ecosystem has developed almost evenly between the coast
and the first slopes of the relieves in the islands,
up to a height of 700 meters and is characterised by
a hot and arid sub-desert climate with rainfalls fluctuating
between 150 and 250 millimeters per year and by an annual
average temperature almost always beyond 20° C.
The vegetation can be compared with that of the arid
areas of Sudan, Ethiopia, Arabia and Iran and is typical
of the steppe in the African continent. In this area
we can find open formations of succulent shrubs, divided
into several communities all dominated by different
species belonging to the genus Euphorbia. The most common
of these is E. canariensis with the classic cactaceous
habit. It is a succulent plant whose leaves have turned
into small thorns arranged along the margins of the
trunk which usually have quadrangular or pentagonal
dissection. As there are no leaves, the photosynthetic
function is carried out by the green branches and trunk;
also the function of storing water is accomplished by
these organs which slowly transfer the liquid during
the dry periods. Very often a liana, Periploca Iaevigata,
creeps on the trunks of Euphorbia canariensis.
Besides these species, this strip of vegetation is
characterised also by Campy/ant/mis salsoloides, Euphorbia
obtusifolia, Plocama pendula, Argyranthemum gracile,
Allagopappus dichotomus, Sonchus canariensis and Kleinia
nerilfolia. The last one has a habit very similar to
the species belonging to the genus Euphorbia and differs,
in only by the absence of the typical whitish latex.
In this wide, hot and arid strip of vegetation we can
also find several species belonging to the genus Euphorbia
with non cactaceous habit; they are wooden plants between
one and three meters high, characterised by the presence
of a visible small trunk, more or less prostrate, from
which a series of branches starts. These branches in
turn tend to branch out in a dichotomous way. The result
is a sort of small tree, with short trunk and almost
round-shaped foliage - very similar to a candelabra
or an umbrella with the wide part upside-down. These
species and some others are the origin of some types
of coenosis which have evolved due to the characteristics
of the surroundings.
In the hottest and most arid parts there are coenosis
with F. balsamifera. This beautiful plant forms some
open coenosis where we can find other interesting plants,
among which two graminaceous grasses: Tricholaena teneriffae
(which can be found in Africa and in Canary Islands)
and Hyparrhenia hit-ta, with a wide range including
almost every tropical and subtropical area in Africa
aphylla, Ceropegia dichotoma and Argyranthemum coronopifolium
form communities developing on the rocky coasts where
the influence of the sea can still be felt. Such coasts
are called aeroaline as they are related to the aerosol
transported by the marine winds.
In the Masca valley, on the northwest slopes of the
island of Tenerife and at a height between 700 and 1
100 meters, communities dominated by Euphorbia atropurpurea
develop with Retama raetam, Echium aculeatum and Lavandula
canariensis. This Euphorbia with a candelabra shape
is an endemic plant of Tenerife and it can easily be
recognised from the others thanks to its purple flowers.
Wild palm grove can also be found in the same strip
of vegetation. Such communities are now very rare in
all the islands of the archipelago, owing to the action
of man which has greatly reduced the habitat suitable
to the Canarian palm (Phoenix canariensis). This species
prefers deep alluvial soil with a superficial water
table for most of the year. The rare places where the
Phoenix canariensis can be found are at the base of
"barrancos" where, even during the dry season,
a small amount of water is always present in the soil.
The only natural populations of Phoenix canariensis
are in the following places: Haria, Lanzarote; Rio Palmas,
Fuertenventura; Fataga and Maspalomas, Gran Canaria;
Gran Rey Valley, Canadas de Hurona, La Gomera; Masca,
Tenerife; Brena Alata and La Palma. In some places where
the Phoenix canariensis is present, Dracaena draco,
known as the "Canaries drake", can be found
wild; this species has become very rare owing to the
action of man on those areas with a hot and humid micro
climate. The wild palm groves with P. canariensis are
a habitat of priority interest inside the European Community.
Communities of nitrophilous shrubs dominated by Launaea
arborescens can be found in areas containing a certain
amount of organic material. In these areas Launea arborescens
can easily be observed at the sides of the main roads.
The range of this kind of vegetation is really wide,
from Iran to the Canary Islandsand through the hottest
parts of the Mediterranean basin. In the same places
Gonospermum fruticosum, Lavandula buchii and Lavatera
acerifolia can also be found. Another coenosis of this
kind has developed on the slopes of the Anaga massif,
in the north-east part of Tenerife, and it is dominated
by Argyranthemum broussonetil, Artemisia thuscula, Lobularia
canariensis, Plantago arborescens and Echturn simplex.
