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Palms of Tenerife

Michael A.F. Carter, 52 Golden Avenue, West Kingston, N. East Preston, Littlehampton, West Sussex BN16 1QX

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Left: Roystonea palms and Elephant Topiary bushes at the entrance to Lono Parque
Right: Coconuts by the Lido area of Puerto de la Cruz

Tenerife, one of the largest of the Canary Islands, has a number of features of great interest to plant lovers. Situated at the centre of the archipelago off the coast of North Africa, its southerly location at around 28 north and oceanic position, guarantees year round sunshine and frost free conditions at sea level. However, the cold Canary current driving North Atlantic seas down from more northern climes ensures that the island remains cooler in the summer than could reasonably be expected at this latitude. Consequently although a typical mean temperature in January is around 16°C/61°F, this rises in August to 24°C/75°F only, considerably less than much of the Mediterranean countries lying significantly further north.

Another feature is the dryness of the interior and South and West of the island, owing to its proximity to the Sahara and mountainous terrain in countries to the North and East, which receive limited rainfall from the prevailing Trade Winds. Within an hour's drive it is possible to go from lush banana plantations and vineyards to near desert conditions therefore.

Lastly is the impact of altitude. The islands, which are volcanic, have risen from the ocean floor many millions of years ago with corresponding numerous high peaks. In Tenerife this feature is even more extremely demonstrated than on the other islands, with Mt. Teide ñ a brooding volcano rising to 12,2000 feet above sea level.

Tenerife shares with its neighbours, a number of famous native trees. Probably the most widely planted world-wide, ornamental for temperate and sub-tropics is Phoenix canariensis, the Canary Island Date Palm which appears everywhere at the lower levels. This magnificent palm of course flourishes widely, but huge specimens can be particularly appreciated in the town square of the market town of La Orataura, along the fertile north coast valley of the same name. In the area too can be seen the famous Canary Dragon Tree, Dracaena Draco, with a specimen at nearby Icod, claimed to be 3000 years old.

Further up the slopes appear forests of the beautiful Canary Island Pine, Pinus canariensis. Indeed a must for any visitor is a drive by escorted bus taking 2 to two and a half hours from the coast to around 7,000 feet up Mt. Teide. The journey literally commences beside African Flame Trees and Frangipani and finishes above the tree line. A trip which would normally cover 30 to 40 degrees of latitude! I noted that the last part of the journey saw (presumably introduced Blue Atlantic cedars, from the Atlas mountains, take over from the pines to the to the winter ski slope. Seeing these Cedars capable of growing at this height resistant to fierce winds and intense sunlight in the rarified atmosphere is truly breathtaking.

I visited the Canary Islands several times in the 1970's. I recall in addition to the Canary Island palms, the ubiquitos Washingtonia, a single large coconut , Cocus nucifera in Las Palms on Gran Canaria and a few Howea palms in Northern Tenerife. In summer 1999, however, I was fortunate to return to Puerto de la Cruz, a major resort on the northern green coast of Tenerife, for a holiday. I was intrigued to see whether the continuing rise of the vacation industry has triggered a more adventurous range of ornamental palms capable of thriving in this benign climate. I knew for example that in this resort a single Lido swimming pool area had now been superseded by a series of artificial volcanic ringed lagoons complete with waterfalls, large fountains for bathers to overcome the lack of natural beaches and in the resorts, yellow Sahara sand had been shipped in to improve 'Mother Nature'.

I was not to be disappointed. Cocos nucifera was now planted everywhere at sea level, as were Howea forsteriana Caryota species, Syagrus romanzoffiana, Archontophoenix cunninghamiana and Roystonea palms. The general effect in some resort areas, like Puerto de La Cruz is that of a mini Caribbean or Hawaii.

Two specific sites are of particular interest to plant fanciers, viz. The Botanic Gardens at Puerto and the Loro Parque Theme Park. The Botanic Gardens, and indeed the surrounding suburbs, called El Boltanico, are a must with Flame Trees, ornamental ponds and tropical trees of immense size with trunk-like aerial roots. The collection of palms and tree ferns in this 200 year old garden, is immense with everything from the West African Oil Palm, Elaieis guineensis, through to the Trachycarpus species. The entire length of one side of the garden is taken up with planted out individual specimens of palms, each one representing a different type to its neighbour, with various members of the same family planted in proximity, allowing contrasts to be readily made.

One further surprise was the Loro Parque Zoological/Botanical Theme Park situated near the coast on the other side of Puerto de La Cruz. The park was founded by the German naturalist Wolfgang Kiessling in late 1972 to house a collection of rare parrots. Today it has been expanded to an area ten times its original size and now houses more than 800 species and sub-species of the parrot family, plus many mammals, including chimpanzees, tigers, gorillas, plus dolphins and reptiles etc. The viewing areas, laboratories, restaurants and transport facilities are all extremely modern and clean and would do credit to the most successful U.S. Theme Park.

A large botanical collection is featured, including a line of rapidly grown Roystoneas at the entrance by the Thai Pavilion, complete with three elephant shaped topiary displays. Many palms including fruiting coconuts, can also be seen. However, the most spectacular part of the garden is undoubtedly the Kentia Palm Grove containing some 750 Howeia Forsteriana palms, most with green trucks, amongst which stroll Crowned Cranes to add to the spectacle. All of this just four hours flight time away from the south of England!

Readers Comments:

On 5-2-2002 Alan wrote:
now reading this made me book a trip there for the end of the month. Plus there's something new I've heard of, the Palmetum in Santa Cruz: 6000 palms in 500 genus, now open to the public! Anyone been there?.

On 17-5-2001 Björn Destree wrote:
Dracaena draco:
Do you know how coldhardy this is?

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