do a series of reconnaissance trips to be sure of the most productive areas to visit. I just wished I could go and do more surveying on the 2nd January. Later that evening, my wife who had been studying the internet, found that we actually had until January 3rd, and that we could do 3 three hour listings if we wanted, from different areas. We checked the weather forecast, and the next day was reckoned to be warm and sunny. We decided to go and list Eastbourne, and not start our three hours till we got there.

About twenty years ago, as a freelance ecologist specialising in botany, I had had a contract to study all potential areas of ecological interest in the borough. Of particular interest were areas surrounding beach huts, cliffs on which several exotic species such as Carpobrotus edulis had become naturalised, and most notably large industrial estates.

Parking anywhere near the extensive cliffs proved impossible. The whole world and his wife were on the road seeking coastal sunshine, and/or bargains in the shops. Most roads were at a standstill, and parking places were all full. So, beach huts next. What beach huts? I could find none. A brief stop to look at a recently established verge added five species, but as throughout Eastbourne, the vegetation had been razed to a maximum of one inch. With the desperate traffic, blinding sunshine to the south west, and the lack of potential for flowers, I began to become very frustrated. We left for my supposed industrial botanical paradise. We found an area with tall vegetation which was all quite dead. Weed killers had evidently been used.

A chap came over from an office.

“Are you lost? Can I help?” He asked. I explained what we were up to. He was very doubtful whether we would find anything in flower in the whole of Eastbourne at this time of year.

“My landlord insists I mow all the grass,” he told us, “And this place [the derelict warehouse we were parked beside] hasn’t been used for two years. It’s going to be developed and turned into a new supermarket site.” Well, if a derelict site was no good, how on earth could I expect anywhere else not to have been ruined botanically either by mowing or the use of a weed killer?

I did find one area of disturbed ground close to a railway in a housing estate. This added six species including Senecio sylvaticus, one of the best species of the whole two days.

We left this area, and tried a housing estate back from the sea with less traffic. It was botanically barren, and all we achieved was to join traffic waiting at a particularly time-consuming level crossing. A visit to a woodland park produced nothing, so we decided to try a churchyard to the north of Eastbourne where there was recently disturbed ground next to a rebuilt wall. In the event, the churchyard added five species including Primula vulgaris. Churchyards could be one possible answer for next January.

One problem I now have is what constitutes a species being in flower. I took it to mean if I could see any petals that had the colour of the expected flower. With just a recently shrivelled flower head, this could not be used. However, in the sort of weather we had had on the 1st, I recorded Stellaria media if white petal tips could be seen extending from the top of the bud. When year listing, I always count grass species if the head is green. This year, all I could see with anthers was Poa annua. Later in the year, the problem of recording sedges in flower would present a considerable problem. I guess sedges would have to be identified in fruit, and plants still in flower in the colony could be added.

Planning the three hours by doing reconnaissance during the year, and especially in the run up to Christmas is essential. Good industrial sites, well vegetated walls and fairly recently disturbed road verges with tall, ruderal vegetation should be productive. The best botanical sites and SSSIs will probably add nothing or next to nothing. Such vaguely competitive exercises are great fun, and get the participant to think ecologically, which is excellent. The two days in the field have taught me much, and weather permitting, I hope to be much more successful. If frost proved to be a problem, perhaps we’ll try and book into a Premier Inn somewhere in the West Country. Anyway, the most important aspect of this is that it has added a new, and enjoyable dimension to New Year’s Day. My bird list has taken second place for the first time since 1984!