This is the plant which best characterises the arid
and humid environment of the lowest areas in the Canary
Islands. It is a small tree, up to 3-4 meters high,
with succulent trunks like a cactus. The green trunk
is quadrangular or pentagonal. The leaves have turned
into spines of up to 5-14 millimeters long, arranged
in clusters of three or four. The flowers are reddish-green.
It is an endemic species of the Canaries but has become
rarer in the oriental islands.
It is a plant with a wooden base and long, narrow herbaceous
sprouts creeping on other plants' trunks, in particular
on F. canariensis. The opposite leaves are ovate-lanceolate,
with pointed ends. The flowers are two-coloured with
a purple-brown inner part and a greenish outer one.
It is a shrub with succulent trunk of up to a meter
high. Its branches are articulated, that means that
they have constrictions making them look like a row
of small sausages. The leaves are arranged in clusters
at the end of the branches: they are caducous, juicy,
more or less lanceolate and up to 12 centimetres long.
The flowers are arranged in whitish flower-head, but
it is very difficult to be able to see this plant in
bloom. It is an endemic plant of the archipelago
(Scrophulariaceae) Romero marino
It is a shrub of up to 2 metres high. It has linear
and succulent leaves. Its flowers vary from pink to
light blue up to whitish and they are grouped in inflorescences,
at times crooked. It is an endemic plant of Canary Islands.
(Euphorbiaceae) Tabaiba amarga
Like the other species of the genus Fuphorbia which
can be observed in the most arid parts of the Canary
Islands, E. obtusifolia is a small tree characterised
by a short trunk and an expanded foliage, almost round-shaped,
with branches ending in a cluster of leaves. It is a
common plant, in particular in the hottest and most
arid zone, of up to 2.5 meters high, with an upright
trunk. It has linear leaves, with pointed ends of up
to 7 centimeters long and not more than 6 millimeters
wide. The flowers are arranged in inflorescences called
ciazi with light green bracts. This species can be found
in north Africa and the Canary Islands.
It is a small tree up to 5 metres high, characterised
by a very evident small trunk and open foliage, with
curved, flexible and drooping branches. The persistent
light green leaves are needle-shaped and up to 5-6 centimetres
long. The flowers are whitish, solitary, and they are
arranged only in the terminal part of the branches.
It is an endemic plant of the Canary Islands and its
presence tends to get rarer when we move from the western
to the eastern islands It has got an extremely dangerous
latex, particularly harmful to the eyes.
The aspect of this Argyranthemum is very similar to
the others, except for the dimensions of its needle-shaped
leaves and the smaller flower-heads which are smaller.
It is an endemic plant of Tenerife where it is quite
common at less than 700 meters.
It is a shrub up to a meter high with a yellowish trunk.
The lanceolate leaves have toothed margins and mucronated
apices; they are viscous owing to the presence of essential
oils. The flowers are grouped in yellow flower-heads,
and in their turn they are grouped in clusters at the
end of the branches. It is an endemic plant of Canary
Islands, but it is not present in Hierro, Lanzarote
(Cornpositae) Cerraja arborea
It belongs to the group of arboreous Sonchus (Dendrosonchus
section) among which it reaches the largest dimensions.
It is a shrub consisting of an upright axis, which can
be single or with two or three ramifications, each with
a rosette of leaves on its end. This rosette is similar
to the one that is near to the soil in the herbaceous
Sonchus. The trunk is up to 3 metres high. The pinnate
and saw-toothed leaves are up to 15-20 centimetres long.
The flower-heads are carried by one or more axis departing
from the centre of the rosette, and each axis can carry
as many as 100-150 small yellow flower-heads. It is
an endemic species of Canary Islands.
(Euphorbiaceae) Tabaiba dulce
This plant can reach as high as 2 metres and has a
very strong, many branched, creeping trunk. The leaves
are always carried in clusters at the end of the branches
but, in this case, they are not longer than 2,5 centimeters.
The inflorescences have yellowish green bracts. Apart
from the Canary Islands it can also be found in north
Africa and Somalia. As with the other species belonging
to the Euphorbia genus, this plant produces a kind of
latex which can be used to curdle milk.
(Graminaceae) Cerillo Blanco
It is a perennial, graminaceous grass that grows to
60 centimeters high and is characterized by white, pubescent
spikes. This plant can be found in Africa and the Canary
Islands where it is quite common in the hottest and
most arid zones.
