Thursday, 21 February 2013

Rare Canary Islands Bencomia shrub grows to the size of trees in Cuevas Negras



Bencomia caudata Photo by David Parkes

Many years ago the Findhorn village in Scotland made the news because of the gigantic plants and vegetables that grew there, and this was believed to have happened due to the magical assistance of nature spirits. Findhorn was soon to become a thriving New Age community and still is to this day. Now a rare shrub known as Bencomia caudata has been found growing to the size of small trees here in Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
According to author and botanist David Bramwell in his book Wild Flowers of the CanaryIslands, this particular species of Bencomia only reaches 2 m in height and he describes it as a “small shrub.” However, whilst out walking with friends I discovered a number of specimens of this rare plant that had developed into small trees and reached 4 m or more. Some of these had proper branches and trunks as well. They are of the beaten track and hidden away in the garden of an abandoned house in the Cuevas Negras area above Los Silos.


Bencomia caudata tree. Photo by David Parkes

I contacted Bramwell and he has confirmed that the small trees are B. caudata but a lot bigger than usual. It is thought that the fertile soil where they are growing has caused their fantastic increase in size. The Cuevas Negras ravine they are in is sheltered and receives plenty of water. Most of the vegetation growing there is very tall, green and luxuriant. There are very high plants of some sort of Cabbage in the garden as well and my friend Holly van Heffernan was photographed by one of these to show just how tall they are.


Holly van Heffernan with a Cuevas Negras cabbage. Photo by Steve Andrews


The Bencomia genus of shrubs is actually in the Rosacae or Rose family but only an experienced botanist would be likely to realise this because the shrubs do not look anything like the popular flower we all know so well. They are evergreens and have attractive pinnate leaves. The flowers are carried in inflorescences that later on turn into tightly packed globular fruits. The flowers are either male or female and the plants are dioecious.


Palo de Sangre the Stick of Blood. Photo by Steve Andrews 

The leaf-form of the Bencomia species bears a resemblance to those of the Stick of Blood or “Palo de Sangre” (Marcetella moquiniana) that is another uncommon shrub found in Tenerife. It gets its name from having the upper parts of its stems covered in bright red hairs. This shrub is in the Rose family too. It grows on cliffs, slopes and in ravines in the wild but is frequently cultivated in parks and gardens for its ornamental value.
There are another three species of Bencomia that are endemics of the Canary Islands.  B.exstipulata grows in various locations in the highlands of Mt Teide, B. sphaerocarpa is surving in small populations on the forest cliffs of El Hierro, and B. brachystachya is a shrub that is only found in Gran Canaria. All of the Bencomias are very rare plants and protected species.

Copyright © 2013 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.


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