These are what I recorded during the two days:-

1st January 2015

Garden in Ditchling, East Sussex

Ficaria verna (Ranunculus ficaria) Lesser Celandine
Euphorbia peplus Petty Spurge
Poa annua Annual Meadow-grass
Stellaria media Common Chickweed
Cardamine hirsuta Hairy Bittercress
Veronica persica Common Field Speedwell

In Ditchling Village

Conyza canadensis Canadian Fleabane
Cymbalaria muralis Ivy-leaded Toadflax

Approaching Burgess Hill, West Sussex

Taraxacum officinale Dandelion

Roadside Verge to Tescos, Burgess Hill, West Sussex

Bellis perennis Common Daisy
Corylus avellana Hazel
Achillea millefolium Yarrow


Petasites fragrans Winter Heliotrope


Heracleum sphondylium Sheep’s Parsley


Ulex europaea Gorse

A27 east of Arundel

Sisymbrium officinale Hedge Mustard
Senecio vulgaris Common Groundsel
Lamium album White Deadnettle
Tripleurospermum inodorum Scentless Mayweed
Picris echioides Prickly Ox-tongue


Erigeron karvinskianum Mexican Fleabane


Ranunculus repens Creeping Buttercup

2nd January 2015

All species total given second


Ulex europaeus Gorse
2 23 Capsella bursa pastoris Shepherd’s Purse
Bellis perennis Common Daisy
Poa annua Annual Meadow-grass
Veronica persica Common Field Speedwell
Senecio vulgaris Common Groundsel
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion
Stellaria media Common Chickweed
Euphorbia peplus Petty Spurge
Ficaria verna Lesser Celandine
Petasites fragrans Winter Heliotrope
12 24 Centranthus ruber Red Valerian
Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Conyza canadensis Canadian Fleabane
15 25 Aster novi belgii Michaelmas Daisy
16 26 Lamium purpureum Red Deadnettle
17 27 Matricaria discoidea Pineapple Weed
18 28 Senecio sylvaticus Heath Groundsel
19 29 Mercurialis annua Annual Mercury
20 30 Sinapis arvensis Charlock
Tripleurospermum inodorum Scentless Mayweed

Folkington, East Sussex

Heracleum sphondylium Sheep’s Parsley
23 31 Sonchus arvensis Smooth Sowthistle
24 32 Lapsana communis Nipplewort
25 33 Leontodon autumnalis Autumnal Hawkbit
26 34 Primula vulgaris Primrose

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The brief and glorious flowering of the Arctic summer

Salix polaris - the tallest shrub of the High Arctic
One of the major factors in enjoying the sudden blossoming of the Arctic is that it takes place over a very short period which can be unpredictable. Depending on the developing of the spring, it can occur at any time during mid summer from the beginning of June to about mid July. It is quite possible to visit an area that has a rich flora and find everything in full flower one year, to find that nothing has happened yet in another, or that everything is finished. An enormous advantage with the Arctic flora is, that if you hit it right, everything will be at its best. Although not technically in the Arctic, I am including some of the flora of Iceland in this account.

My first experience of the flora of the Arctic was close to the tongue of a glacier close to the ice cap of Vatnajökull in Iceland. I was accompanying a group as a botanist, and spotted a floristically rich area close to the road, and asked the coach driver to stop. For the next half hour or so, we studied an area of stable scree that supported a most interesting flora. I had actually spotted the Glacier Buttercup, Ranunculus glacialis from the moving coach and this was a species I particularly wanted to see. As well as this, we found specimens of the Arctic Poppy Papaver radicatum and a fine saxifrage Saxifraga cotyledon. On another occasion in the north of Iceland near Akureyri, an Icelandic lecturer friend of mine lent me his car, and I drove off some distance to a river valley to see the Arctic River Beauty Chamerion latifolium. What a superb plant, especially when growing in quantity. This is a most interesting element of the Icelandic flora in that it is Nearctic, occurring nowhere further east.

Ranunculus glacialis

Papaver radicatum

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Penguins, Great Characters of the Falkland Islands

It is impossible to meet the penguins who spend the summer on the Falkland Islands without being anthropomorphic about them. They are all such characters, displaying human-like behaviour and emotions, and all four species are very different. It is just so fortunate that during the whole of the Falklands conflict, they were far away and at sea. It is also very fortunate that being birds, penguins are light in weight, and are in no danger from land mines.
Gipsy Cove

When my wife and I visited the Falkland Islands, we first met penguins at Gipsy Cove, not far from Stanley. Since the conflict, it has not been possible to enter Gipsy Cove because of the danger of mines. However, a fenced footpath passes above the Cove that has regular posts warning of the danger of the mines (much of this has now been cleared I gather). The path runs straight through a Magellanic Penguin colony, and far from the fence being a protection from humans, several penguins nest within two or three feet of the path. We were introduced to one very special character who is affectionately known as Harold. He has been coming back to the same burrow for several years. He stands proudly at the entrance, perhaps three feet from his human admirers, and periodically announces his presence, and probable importance, with a racket that seems impossible to be produced from such a little fellow. He puts his head back, his flippers out and brays just like a donkey (a close relative of Magellanic Penguins that lives in South Africa is called the Jackass Penguin).