The species of the genus Hyparrhenia can be found in
the tropical countries of every continent, where they
are part of the flora of the great savannahs. Among
the species of this genus are grasses as high as 6 metres
(H. cymbaria (L.) Stapf). H. Hirta is one of the smallest
of this family only reaching 60 centimeters in height.
It can be recognised by its violet-red leaves and spikes
which are arranged at the end of the culm like the fingers
of an open hand. It can be found mainly in the hottest
and most arid zones. Also present in the Canary Islands
are H. arrhenobasis (Hochst. ex. Steud.) Stapf, and
H. hirta, yet there is still debate as to whether they
are two different species.
(Euphorbiaceae) Tabaiba salvaje
It is a small shrub that grows to no higher than 50
centimeters. The trunk has very small and articulated
grey-green branches, with opposite ramifications, which
can be dichotomous or vertical. The thin leaves are
small and precociously caduceus. It is an endemic plant
of Canary Islands.
It is a small shrub with succulent trunks no higher
than 60 centimeters and practically without leaves for
most of the year. The trunk is greenish-grey-light brown,
and smooth with some constrictions which make it look
like a row of small long sausages. Clusters consisting
of two to seven flowers are grouped at the end of the
trunk. It is an endemic species of Tenerife.
It is a creeping shrub no higher than 40-50 centimeters.
The leaves are succulent, hairless, oblanceolate and
dentate at their apex. The flowers are grouped in flower-heads
of about 2,5 centimeters in diameter, with a yellow
inner part and white-cream flowers. The flower-heads
vary in number from one to eight. It is an extremely
rare plant which can be only found in the Teno region
in a small area between the Rocks of Fraele and Cape
Bellavista on the humid basaltic flows at a height of
between 50 and 200 meters. It must be considered as
a vulnerable plant and it must therefore be protected.
(Fuphorbiaceae) Tabaiba mejorera
It is a plant which often grows to two meters in height.
The glaucous leaves are oblanceolate and grouped in
clusters at the apex of the branches. The flowers are
arranged in wide inflorescences with intense purple-red
bracts, whilst the fruits are brown or deep red. This
beautiful Euphorbia can only be found in the south-west
part of Tenerife, between 300 and 1 200 meters high.
(Leguminosae) Retama Blanca
This is a species which can be found both in northern
Africa and the Canary Islands except for Lanzarote and
Fuertenventura. It is a shrub grows up to 5 metres high,
with flexible, reed like grayish-green branches and
foliage characterised by the distance between the leaves.
The young branches are articulate and shiny. The leaves
are almost always absent and they can only be seen after
a rainy season. The white flowers have a very strong,
sweet honey smell and they are arranged in wide and
huge inflorescences. It a plant with high decorative
value and its flowers are sold at local markets.
It is a small tree of up to 3 meters high, with a short
trunk and branched, round-shaped foliage. The linear
leaves tend to be carried in the highest part, next
to the inflorescence. The flowers vary from pale blue
to white and are grouped in small spike-like inflorescences.
It is an endemic plant of the Canary Islands, but it
cannot be found in Lanzarote and Fuertenventura.
(Labiatae) Hierba del risco
This endemic species of the Canary Islands is a wooden
based shrub with upright herbaceous branches ending
in inflorescences. The opposing greyish-green leaves
are pubescent, pinnate and with rounded lateral processes.
The violet flowers are grouped in long and narrow spike-like
This palm can grow up to 15 meters high and it is characterised
by a cluster of leaves at the top of a straight trunk.
It is practically always pruned and therefore its foliage
consists of few leaves. The unpruned plants are shorter
but with more leaves, sometimes as many as 60-100. The
pinnate leaves are very long - up to 7 meters - with
100-150 couples of leaflets, coriaceous but flexible.
These leaflets have auxiliary double series of short
and very hard yellowish thorns. The flowers are small
and grouped in close and branched inflorescences, up
to one and half meters long; male flowers are whitish
and the female ones yellowish. The fruit is similar
to the date "tamanares" and is oval shaped,
1.5-2 centimeters long and with little flesh - they
are edible but because they are of little value they
are not picked and when they fall down they are eaten
by birds mice and pigs.
The very young shoots may be eaten raw in salads. On
La Gomera the local people use the "palm honey"
whose production obstructs the formation of the inflorescences.
It is used as an ornamental species in parks and gardens,
where it gives good results. In the islands where the
date palm (P dactylifera L.) is grown, hybrids between
the two genuses can be found.
