Vegetation in Tenerife

April 25, 2022 • 12:00 pm

Tenerife is one of the seven large Canary Islands, all of which are volcanic in origin and thus formed with no life on them. They are what we biologists call oceanic islands, whose origin means that indigenous species must have derived from ancestors introduced by birds (poop contains seeds), wind, or organisms floating at sea. Such islands are usually rich in indigenous insects, plants, and birds, all of which can get to the island and form new species. Such islands have almost no indigenous amphibians, reptiles, mammals, or freshwater fish, though they can be introduced by humans. (Read the biogeography chapter in Why Evolution is True.)

We have some indigenous plants below, but also many introduced plants that grow like gangbusters here, for the climate is wet, salubrious, and not too hot. I’ll show some of the plants I photographed in the lovely Botanical Garden in Puerto de la Cruz, the second oldest botanical garden in Spain. I didn’t take notes, and can’t identify many of these, but I hope readers can.

First, the volcanic origin of Tenerife. Looming over the island is Mount Teide, a big volcano. It stands at 3,715 m or  12,188 feet. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

If measured from the ocean floor, its height of 7,500 m (24,600 ft) makes Teide the third-highest volcano in the world, and is described by UNESCO and NASA as Earth’s third-tallest volcanic structure.[8][9][b] However, as Teide was formed just 170,000 years ago due to volcanic activity following a catastrophic landslide, Teide’s base is actually situated in the Las Cañadas crater (the remains of an older, eroded, extinct volcano) at a height of around 2,190 m (7,190 ft) above sea level. Teide’s elevation above sea level makes Tenerife the tenth highest island in the world. Teide is an active volcano: its most recent eruption occurred in 1909 from the El Chinyero vent on the northwestern Santiago rift. The United Nations Committee for Disaster Mitigation designated Teide a Decade Volcano because of its history of destructive eruptions and its proximity to several large towns, of which the closest are Garachico, Icod de los Vinos and Puerto de la Cruz. Teide, Pico Viejo and Montaña Blanca form the Central Volcanic Complex of Tenerife.

A view from near Puerto Cruz;

From Wikipedia: “This 3D panoramic view of Mount Teide was created using SRTM data (160% elevation).”

Puerto de la Cruz, where we stayed the first night at the Hotal Botanico, which is right by the gardens:

And plants. First, the famous Canary Islands “dragon tree“, Dracaena dracoendemic to the archipelago and other nearby areas. I didn’t know of it, but it’s plenty weird. From Wikipedia:

. . . a subtropical tree in the genus Dracaena, native to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira, western Morocco, and is thought to be introduced in the Azores.Its closest living relative is the dragon blood tree of Socotra, Dracaena cinnabari.

It was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1762 as Asparagus draco. In 1767 he assigned it to the new genus, Dracaena.

Other stuff. Great gobs of Spanish moss, which grows well here.

I’m not sure what this is, but the locals make maracas out of it. Pick the gourd, poke a hole in one end to dry it, and then after a while, when it’s dry, you can shake it and use it as a maraca since the seeds rattle around inside.

Unknown palm.

A young pineapple (bromeliad):

This is some kind of weird epiphyte, and I have no idea what it is. I hope a reader can identify it:

The flower of a bromeliad:

Below is a strangler fig, Ficus macrophylla, which was represented to us as endemic to Lord Howe, a remote oceanic island between New Caledonia, Australia, and New Zealand, but it’s found other places as well, notably Australia, where the Lord Howe ancestor undoubtedly came from. I don’t see that this tree from Lord Howe, which has a high proportion of endemic species, is given subspecies status.

But it’s one impressive strangler fig–a killer tree! Look at those roots!

Closeup of incipient palm leaves (I think)

Common blackbird (Turdus merula) singing in the cool of day. I think this is the first one I’ve ever heard, and oh, what a lovely song!

I have no idea what this is, but it isn’t endemic:

A “conch flower”, because it resembles a cowrie. You tell me what it is!

Everyone’s favorite flower, the bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae), native to South Africa and first described by Joseph Banks (Darwin’s pal):

This looks like a species of Daturaall of them poisonous (“jimson weed” in the U.S.) Lovely flowers, but don’t eat them or the seeds!

I’m not sure what this flower is, but it was gorgeous.

. . . and especially gorgeous when backlit:

Pollinated by bees:

And my obligatory “art shot’: water in a fountain:

More soon, but I have to steal time from sightseeing to post. Today I saw enough sights and left the tour a couple of hours early to wash up, do laundry, and post these photos.