Harold standing proudly in front of
his burrow
Harold braying
That was fun, but haven’t we got dirty tummies
– hope no-one will be cross!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Plants of the Falkland Islands

A group of king penguins in a field of sea cabbage, Senecio candidans
A few years ago, my wife and I visited the Falkland Islands at the beginning of January. Although the human population is extremely British in both origin and speech, there are considerable differences between the way of life in the Falkland Islands and life at home. Although approximately at the same latitude as London, the lack of a Gulf Stream makes the weather much colder. The islands are greatly affected by strong winds coming up from the Antarctic. Quite naturally, the land is treeless out in the country. The Falklands are divided into farms rather than districts or villages. In order to access farmland other than by accepted public footpaths, it is necessary to contact the farmer who owns the land. Casual entry into a piece of countryside that looks interesting for plants is not possible.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Gardens in Tenerife in May 2014

There are several fascinating gardens in Tenerife. One of the most exciting, enchanting and beautiful to visit is the Orotava Acclimatization Gardens on the edge of Puerto de la Cruz. It was established as a result of the enthusiasm for plants and drive of the Marquis of Villanueva del Prado for species from tropical America in the late 18th and 19th centuries. It reached its heyday in the 19th Century when looked after by the great botanist Hermann Wildpret, after whom the magnificent Echium wildpretii was named. He was also honoured with the name Sonchus wildpretii, a particularly rare endemic species from La Gomera. Although the 19th century is reckoned to have been the zenith of the gardens, they are nonetheless a most important, and impressive place to visit today.

Gates at the old entrance to the Garden of Acclimatisation
The gardens are set in Orotava, which is a suburb of Puerto de la Cruz, the second most major town in Tenerife. An impressive gateway leads the visitor into the gardens, and immediately they must be impressed by a mature tree liberally festooned with Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides. This is not a moss or a lichen, in spite of its close resemblance to lichens of the genus Usnea. It is in fact a bromeliad and occasionally will develop tiny green flowers. Beyond the Tillandsia usneoides, a series of paths passing through gardens shaded by magnificent trees beckons. The plants in the gardens are well labelled, and range from Canarian endemic species, to New World plants that have survived since the time the gardens were first established.

Spanish Moss on the entrance tree

Tillandsia usneoides in flower, Wisley Gardens
A truly impressive specimen tree that cannot possibly be missed is a fine Banyan Tree. This tree is a member of the fig family. Flitting around this, and around many of the trees in the garden, may be seen examples of the several endemic birds that inhabit the Canary Islands. Close to the larger of the two ponds, a particular canary made fairly frequent visits while we were there, to a wall top, enabling some useful photos to be taken. The canary is a species of finch which, as a wild bird, is endemic to the Canary Islands and Madeira. The Canarian Chiffchaff, the Tenerife Kinglet and Afrocanarian Bluetit are special bird species which may also be seen. On the ground, the endemic Canarian Lizard may be seen scuttling to and fro. The males are especially impressive often being puffed up, and having a considerable amount of blue decoration. The endemic Canary Speckled Wood is also easy to see as it flits around the gardens.

The Banyan Tree

A canary

Canary Lizard

Canary Speckled Wood
It was a little disappointing that a pond which used to support a fine collection of Lotuses…(the “Water lily” rather than the bird’sfoot trefoil) had been dredged. During our most recent visit, a single pink flowered lotus graced the centre of the largest pond, with a terrapin lounging in the sunshine on a nearby leaf. The pond full of lotuses before it was dredged, also attracted a good range of attractive dragonflies.

