The remarkable climate that the Canary Islands enjoy is not only credited with making the archipelago one of the healthiest places to live in the world. It is also a gardener’s paradise, as many varieties of tropical and Mediterranean plants thrive in the almost continuous sunshine and mild temperatures.
Whilst aridity is the most obvious drawback to serious cultivation, the easternmost islands, such as Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, also have to contend with periods of strong winds, which can be damaging to plant life. As a result, crops such as grape vines are usually grown in the lee of stone semi-circles, known locally as zocos.
Other crops are regularly rotated, with potatoes, onions, maize, bananas, strawberries and melon commonly harvested throughout the year. In recent times, it has been noticeable how many families have returned to crop cultivation to supplement their household needs.
The dryness of the atmosphere is counterbalanced with the widespread use of picon, a black volcanic gravel that draws in whatever moisture there is in the night air and releases it into the surrounding soil during the day. Usually spread several inches deep, it is this method of cultivation which creates the unique black landscapes that typify much of Lanzarote’s agricultural activity.
Aside from food propagation, many Canarians continue to adorn their houses and courtyards with a wide variety of plants, illustrating their enduring love of horticulture. Numerous types of palm tree flourish, especially those with more fibrous leaf matter, such as coconut palms and washingtonias, as these are better equipped for flourishing in the wind.
Amongst the many exotic flowering species that can be found on the islands, strelitza or bird of paradise flowers are particularly popular. Their silvery-green leaves and striking orange and blue blooms can cope with any amount of wind and very dry conditions, which has led some local councils to plant them in large quantities along road sides and in central reservations.
Given the similarity with a desert climate, it is also no surprise to find that succulents and cacti are often chosen to adorn gardens and patios. These species are masters at conserving what water comes their way and come in such an abundance of shapes and sizes that they are far from being an uninspired choice.
And whilst the islands cannot rival the lush vegetation found in the Caribbean and other hotspots with more turbulent and humid climates, the combination of plants that can thrive in the Canaries makes the mixture of fauna available unique and extremely attractive.