Succulent plants for the Tenerife garden

Kleinia nerifolia

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Canary Candle Shrub

The Canary Candle Shrub (Senecio kleinia) is one of the endemic plants that falls into this category. It develops into a large branching shrub with jointed succulent stems that only have leaves and flowers on them in winter and early spring. It is found growing wild in dry coastal areas and on waste ground but because of its ornamental value it is often grown in gardens too. The Canary Candle Shrub is widely distributed around the island and is an easy plant to spot when out and about.

Cacti and succulents in Tenerife

Many people in the UK enjoy growing cacti and succulents as houseplants but here in Tenerife you can grow them outside in your garden or on a terrace and don’t need to worry about the temperature. Not only that but these plants are specially adapted to survive in hot and dry parts of the world so they will be OK if you go away for a few days or forget to water them.

There are actually many species of succulent that grow wild in Tenerife and are native to the island, and because of their decorative value some of these are grown in gardens as well.

Aloe Vera

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Botanist and author David Bramwell tells us in his book Medicinal Plants of the Canary Islands that Aloe Vera sap and gel has the following properties or uses:

A remedy for burns, a sun screen, a strong laxative, for healing wounds, pain relief, skin care, and it is antiseptic and antiviral. It is also being studied as a treatment for cancer and AIDS.

Aloes

The Aloe Vera is a large plant with rosettes of grey-green fleshy leaves that go a sort of pinkish-red in very dry conditions. This plant has tall flowering spikes that are produced in spring and that carry pretty yellow tubular flowers. Aloe Vera is well known for its use in cosmetics and in healthcare products so it is a useful species to grow as well, and the flowers are edible and delicious. Other species of Aloe are also commonly grown in flower and shrub borders. The Candelabra Aloe (Aloe arborescens) has reddish-orange flowers and forms large bushes or small trees that reach 6-9ft in height.

Houseleeks

Houseleeks growing on a building in La Laguna
Houseleeks growing on a building in La Laguna | Source

Houseleeks and the Cake of the Rock

Houseleeks in the Aeonium genus can be found in the wild and are cultivated in gardens. These plants get their name from their unusual habit of growing on the roofs of buildings and in cracks in walls. You will often see them in such places in towns and villages in the north of the island. La Laguna is a great place to spot houseleeks high above you on historic buildings and adding their special charm to the city.

The houseleeks all form rosettes of succulent leaves and produce flowering spikes carried above. Some of them have thick stems and may grow into branched shrubs but others remain more or less close to the ground. They have yellow, white or pink tiny starry flowers that are very attractive. Aeonium tabuliforme is a very curious plant that forms a rosette that lies flat on the rock service it is growing in. It is found on cliffs and rocky mountainsides in the northwest of Tenerife. In Spanish it is known as Pastel del Risco, which translated means “Cake of the Steep Rock”.

Canary Spurge

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Succulent Spurges

The very large and varied Spurge family has many succulents in it and one of these is the Canary Spurge or Cardón (Euphorbia canariensis). With its thick and leafless fleshy stems that are edged with spines all along the four or five sides to them it looks more like a cactus but it is not one. This plant forms large clumps in semi-desert areas and on volcanic mountainsides and grows all over the island. It is very popular in gardens too, as is the even spinier Crown of Thorns (E. milii) which has succulent stems covered in sharp thorns and carries its leaves and flowers at the tops of these stems. It originally came from Madagascar. Its name is derived from its form and appearance, and although it has been said to have been the shrub used to make the crown of thorns for Jesus when he was crucified, this doesn't make a lot of sense because the plant was unlikely to have been growing in Israel at that time, being a native of Madagascar.

Both these plants bleed a toxic white milky juice if they are broken so care when handling is advisable and not just because of the spines.

Bryophyllum daigremontianum

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Mother of Thousands

Two more succulents that are often seen growing in Tenerife are the Bryophyllum species daigremontianum and tubliflorum. They are also Madagascan plants and well-suited to growing on a hot subtropical island. Both Bryophyllums are often called Mother of Thousands because these plants produce hundreds of tiny plantlets along the edges of their leaves. These fall off and root easily wherever they fall. They grow to 3ft or more in height and the tubular flowers are a pinkish-red and carried in drooping clusters on flower-stalks above the foliage of the plants.

B. daigremontianum has succulent pointed leaves that have darker markings on the undersides and B. tubiflorum has long thin fleshy leaves. Both types are very easy to grow in pots or in flower borders and need very little in the way of care. They are poisonous plants and usually don’t even get attacked by any of the insect pests so prevalent on the island.

So as you can see most succulents don’t need much attention and this means that they are ideal for gardeners who don’t have much time on their hands or are simply busy enjoying the island in other ways!

First published in the Tenerife Weekly, March 2013

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