The single Lotus in the largest pond today
Garden of Acclimatization pond in the past,
as it was before dredging
The gardens contain all manner of attractive plant species, and while we were there, we enjoyed seeing a pineapple in full flower, amongst other things. Several cheese-plant species may be seen climbing up walls and trees and form a particular collection in the covered walkway near the main entrance. These are often graced with their white flowers.

In the Garden of Acclimatisation
In the Garden of Acclimatisation
In the Garden of Acclimatisation

Philodendron giganteum
Two important Canary Islands endemics grow in the gardens. The first of these is another species of giant viper’s bugloss, Echium simplex. As a wild species, this is rare in Tenerife, and I have seen it on steep slopes near Chinamada. It is not quite as tall as Echium wildpretii, and has white flowers. Recently, it seems to be grown more frequently in gardens, and notably in company with the giant dragon tree at Icod. As a lichenologist, I carry a sheath knife for collecting specimens. Having seen and photographed Echium simplex at Chinamada, I was stopped, and all but arrested by the Guardia Civil in the Tenerife North Airport while attempting to make my way to Gran Canaria. The film with the Echium photos must have slipped out of my pocket, because I never saw it again. The second is Euphorbia atropurpurea. With its purplish flowers, it is more dramatic than many of the other endemic spurges.

Pineapple plant in flower

Echium simplex

Euphorbia atropurpurea

Aloe castanea

Strelitzia nicolai, Giant Bird of Paradise
Not far away from the Acclimitisation Gardens is an establishment called Bananeria which has also been worth a visit. Here a range of bananas are grown including some non fruit bearing species of Musa. The visitor can also enjoy, and buy liqueurs made from bananas. On this latest visit we were not able to visit and fear that it may have suffered in recent economic conditions.

A banana plant in flower
Another most exciting visit should be made to Icod de los Vinos, where the largest and currently oldest example of the Dragon Tree, Dracaena draco stands. It is known as El Drago Milanerio, the thousand year old dragon, however estimates of its age put it at around three hundred years and perhaps just a little more. Being a member of the monocotyledons, it does not increase in size by putting on annual rings of growth, so assessing its age is difficult. However, it is unlikely that it really is a thousand years old. To visit the tree closely is an expensive exercise, however close to a church that stands above the tree, fine views may be had of it from above. Of some interest is the presence of mature screwpines, Pandanus utilis some of which produce fruits. Like the dragon tree, it is not a pine, but a monocotyledonous tree.

Icod Dragon Tree

Echium simplex below the Icod Dragon Tree

The Screwpine, Pandanus utilis

Screwpine fruit
Another most important garden which is doing a wonderful job keeping Canarian endemic plants in cultivation is La Tahonilla Environmental Centre situated just outside La Laguna. Although not generally open to the public, we were given a warm welcome when we visit it. In serried ranks, pots of developing endemic plants are the first thing the visitor sees. However beyond these, there are some most attractive gardens on steep banks beneath trees where important Canary Island endemic plants can be seen and admired. I was particularly pleased to see members of the genus Lotus, and especially the very beautiful Lotus maculatus. Unfortunately well past its best, a few examples of the Canarian Dragon Lily, Dracunculus canariensis may be seen in flower beds close to the entrance. An endemic mallow Lavatera acerifolia near the entrance was another endemic I had never seen before.

Endemic plants being propagated in
La Tahonilla Environmental Centre
       near La Laguna

La Tahonilla Environmental Centre gardens

Lavatera acerifolia, an endemic

Dracunculus canariensis
The Canary Dragon Lily, a bit past its best!
The fine terraced gardens at Vilaflor which are home to fabulous displays of the very rare, and endemic Lotus berthelotii have already been mentioned in a previous blog. In the centre of Puerto de la Cruz, there is another series of terraces supporting some fine gardens which include ponds with lotuses in fine condition. In the past, there were glass houses here, and I took the chance to photograph Aristolochia gigantea which was very impressive.

