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The town of Los Realejos in Tenerife in the Canary Islands
Los Realejos photos
What's real for me in the town of Los Realejos
Los Realejos is a town in the mountains in the north of Tenerife in the Canary Islands and I often pass through it on the bus. I see buildings, and bars and shops and streets but nothing that calls out to me to get off and investigate further, nothing apart from a rather wonderful fan-shaped Dragon tree.
The Los Realejos Dragon tree, or Drago as they are called in Spanish, is perhaps not as ancient or as massive as the mighty thousand-year-old Drago Milenario from Icod, but it is nevertheless a very impressive and unique looking specimen of this incredible tree. I got of the bus and went to see if I could get a much better look.
On the roadside I stopped to admire a patch of colourful Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) and was thinking about how incredibly well these pretty flowers do here growing wild. They do very well back in the gardens of the UK too but here On Tenerife they produce bright carpets of red and orange and golden yellow.
I found a road going uphill near the Dragon tree and went to see if I could get closer. There was a large patch of grassy wasteland with people walking dogs and a young couple sat happily in the sun. There were patches of wild flowers - thistles and poppies bobbing in the breeze.
I turned over a stone and found a nest of slinky-looking millipedes. I also saw lots of grasshoppers but they all hopped away rather quickly. What a great place for flowers and insects, I was thinking, and I had no thoughts about the buildings and streets that were actually just minutes away. I was in my world - the wonderful world of nature!
Then I spied a Thread-waisted or Sand Wasp (Ammophila tydei). This strange spindly looking insect digs burrows in sandy soil and the females fill these burrows with food for their larvae. The mother wasp finds a caterpillar and stings it causing paralysis. She then lays her egg on her helpless victim after placing it in a hole she has excavated.
Perhaps that's what the female Sand Wasp I found was doing - hunting for some hapless caterpillar but when I saw her she was resting on a rock in the sunlight. I left her too it and carried on my way to see what else I could find.
Purple Star Thistles (Centaurea cacitrapa) were flowering and growing amongst the rough grassland and I took care where I was walking not wanting to get any spines in my sandaled feet. Although this plant is listed as a weed in many parts of the world I think it is a really pretty flower and very aptly named with its star-shaped blooms.
The Dragon tree was downhill from where I was but there was no easy way to get to it and I went to look for an alternative route. I went back down to where I had started but just had to stop to look at a very beautiful Jacaranda tree (Jacaranda mimosifolia) coming into full flower with its lilac-blue blossoms.
Finding another approach towards my goal I scrambled up a rocky bank onto another patch of waste ground and this was overgrown with Incienso, the Canary Island Wormwood (Artemisia canariensis). I crushed up some of its grey-green aromatic foliage and inhaled the amazing fragrance - just like the incense of its Spanish name!
At last I reached as far as I was going to easily get to the Dragon tree and I snapped a photo of it with the mountains in the background and its huge head of tangled branches fanning out in the Dragon tree way.
My quest for the day was over, or so I thought, and I made my way back to the road but on the way I saw the entrance to one of these volcanic tube caves that riddle the island in many places with a maze of mysterious underground tunnels. This one was being used for routing a water pipe but on the rocky wall in the dappled light I saw a patch of exquisite greenery.
Two Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum capillus-veneris) and a single plant of another species, which I haven't been able identify, had found an ideal place to flourish. The Maidenhair fern is often grown as a pot plant and I remember one my parents had for many years in their lounge, but here it was in all its natural glory in a shady nook hidden away from the bustle of the town.
I was thinking that I was probably the only person who had seen these beautiful plants that gleamed like emeralds in the darkened recess of their cave home. An unexpected surprise that made my day and for me was a very real part of Los Realejos!
Footnote: First published in the Tenerife Sun
© 2008 Steve Andrews