60 thoughts on “Vegetation in Tenerife

  1. I think your Datura, if it is a tree as it looks to be, might actually be a Nicotiana species. N. glauca, “tree tobacco”, supposedly has yellow flowers (Wikipedia), but I remember white to pale yellow flowers like those in the photo, on small trees. Very soft wood, easily cut when growing; but an absolute pest. And all of it poisonous.

    1. Look a lot like these in southern california:
      Prized for their tropical look and impressive, trumpet-shaped blossoms, Brugmansias (Angel’s Trumpets) are evergreen shrubs or small trees of great beauty. Fragrant, these South American natives release their powerful scent most readily in the evenings. Long-lived, incredibly decorative, they are fairly easy to grow and add high drama in the garden or in containers.

  2. I like that Dragon Tree. I didn’t know they grew pineapples in the Canaries. Are you going to Madeira (I forget). I’d love to know more about Madeira wine.

  3. I think most of the vegetables in Tenerife flew there from Luton Airport. What? I’m a Brit so I can say that!

  4. Cool fauna and geology, boss; keep those travel posts comin’.

    According to Someone Who Isn’t Me, jimson weed has hallucinogenic properties. SWIM says the effects are similar to those of the related plant belladonna. Both have some potentially nasty side effects, so SWIM would counsel caution and additional research for anyone considering imbibing.

      1. Thanks, Lou. That is a severe side effect. I’ll let SWIM know.

        SWIM’s firsthand experience with psychedelics was back in the Seventies. And as SWIM says, if you can remember those days clearly, you probably weren’t really there anyway. 🙂

  5. That’s a great island for endemic plants. I’m not sure if the “weird epiphyte” in the so-labelled photo refers to the thick green things? To me those are the bases of chopped-off leaves, maybe palm leaf bases? Or is there something else in the photo that I missed?

    I think the “incipient palm leaves” photo is not a palm (I think no palms have two-ranked leaves) but rather a Traveller’s tree or Bird of Paradise (both have banana-like leaves). The “bromeliad flower” is actually just modified bromeliad leaves; the true flowers will come out of those center brown buds and will probably be bright blue or white.

    I think you are probably right about the Datura, rather than Nicotiana as an earlier commenter suggested. But I am not sure.

    1. I thought the native trees that dominated Macaronesia were laurels – Laurisilva being the term?

      I expect lots about canaries in future posts, plus the native Guanche people of the Canaries.

      1. From a Local:

        Interesting thing, as Tenerife and most of the eastern canaries are very steep. two things happen.

        First, with differents heights, different ecosystems happen. Jerry is not very high. If he was to go up Orotava’s valley, where e is, he could find the laurisilvas. Not sure because they don’t seem to like steep terrain. in that part of the islands, Canary pinetree dominates. Fun Fact, it’s a pine that can survive fires and regrow. Laurisilva is mostly found in the less steeper Macizo De Anaga (, and famously in Gomera Island.

        Second, and as a note to Jerry saying the climate is wet, that’s because he’s in the north side of the island, which gathers and traps the northen wet weather, and so the south side is isolated from in, being hotter and way drier, so much that it reminds me the lands of Tunisia where Lucas Filmed Star Wars.

    2. If it’s a vine, I’d agree with you and Jerry on the Datura, but I’ve never seen one of them grow tree-like. But I’m no botanist.

    1. I initially was going to say Brugmansia as well, but I don’t think we have enough details to tell for sure. Datura seems more likely for an Old World location like this.

      1. The Angel’s Trumpets are yard plants in southern california, they look like that but are from south america. i have a couple of jimson weeds in pots. They are also weeds here.

        1. The genus of Angels’ Trumpets from South America is Brugmansia, and the genus of Angels’ Trumpets from the Old World is Datura. They look very similar (and were once all in a single genus). Without more info we cannot be sure which one is in that botanical garden, though if it were in the wild and not introduced, it would be Datura.

  6. The blackbird is beautiful but where are the actual canaries? There’s also a Canary Dog but it’s huge so you might not want to meet up with one of those.

    1. Canaries are shy and not usually found where Jerry is staying, Also have in mind that the “botanico” where Jerry took these pictures it’s not a wild space, but sort of an enclosed park.

      As for the Canary dog, you must be talking about the presa canario, I don’t think is that huge, I would say big (, which is actually one of at least four canarian dog breeds ( The pastor garafiano (from La Palma, where last year’s volcano eruption) is beautiful.

      1. It should have been a domestic one, which are breed as pets like that. Wild canaries are very different and not as pretty.