The Gardens at Vilaflor

Pond with Lotuses in the Puerto de la Cruz terraced gardens

Bougainvillaea in the Puerto de la Cruz terraced gardens

Aristolochia gigantea

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Botanising the Canary Islands – La Palma and La Gomera

La Palma

Euphorbia canariensis - reminiscent of organ pipes
It gave me a considerable thrill as our plane descended into La Palma to notice the Canary Island Spurge growing on hillsides. It was in December 2002 when my wife and I made our first visit to the Canary Islands. We had been intending to go to India, but a period of intense internal religious conflict made that trip impossible. At very short notice, we needed to find somewhere for a holiday. A stunning photograph in a brochure of the Caldera de Taburiente decided us, we chose La Palma.

Our first experiences in La Palma were not as happy as they might have been. On the coach taking us to where we were to stay, I asked our tour operations representative about car hire. She gave the opinion that she doubted whether it would be possible. Our spirits took a further dive when the site of the hotel was indicated to us. It was a hotel with a beach, surrounded for miles by acre after acre of banana plantations. Luckily at the hotel reception, car hire presented no problems, so the next morning we had a car to take us around the island.

In many people’s eyes, looking for roadside plants while driving is far from a good idea, and my wife was strongly of this opinion. Although I was confident that looking out for endemics while negotiating tight, hairpin bends was quite safe, she was not. [She still isn't]

One species I did spot from the car in some quantity in an area of woodland was the orchid Habenaria tridactylites which was in fine flower.

Habenaria tridactylites
After I had taken a good series of photos, we drove towards the southern end, where the most recent volcanic activity on the island had taken place. The vegetation was just recovering on the black volcanic ash, and a plant I was particularly pleased to see was Ceropegia hians.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Tenerife: Visit to Las Canadas National Park

One of the most dramatic and rewarding experiences in Tenerife is a visit to Las Canadas National Park. This wonderful area is designated as a World Heritage Site. The whole park is a caldera that consists of the remains of a super volcano that collapsed nearly two hundred thousand years ago. Today, we think of the massive volcanic cone of Teide as being impressive; it is the highest mountain in Spain, but it is nothing compared to the original volcano that stood on this site.

A visit to Las Canadas National Park from Puerto de la Cruz starts with a drive through a large amount of suburbia. However, this can be interesting for the botanist. On a wall beside a suburban road, we found the Canarian endemic member of the stonecrop family, Aichryson parlatorei in excellent flower. Entering the edges of Aguamanza, and before reaching the pine forest, on the roadside verge were fine examples of the beautiful, purple flowered endemic Pericallis echinata and on the same verge was the endemic figwort, Scrophularia smithii.

Aichryson parlatorei
Pericallis echinata
On leaving the suburbs, the terrain begins to rise up towards the caldera through a zone of Canarian Pine Forest. The species of pine making up the woodland is Pinus canariensis and is endemic to the Canary Islands. Especially on Tenerife, it produces large areas of forest. Amongst other things, this habitat is home to the delightful and endemic Blue Chaffinch. As lichens are a group that I am particularly interested in, I was delighted to see a range of species that would never grow on pine in Britain, but are doing exceptionally well on the trees here. Species included the hairlike Alectoria sarmentosa and Usnea articulata which were surprisingly difficult to separate when growing together in Tenerife. Perhaps the greatest surprises were great cabbage-like bushes of Common Lungwort Lobaria pulmonaria and the delightful, bright yellow lichen Teloschistes flavicans. This latter is particularly rare in Britain, and is particularly pollution sensitive.

Canary Island Pine Forest
(Photograph: Amanda Davey)

Lobaria pulmonaria

Teloschistes flavicans – photographed on the Anaga Ridge
At lower levels, the flowering plant flora of the woodland is not rich, but as it opens out higher up, the verges especially support a wide range of species. These include the almost white endemic Sideritis oroteneriffae which seems to be restricted to a particular altitude zone in the higher part of the forest. Sideritis is another of those genera that has many endemic relatives in the Canary islands. Also seen here are Aeonium sedifolium and areas where the beautiful, if introduced, Californian Poppy makes a striking show. Another rather scarce little plant from this zone is Helianthemum juliae. The distinctive black triangular shapes at the base of the petals help to distinguish it from other rock roses. It grows amongst its much taller relative Cistus symphytifolius with its large pink flowers. In this same area, the close relative of Cistus symphytifolius occurs, but is rare and differs only slightly. This is Cistus osbeckifolius, a species that I looked out for hard, but failed to find.

