Tenerife herbs: Tree Heather, Tree Heath or Brezo
Heather that grows as a tree
The Tree Heath or Tree Heather (Erica arborea) is, as its name suggests, a species of Heather that grows to the size and in the form of a tree.
In Spanish it is known as Brezo, and the plant forms forests on Tenerife and all of the Canary Islands with the exception of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura where it became extinct. It also grows in Africa, Madeira and parts of Europe and the Mediterranean region.
Tree Heather can grow to a height of 15 metres in old specimens so really is a tree when it reaches its full size.
Tree Heather photo
Tree Heath described
The Tree Heath or Tree Heather is similar looking, apart from its size, to smaller relatives in the Heather family or Ericaceae.
It bears whirls of small dark green leaves that are evergreen and inflorescences of tiny pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers. Because it produces so many of these little flowers that Tree Heather dramatically changes its appearance when in full bloom in the spring.
Tree Heather has a rough bark on large specimens with a tendency to crack. Forests of Tree Heather grow in areas where they are regularly shrouded in clouds, which on Tenerife means the north of the island and in mountainous areas.
This "Brezo forest" mixes in with the "Laurisilva" evergreen Laurel forest and also has a tendency to develop in areas where the habitat has been degraded by human activity such as farming and the felling of trees. It forms large stretches of forest on the volcanic mountainsides of the islands.
Tree Heather has been found to have many uses and has played an important role in the past economy of the Canary Islands. It has been used as fodder for livestock and bedding, for charcoal production and as a source of sticks and forks.
Medicinal properties of Tree Heather
The Tree Heather can be brewed into a herbal tea or infusion and in these forms it is used as a skin tonic as well as for its anti-inflammatory properties. Tree Heather has been employed in Canary Islands folk medicine to treat kidney stones and urinary tract problems, as well as against insect bites and stings.
Tree Heath also can be used as a diuretic. High concentrations of tannins in the wood, bark and leaves give the plant astringent properties too.
In some Mediterranean parts it has been used to treat rheumatism, and in Southern France and Italy the roots of this tree have been fashioned into briar pipes.
Tree Heather has very many uses, as can be seen here, but I enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing it in flower and walking in its forests.
Copyright © 2011 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.
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