The Canary Island pine, the most abundant tree in the Archipelago

Pinus canariensis or Canary Island pine is a conifer endemic to the Canary Islands. Pine forests, large agglomerations of this tree species, occupy 60 % of the entire forest area of the Canary Islands, some 70 000 thousand hectares, making it the most abundant tree on the islands. Moreover, according to a law of the Canary Islands Government, the Canary Island pine is the natural symbol of the island of La Palma.

Pine forest in the Natural Park of Tamadaba

Distribution of the Canary Island pine among the different islands

This tree is found in the higher areas of the islands, especially in the westernmost islands, between 400 m as the lower limit on the southern slopes and 2 000 m maximum altitude on the western islands.

The main pine forests are on the islands of Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma and El Hierro. Of particular note are the pine forests of Tamadaba, Pajonales and Inagua on Gran Canaria; those of the Caldera de Taburiente and the peaks of the south and north of the island of La Palma; those of Vilaflor, La Esperanza and Icod on Tenerife; and El Pinar on El Hierro.

Large canary pine in Vilaflor

On La Gomera there are scattered cases, as the common flora on this island is the laurel forest, and those that can be seen on the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote are all cultivated, although there is evidence of their presence in the past.

Historical distribution

During the Tertiary it was widespread in Europe along the coasts of the Tethys, an ocean of the Mesozoic era, where no three needle pine (a distinguishing feature of this tree) reached the Quaternary period, except for the Canary Island pine. This lasted on the continent until the end of the Neogene, as has been demonstrated by various fossils. The arrival of the pine in the Canary Islands is thought to have been brought by birds, which transported the seeds to the islands.

Pine forest or group of Canary Island pines

Description of this tree

The Canary Island pine is a tree that generally measures between 15 and 25 metres in height and its trunk is approximately one metre in diameter, although an adult pine can reach over 60 metres in height and its trunk can be two and a half metres in diameter. Among the tallest pine trees in the Canary Islands is Las Dos Pernadas in Vilaflor, Tenerife, which reaches 56 metres.

They are fast-growing trees and in a few decades they can reach a height of more than 10 metres. Their main root is strong and this allows them to grow in any type of soil.

A Canary Island pine

The main difference between the Canary Island pine and other species of the same genus is its leaves. These are in the shape of thin, flexible, light green needles, arranged in threes and measuring some 20 to 30 centimetres.

Its trunk is straight and cylindrical, covered with thick, brownish grey to reddish bark. In young specimens it is almost smooth, but as the tree ages it thickens and cracks.  

Canary Island pine leaf

The crown of the pine is conical, but in older specimens it can vary and resemble the shape of an umbrella. Flowering takes place between March and April. In spring, the male flowers expel pollen and the female flowers are green cones that turn brown when ripe. When they open, the pine cones come out, which are the seeds of this tree.

In addition, the Canary Island pine has a unique characteristic, which is that it is resistant to fire. This peculiarity is due to the thickness of the bark combined with the trunk's ability to flower. The pine resprouts again even when it has lost all its leaves and branches.

Use of your wood

The wood of the pine tree, tea, has been used since ancient times to build everything from weapons and tools to boats and houses, and has even been used as fuel. In addition, the first inhabitants of the islands used pine needles, i.e. the dried leaves of the pine tree, as stuffing and pine nuts as food.

Pine forest in the Teide National Park

Of course, one of the main values of this species is forestry. It is a type of tree suitable for reforestation, given its great capacity to adapt to any type of terrain and its resistance.

If you would like to know more about the flora and fauna of the Canary Islands, the following links may be of interest: Native animals of the Canary Islands and where to find them or National Parks of the Canary Islands, wonders of nature.

Paula Vera

Photos: holaislascanarias.com, en.wikipedia.org, pinterest.es, Gobierno de Canarias.

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