Welcome to all friends of nature!
In this new Blog series, I will introduce a number of wild grown species on the Canary Island of Gran Canaria. I travelled to this beautiful place in 2019/20 – so, shortly before the Corona crisis started and confinements restrict our lives. Now, as we come – slowly but surely – out of this dramatic crisis, these little posts shall help to overcome the sadness and frustration of many of us. Not that it can make things that has happened during the year 2020/21 less difficult.
But as spring is here in Europe, we should lighten up a bit! How can that be done better than through the incredible offers of mother earth? Read about wild plants and herbs, which helps us against diseases and niggles, and also are valuable and healthy ingredients and add-ons in our food.
Let me start with a simple but amazing example to protect the Island’s nature – a tree, that maintains the forest landscape with its impressive properties.
- Pine trees on Canary Islands [ Pinus canariensis ]
Pinus canariensis, the Canary Island pine, is a species of gymnosperm in the conifer family Pinaceae (see Pic 1). It is a large, evergreen tree native and endemic to the outer Canary Islands (Gran Canaria, Tenerife, El Hierro and La Palma) in the Atlantic Ocean. It is growing to 30–40 m (98–131 ft) tall and 100–120 cm (39–47 in) trunk diameter (dbh), exceptionally up to 60 m (200 ft) tall and 265 cm (104 in) diameter.
The green to yellow-green leaves are needle-like, in bundles of three, 20–30 cm long, with finely toothed margins and often drooping (see Pic 2). A characteristic of the species is the occurrence of glaucous (bluish-green) epicormic shoots growing from the lower trunk, but in its natural area this only occurs as a consequence of fire or other damage.
This pine is one of the most fire-resistant conifers in the world mainly due to its fire-resistant trunk (see Pic 3). But this is not the only specialty that this tree can shine with.
The cones are 10–18 cm (3.9–7.1 in) long, 5 cm (2.0 in) wide, glossy chestnut-brown in colour and frequently remaining closed for several years (serotinous cones) (see Pic 4 & 5). Its closest relatives are the Chir Pine (Pinus roxburghii) from the Himalaya and the Mediterranean pines (Pinus pinea, Pinus halepensis, Pinus pinaster and Pinus brutia) from the eastern Mediterranean.
It is a subtropical pine and does not tolerate low temperatures or hard frost. Within its natural area, it grows under extremely variable rainfall regimes, from less than 300 mm (12 in) to several thousands, mostly due to differences in mist-capturing by the foliage. Under warm conditions, this is one of the most drought-tolerant pines, living even with less than 200 mm (7.9 in) of rainfall per year.
How the pine can reserve the water?
Thermic winds drive the clouds to the island and the clouds are rising. Up to 800 m the moisture remains on the needles. On sun rise in the early morning the trees shine really from all the moisture filled needles.
The fine needles of the pine trees are especially formed for capturing the dewdrops. To understand, how this is possible, you may take one needle into the hand and softly brush from the top to the bottom of the needle. While this movement you can feel a profile on its surface. At these fine barbs the precipitate sticks and runs smoothly to the top of the needles. When thermic wind comes up again, it moves the needles, the droplets fall down to the ground and are quickly absorbed by the soil. With that the tree is able to irrigate itself. But not only that! Each pine tree produces its own irrigation plus about 300 l per year. In very rainy months, a large quantity of water seeps in the soil percolating down to the underground aquifers.
Three reasons, why this tree was chosen to be planted in these volcanic regions:
- Its special needles for holding the water
- Tree is very heat-proof because of its fireproof bark
- Ability to retain water in the soil – and thus maintaining water moisture.
About its usage and cultivation
The fallen dead leaves used extensively as packaging material for bananas exported from the Canary Islands. The large glossy and rich-brown colored cones are among the best in the genus for use as Christmas ornaments.
It is widely planted as an ornamental and, more locally, as a plantation species. In Australia and South Africa, it has escaped cultivation and is actively invading (i.e., naturally regenerating) in native habitats of mallee shrubland and heath (in Western Australia) and fynbos and forest (in South Africa).
The Canary Island pine is also very popular ornamental tree in private gardens, public landscapes and as street trees in warmer climate like California.