Sideritis oroteneriffae

Aeonium spathulatum

Helianthemum juliae

Cistus symphytifolius
Once out into the open and arid countryside of Las Canadas Country Park, the main features are the dotted, bushy clumps of species such as the white Spartocytisus supranubius, the yellow Tolpis webbii and Adenocarpus viscosus. The white flowered Argyranthemum teneriffae is abundant, especially by the road, as is the scabious relative Pterocephalus lasiospermus. These are the main components of much of the flora of Las Canadas.


Road through Las Canadas
(Photograph: Amanda Davey)
Las Canadas Vegetation
(Photograph: Amanda Davey)
Argyranthemum  teneriffae

Pterocephalus lasiospermus

Spartocytisus supranubius
It is on approaching the base of Teide and the Parador that the most dramatic species of the area becomes such a feature. This is the endemic bugloss Echium wildpretii that is virtually restricted to Las Canadas in the world. Outside Las Canadas, and entering it from the south, it can be encountered just above Viraflor where Lotus bertelotii can be seen so well. Close to the base of Teide is the real home of Echium wildpretii, where its tall spikes can dominate the arid volcanic landscape.

Echium wildpretii
(Photograph: Amanda Davey)
One species I had particularly hoped to find is the endemic Viola cheiranthifolia. This delightful little plant grows amongst stones on the slopes of Mount Teide itself. Although I was given directions to a relatively low altitude spot where it was supposed to be, even scanning with binoculars I failed to find it. I had also hoped perhaps to see it in one of the gardens I visited, but this plant eluded me. Perhaps May is the wrong time of year for it.

In the past, there were gardens surrounding the Park Visitor Centre, where a number of the endemic species of Las Canadas could be seen. This included the rare Cheirolophus teydis with its pale yellow flowers. Cheirolophus is another important genus with several Canarian endemic species, and most are rather rare, and restricted in range. I have only ever seen this one in flower in September and October. This time I could not even see it in seed.

Cheirolophus teydis
Another blue flowered endemic with a very restricted range is Nepeta teydea. My experience is that it is restricted to a small area to the south west of Teide itself where it is easy to see on the roadside verge. Also growing in this area is the ordinary, but endemic Arrhenatherum calderae, a relative of our very common false oat grass. This one, however is extremely restricted in occurrence.

Nepeta teydea

Arrhenatherum calderae
No visit to Las Canadas would be complete without a chance to marvel at its volcanic splendour. At 3718 metres (12198 feet) Mount Teide is a high, and impressive mountain. At this altitude, it frequently retains snow on its upper reaches well into May. It is possible to ascend the mountain by cable car. More often than not, the view, although majestic, is a sea of white cloud far below, out of which emerge other members of the Canarian archipelago. Beneath the summit can be seen Teide’s Nostrils. These are the result of an eruption that was witnessed by Columbus as he sailed past Tenerife in the 16th century. The last eruption took place in 1909, and during one eighteenth-century eruption, the harbour of a fishing village (Garachico) on the north coast was dramatically filled with larva.

Teide’s Nostrils

Landscape dominated by volcanic lava
(Photograph: Amanda Davey)

Solidified lava flow near the base of Mount Teide

Banded volcanic ash near the edge of Las Canadas National Park

La Palma rising above surrounding cloud
Two features of particular importance are the dramatic lava flow that can be seen from the road close to the base of Mount Teide. A convenient car park allows the visitor to enjoy fine views of it. On leaving Las Canadas on one of the major access roads that heads to La Laguna, the road passes by a spectacular series of layers of ash ranging from white to almost black. Once again, there is a convenient car park here, and in suitable weather, which is frequent, the island of La Palma to the west can be seen rising from the surrounding cloud bank. One feature of Canarian weather seems to be that the Anaga Ridge, and Puerto de la Cruz are frequently smothered in cloud while Las Canadas National Park rises majestically above it.