This plant, with the drake, can be considered the symbol
of Canary Islands, even if its wild presence tends to
diminish more and more.
It is a tree-like plant with a wide, short and squat
trunk from which a series of almost dichotomous branches
grow. The leaves are grouped at the apex of these branches
and they are arranged in a rosette shape. The linear
grayish-green leaves are rigid and in the biggest plants
up to 60 centimeters long. The small whitish flowers
are arranged in a pendulous inflorescence. The orange
fruits are round shaped and fleshy. It is an endemic
plant of the islands of Macaronesia. There are many
legends concerning the drake of the Canary Islands:
in medieval books is written that the blood-red lymph
- "sangre de dragon" - coming out from the
trunk when the bark is cut had both healing (for ulcer
and dysentery) and magic properties. Many speculations
have been made concerning what age the dracaena could
reach: Mr. Alexander von Humbolt, one of the first men
to explore the Canary Islands, reports that a plant
in the Orotava valley that was destroyed by a hurricane
in 1867 was over 6,000 years old and had a circumference
of 27 meters
(Cornpositae) Corona de Ia
It is another composite which can be easily recognised
from Launea by its larger flower-heads (up to 5 centimetres
in diameter) with vitreous squamae of the involucre
and grey leaves. Gonospermurn is a shrub that grows
up to one and half meters high, with pinnate leaves
and yellow flower-heads. Gonospermurn fruticosurn is
an endemic species of the Canary Islands.
It is a shrub with small branches turned into thorns
and up to 70 centimeters high with a few small hairless
leaves, lightly lobed. The yellow flowers are grouped
in small flower-heads one centimeter in diameter.
(Labiatae) Mato risco
It can easily be recognised both by its light blue
flowers tending to violet and by its pinnate comose
leaves. Such duvet gives them a peculiar grey colour
and they feel cotton-like when touched. It differs from
the other species of the genus Lavandula that can be
found in Canary Islands both for its comose leaves and
for its calyx which is longer than the bract below.
(Malvaceae) Malva Silvestre
This endemic species of the Canary Islands can be recognised
from the rarer L. phoenicea Vent. (another endemic plant
of Tenerife) for its darker flowers which are narrower
in the basal part. It is a shrub of up to two and half
meters high, with large pinnatifid leaves with irregularly
toothed lobes and very long petiole. The flowers are
large (up to 7-8 centimeters in diameter) and its mauve
colour is darker at the base; occasionally they are
It is a hardy shrub up to 1,2 metres high very strong
and close. Its leaves are up to 16 centimetres long,
oval, abruptly pinnate, completely hairless or with
only few hairs along the midrib. The flowers are grouped
in flower-heads whose inner part is yellow and whose
ligulate flowers are white. Argyranthemurn broussonetii
is an endemic species of Tenerife.
It is a small shrub easily recognised because when
its leaves are rubbed a strong incense smell comes out
of them. It is up to one meter high and its silver grey
leaves are usually flabby. The flowers are closely grouped
in small, gold yellow flower-heads. Arternisia thuscula
is an endemic species of the Canary Islands.
(Cruciferae) Hierba de la rabia
It is a small wooden shrub endemic in Macaronesia.
The colour of the petal varies from white to pink, while
the sepals vary from green to reddish. Lobularia canariensis
is a variable species of which many sub-species have
been recognised: Lobularia canariensis subspecies canariensis,
Lobularia canariensis subspecies intermedia (Webb) Borgen,
Lobularia canariensis subspecies palmensis (Christ)
Bergen and Lobularia canariensis subspecies microsperma
Bergen. The above mentioned sub-species cannot be easily
distinguished from one another and the only characters
to which we can appeal are the variations in the colouring
of the sepals.
It is a small prostrate wooden shrub not higher than
60 centimeters, igneous and much branched at the base.
Herbaceous sprouts start from the wooden branches and
end with very close spikes consisting of tiny flowers
with sepals and petals with a white border. Once they
have ripened, the sepals and petals get a yellowish
colour owing to the anthers. Plantago arborescens is
an endemic plant of the Canary Islands.
It is a giant perennial grass, sometimes biannual with
short trunk and no branches. The linear-lanceolate leaves
are strigous owing to the short silver hairs. They are
held in a close basal rosette. The floral scape is characterised
by the presence of leaves and it is up to 2 metres high.
The white flowers are arranged in a spike-like inflorescence
very narrow and long. It is an endemic plant of Tenerife.