  7. The Canary Islands are the center of diversity for Echium, the plant with the very tall inflorescence.

    1. The one here is the echium wildpretii, or tajinaste in spanish. they grow at very high altitudes, just under mount Teide, and are in bloom very briefly in spring (as of rigth now) and in its habitat are espectacular. These ones are out of place in the Botánico. Check the pìctures on the wikipedia page or search google, they are spectacular.

  8. I think your purple flower plant may be a brunfelsia commonly called yesterday today and tomorrow. If there were white flowers on the plant then that is definite but since I see none it maybe a related species. It should have a lovely smell as should the Datura

      1. Googling brunsfelsia recently for something else, there may be some that are always purple? An apartment complex nearby (southern california) has both.

  9. However, as Teide was formed just 170,000 years ago due to volcanic activity following a catastrophic landslide,

    This age refers to the edifice of Tiede itself, not the island as a whole. It has taken some 20-odd million years to build up the piles from the seabed for the first 3-odd km to the surface, with three linked volcanoes emerging to the air around 10 Myr ago and coalescing into one mass more recently. There’s some weird chemistry going on in the magmas and lavas, but that’s not particularly noticeable to the eye. Some spectacular textures in places – liquid-liquid immiscibility in an evolving silicate magma is not something you see every day; it”s better known with sulphide liquids separating out in a cumulate context. There’s a lot of research trying to understand the interplay of an unusually aluminous and hot initial magma, a Moho-ish magma chamber and a high altitude (slightly below seabed) second magma chamber.

    About 200kyr ago the north flank of the volcano failed, between buttresses of the NW and NE promontory failed, dropping most of the N coast into the ocean. Whether this triggered a tsunami to wash Spain and the East coast of America is hard to say – did the collapsed mass go downhill at 10km/hr or 100km/hr, and how fast did it accelerate? Hard to say. But the Canaries as a whole have had literal dozens of these events over the millions of years. Which isn’t wildly different to Hawaii. The first time one of these events happens in recorded human history, we’re going to learn a lot.

    The island’s SE coast has another “sector collapse” scar around the municipality of Guimar (with it’s infamous pyramids), and this one probably did produce a tsunami, depositing seabed material with marine shells at altitudes a couple of hundred metres above (current) sea level on the facing island of Gran Canaria, 70km away. That would have been an event best observed through a really good telescope.

  10. I appreciated that 3D model. What an interesting island. (Aren’t they all?)

    Thanks for taking time out of your busy day(s) to post these fun photos. Thanks Readers for the botanic names and references and the geographic info.

  11. I think you might be mixing up two botanists, Joseph Banks (who died in 1820, and was probably a friend of Erasmus Darwin) and Joseph Hooker, Charles Darwin’s close friend.

  12. Amazing those trees are so similar to the “blood” ones all the way as far as Socotra Island, Yemen. Now that place is an Emirati colony it is easier to travel to.

  13. Regarding Dracaena draco, we have a number of them in the Waite Arboretum in Adelaide, SA, including at least two mature specimens planted in about 1928 when the Arboretum was established. About 10 years ago someone started a fire which damaged one of them, but fortunately it survived, and a number of young Dracaena spp have been planted to fill in the area damaged by the fire.

  14. Hearing wild canaries sing is something! Perhaps as good as the European blackbird. Note that wild canaries are mottled greenish, not yellow or orange. They occur in urban gardens yoo.

  15. Botanical gardens are like zoos, many non-indigenous species, specially collected for the gardens,
    I’m stunned you never heard the blackbird before, a thrush with a most lovely melody. Commonly heard in European evenings. And I’m somehow glad you did now.
    In South Africa -their country of origin- the ‘bird of Paradise flower’ is known as ‘Crane flower’.
    I have 2 in my garden. They attract a lot of sunbirds, the (not closely related) ‘equivalent’ of the New World kolibries (albeit not as small, still very small, a nice example of convergent evolution).

  16. I couldn’t agree more with your evaluation of the blackbird’s song. It is one of the commonest species here in the UK but arguably the finest singer amongst European song-birds (although there are plenty of other candidates vying for the title!). The blackbird has such a lovely tone to its song and at this time of year when the males are all singing, it is one of the highlights of the dawn chorus.

  17. I wonder if J.K.Rowling’s Draco Malfoix was inspired by Dracaena draco? Anyway, thanks so much, Jerry, for the lovely photos, and thanks to the commenters who know so much about botany and shared their knowledge with the rest of us. As a birder, I need to tell you that the European Blackbird is a thrush, hence its lovely song. Our US blackbirds are not related to them at all. Of course the European Nightingale, whose lovely song resembles our Mockingbird’s with its repetition of many different songs and calls, is (I believe) also a Thrush, probably Turdus genus.Can someone tell me what family canaries belong to?

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