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Tenerife herbs: Tree Heather, Tree Heath or Brezo

Updated on March 4, 2014

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

Brezo
Brezo
Brezo forest
Brezo forest

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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    • Tenerife Islander profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Tenerife

      They don't grow that fast. I have seen them regenerate after fire and it is about one foot to 18 inches growth in a year I would estimate. The plant is in the Heather family which has nothing to do with the Cycads which are very different.

    • teresa8go profile image

      teresa8go 

      7 years ago from Michigan, USA

      I've got a a couple of questions. I've tried to find my own answers but I had no luck. So maybe your source of information might have the answers.

      How fast does it grow? I mean does it grow pretty fast or pretty slow? Or does it grow pretty fast till it reaches a certain size and then it grows pretty slow?

      When I looked at the photo of the Brezo forest the term cycad popped in my mind. So I was wondering if Brezo are ancient plants like cycads are? Or maybe there are cycads growing nearby?

      Don't break your brain trying to answer the questions. OK?

    • Tenerife Islander profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Tenerife

      Thank you, Apostle Jack!

    • Apostle Jack profile image

      Apostle Jack 

      7 years ago from Atlanta Ga

      Good information.

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