Do you want to avoid mass tourism and techno-pop this winter (just for once!) yet keep the nice weather, beaches and fresh fruit? Would you like to add to that some tranquility, lush green mountains with a myriad of walking trails and unique plant subjects waiting to be rendered in any medium you choose? If yes, read on.
La Palma, one of the lesser known Canary Islands, has a lot going for it, but interesting plant-life has to be the best. To start with there is the abundance of bananas, with the island being home to many banana farmers. You can see them growing everywhere, which for some is a travesty, a scenery dominating monoculture that has usurped native flora. For others, it’s preferable to the impact of infrastructure and noise that the economically viable alternative of increased tourism would bring. Coming from the UK, you can’t help but be fascinated by the bananas. The taste (delicious) and look (tiny) of the local banana is unlike anything you will get at your local supermarket. Even ones imported from La Palma will not taste like the ones you will eat in La Palma. The large purple flower of the plant is also memorable, especially when you see them hanging en masse. There is also, like everywhere else in Spain, a huge number of Prickly Pears (Opuntia), brought in for their many household uses. While both these plants have great morphological and aesthetic appeal (see cacti images below), what makes La Palma extra special botanically is not the introduced plants, but the sometimes harder to find local ones.
The island’s native plants, are not just any old native plants, many are endemic which means they originate from here and no-where else. The volcanic landscape island is rather dramatic topographically, low lying coastal scenery (where the bananas dominate) rises up to impressive lush green mountain regions locally known as ‘monteverde’. Different zonal habitats, compacted in this relatively small island, means climatic variation and species diversity.
The plant roll-call, care of Vegetacion y flora de La Palma by Arnoldo Santos Guerra (1983) goes something like this: 774 different plants, 70 endemic to La Palma (found nowhere else but La Palma), 104 endemic to the Canaries (found no where else but the Canary Islands), 33 macaronesic endemisms (only found in the Macaronesian islands: Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde, Canaries), 7 macaronesic African endemisms (only found elsewhere in Africa), 5 macaronesic-Iberian peninsula endemisms (only found elsewhere in Iberia), 90 introduced (brought in or cultivated by humans) and 465 spontaneous (plants not intentionally cultivated that just appeared).
To find out what species go with which group you will need to acquire a copy of this hard to find book, or alternatively once on the island you can look for La Palma: Wild plants and flowers by local photographer Juan Jose Santos. There are also exciting trees to find (not covered in the summary above), with Canarian pine, Canarian Palm and the spectacular and iconic Dragon Tree being three regional species of note. Pine (Pinus canariensis) dominates the largest expanses of forest on the island, a beautifully elegant tree with lime-green needles and scaly bark (see images below); although only a small area remains untouched by earlier deforestation. To partake in contemplative activity, head for the eastern slopes of the island where you will find hillsides of the lovely sounding Laurisilva woodland, which like the Dragon tree is a survivor of the last Ice Age, as well as being an ecologically important habitat housing many of the island’s endemic species.
A selection of endemic, native and introduced plants are shown below.