Monday, 13 January 2014


I can recognise quite a lot of the plants in general terms, but not in detail and my knowledge is v incomplete - but I know enough to say the plant life on this amazing island is fantastic. From the arid deserts of the sunbaked southern slopes to the misty primal forests of the north and east, there is such tenacity and variety, it is wondrous.
The south - we think - MUST have been deforested, because it is possible for large trees to grow, even on what looks like bare rock. Houses and farms have araucaria, or the Canary pines, or dragon trees around their entrances.  Otherwise there is a rather astonishing widespread forest which is only one or two feet high... more dragon trees, interspersed with prickly pear and some very smart vertical shrubby cactus, spreading everywhere.  We can't understand why they are not going for reforestation on these lower slopes - it would save water, increase biodiversity, give shade.
Some of the deep ravines cut into this strange dwarf forest have the same sort of plants which somehow grow a little taller - maybe less scorched by the sun in winter, maybe catching some mist or  aerial water....
Further up, past the litter-line (ugh), we get to the pines starting roughly at 1000m sbove sea level,  and they are marvellous. The area where they now hold sway has been gradually extended by protective laws since WW2, and it's now illegal to cut them. These now grow in an almost complete ring around the might central volcano and its dorsal ridges.  There are some of the dreaded eucalyptus, but we also see evergreen oaks, mimosas, tamerisk, euphorbia, euonymus, almonds (flowering!), bamboo, poinsettyia, and various flowering shrubs - hibiscus, bougainvillea, tropaeolum, trachelospermum, abutilon, datura.... Not everyone is a gardener of course, but some are.   In one town (Arofa?) we saw a small town garden, all fenced in, and crammed with every kind of edible plant - a passion turned into a business - selling food, plants, seeds, and all free for passers-by to see but not touch, behind the secure railing cage.
The road up to the mountains is in good order for the most part, with occasional miradors or viewing places... you stop, hang around for a short while and go on... it seems to be perfectly managed, no squabbles or trouble.
We loved it - the quiet, the greenery, smell of pines, the stupendous views, the awestruck tourists (including us).
This trip today followed a visit to San Cristobal de la Laguna - now a World Heritage Site, because it was created as the first planned city without fortifications in the 15th/16th centuries, and it became the model for the new cities in Spain's New World - Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras... etc.   The great value of the Canaries for the European colonialists who created its current form was that it controlled access to South America.  Nelson had a go at capturing it - and lost, not only the battles but also his arm.
The city is quaint, in the grip of conservationists and developers.... One fascinating feature is that where they used Canary pine in their buildings (400? 500? years ago), the wood is still exuding resin, even today - a fantastic strong and beautiful wood. No wonder the slopes of the mountains were denuded. Thank god the authorities instituted a replanting programme.  If you want to put this wood into your new or your repaired ancient house, it will cost you 6000 euros a cubic metre. Six thousand euros.

No comments:

Post a Comment