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.