Rare Canary Islands Dragon Tree grew on Tenerife cliff
Stirring tale of dragons and the lost pyramids of Tenerife
I had moved to the delightful village of Playa de San Marcos just outside Icod de los Vinos and, of course, I have been out exploring the countryside here. On one of my first rambles I was excited to spot a wild Dragon Tree growing from the rocky edge of a volcanic cliff down by the beach.
Wild dragon tree, balloon vine, figs and a pyramid
Icod de los Vinos and the Drago Milenario
Now whilst the city of Icod is famous for its 1,000-year-old Drago Milenario and I often go to view that amazing and ancient specimen, to see one of these trees in its natural habitat is a real thrill. There are hardly any left growing wild anymore so to discover one of these within a short walk from where I live really made my day.
In comparison with the mighty Dragon Tree in the park in Icod or many others in gardens and other places on the island, it is a small example of its kind, but when you look at what it is growing out of it is a wonder it has got as big as it has. It is such a terrible place for a tree to grow out there on a rocky crag high above the path below, and yet, perhaps because it is in such a difficult place to get to is the very reason it survives.
I carried on walking and my eye was caught by a whole group of fig bushes at the side of the road and there were plenty of fruit developing on them. That is one of the wonderful things about Tenerife, that you can actually find exotic fruit growing wild here.
Another plant that I noticed clambering all over the place was the Balloon Vine with bunches of its small white flowers and strange inflated bladder seedpods, which give it its name, both on the plant at the same time. The “balloons” remind me of the orange-red ones you get on the very ornamental Chinese lantern plant.
Wormwood - a bitter herb
In some of the rough ground at the edges of my path were masses of the Canary Wormwood and in fact I have seen this small shrub growing very commonly in the area. It doesn’t look up to much on first sight with its grey-green foliage, scruffy appearance and tiny yellowish button flowers but it is actually a very useful medicinal herb and a close relative of the Wormwood they make the potent spirit absinth from.
Canary Wormwood is used as a tonic for the digestion, to ease depression and even as an insecticide and for getting rid of worms, as well as many other properties but I like to crush its aromatic foliage and take a good whiff of its amazing smell. In Spanish it is called Incienso and this is very apt because it is like natural incense.
Absinthe is reputed to be a drink that causes hallucinations and you might think that perhaps I was suffering some side effects of inhaling the smell of the Wormwood, because next I spotted a pyramid poking out above the bananas and grapes at the side of the road. Luckily I had my camera with me at the time and can show you what I saw.
Now I had heard that there is a pyramid in Santa Bárbara, which is outside Icod and I have been meaning to investigate but I had never heard of a pyramid in San Marcos and yet I had found one. Of course the question is the same as that which is asked about the Pyramids of Güímar – who made these mysterious monuments?
The Güímar ones are famous because of all the publicity they get from the Ethnographic Park they are housed in and all the backing of shipping magnate Fred Olsen and explorer the late Thor Heyerdahl who created the place and suggest that they were built by the Guanche people long ago. However, some academics and sceptics claim otherwise and say the pyramids are of comparatively recent construction.
I have heard various theories including the idea that farmers here used to use up stones on their land to build these monuments to show off to their neighbours. My finca has got a bigger pyramid than yours – that sort of thing!
I have also heard that there were many more pyramids on Tenerife and that they were made by the Guanches but have been destroyed over the years by farmers and land-owners who saw no value in them.
Now to be fair to the Ethnographic Park in Güímar, it does have a question mark as a symbol against all the displays of information about the pyramids there. They are encouraging you to make up your own mind about them.
Naturally, I will endeavor to find out more about this San Marcos pyramid and any others I can discover. It will be my quest for the lost pyramids of Tenerife.
Footnote: Originally published in the Tenerife Sun newspaper in 2006.
Update: Sadly since this was published there was a rock fall from the cliffs where this Dragon Tree was growing and the area had to be closed off from the public. Because of the danger of further falling rocks and repair work that needed to be done the tree was removed.
© 2010 Steve Andrews
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