The Dragon Tree of the Canary Islands - a plant survivor from prehistoric times
Mysterious Dragon Trees of Tenerife
My friend Bernie had been following my stories but had cause for complaint about the one I wrote about the reptiles of Tenerife. It's all very interesting, he said, but when you are writing about the Dragon Tree park and the mini dragons that live there why isn't there a picture of the famous Canary Islands tree itself?
Good question, I suppose. No room, I told him, but to correct the matter in this article I am going to tell you all about Dragon Trees and the main one on this island, of course.
The Dragon Tree - Dracaena draco
Tenerife Dragon tree photos
From prehistoric times
Dragon Trees (Dracaena draco) are survivors from a bygone age and were around in prehistoric times. They are believed to be one of the longest surviving trees on the planet and they are made to stand up to all manner of adverse conditions.
Dragon Trees can withstand extreme heat, drought, wind and salty spray but they had no natural protection against people and so countless specimens were destroyed for use as timber, to clear the land and for commercial purposes. Fortunately they are now legally protected and have become recognized as a plant symbol of the island.
The most famous of all is the Drago Milenario in Icod de los Vinos and this mighty Dragon Tree is believed to be between 1,000 and 3,000 years old. When you stand beneath it and look up at the weird shapes in its huge trunk and the twisting masses of branches fanning out and standing proudly, with Mt. Teide in the background, it is easy to feel its ancient power.
What tales such a tree could tell if it could but speak for it has watched the centuries come and go. I like to think Dragon Trees can talk to us via our imaginations if we stand under them and let our minds wander.
Indeed, the tree was once regarded as a sacred site for the Guanche who are said to have assembled under it for ceremonies and meetings. These people who made shields from its bark and trunk and used its red dragon's blood resin for embalming their dead regarded the Dragon Tree as holy and magical and it is easy to see why.
When I first set foot in Tenerife a few years back a friend of mine called Priscilla was showing me around Santa Cruz and as soon as I saw a huge Dragon Tree there I was amazed. I had never seen one before and the sheer size and strange appearance appealed so strongly and captured my imagination.
We call them "Drago," my friend told me and the Dragon Tree became an image of Tenerife that implanted itself in my mind strongly. It became one of the many charms and mysteries of the island that appealed to me so much that I moved here.
The Dragon Tree has become associated with legend, and one of the reasons it is named after the mighty reptile of folklore is because old trees sprout many heads like some dragons were reported to have and because the hanging aerial roots look like the beard of the fabulous beast.
Greek myths relate the tale of Hercules and his heroic quest to bring back three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. A hundred-headed dragon called Landon was the guardian of the place and after the hero killed it to reach the fruit, trees began to spring up from where its blood fell on the earth.
So that is an explanation of where the Dragon Tree originated and where that magical garden was, namely here in Tenerife. It is a story from another world of gods and goddesses, heroes, monsters and epic journeys in mysterious realms.
Indeed, there is something very otherworldly about these trees and it is hardly surprising to learn that the dragon's blood resin has been held in high regard by sorcerers and alchemists of old and is used to make a special incense. In astrology the Dragon Tree is believed to be ruled over by Mars the god of war.
If you go up on Mt. Teide there are rugged landscapes of volcanic rock as weird as any images of the Red Planet and so perhaps it's fitting that a tree ruled by Mars grows so well on an island that in some places looks like its planetary neighbour.
You have probably noticed how most towns and villages here have their own Dragon Trees. They are landmarks and also something for the local community to be proud of.
There are dragon tree stories and myths and dragon tree facts. A very good way to find out about them is to grow a Dragon Tree houseplant.
They are easy enough to care for, although they take a long time to germinate and can take 10 years or more before they flower. I have grown them from the seeds, which are contained in the orange-coloured berries.
A friend of mine called Carleen, who lives in hurricane ravaged Mississippi, asked me to post some over to her and I did so last year. She recently e-mailed me to say that one of the only things that survived the salt water that flooded her garden was a baby Dragon Tree she had grown from my seeds. Something to consider that might motivate you if you are thinking about planting a Dragon Tree.
Footnote: Originally published as Tough survivor from myth and legend in the Western Sun, 3 November 2005.
© 2008 Steve Andrews
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