Pinus canariensis / Canary Island pine

subgenus Pinus, section Pinus, subsection Pinaster (Mayr ex Koehne)

Pinus canariensis, first described in in 1825 by Robert Sweet (1783–1835) ex Curt Polycarp Joachim Sprengel (1766–1833) is commonly known as Canary Island Pine, as well as Pino canario, or pino de Canarias in the Spanish language. The epithet canariensis refers to the Canary Islands.

Ethnobotany. The species is of vital importance to the Canary Islands in gathering water. It grows in the cloud forest belt, where annual rainfall is typically around 20 inches (50 cm). Under the trees, this increases to 80 inches (200 cm) with fog drip off the leaves. This fourfold increase in precipitation supplies the irrigation water essential for the Islands' economy.

The fallen dead leaves used to be extensively used as packaging material for bananas exported from the Canary Islands. The large glossy and rich-brown colored cones are among the best in the genus for use as Christmas ornaments, but are not currently utilized extensively for this.

It is widely planted as an ornamental and, more locally, as a plantation species. In Australia and South Africa it has escaped cultivation and is actively invading (i.e., naturally regenerating) in native habitats of mallee shrubland and heath (in Western Australia) and fynbos and forest (in South Africa).

artwork by Gutenberg.
artwork by Gutenberg.

Description. Canary Island pine is an evergreen coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 125 feet (40 m), occasionally to 200 feet (60 m), with a straight stem and a usually open crown of regular, candelabra-like upswept branches. Its overall structure is narrowly conic when young, later widening to broadly ovoid-conic, finally becoming irregular and dense with age.

  • Bark is very thick, scaly, fissured, patterned red-brown and buff.
  • Branching mostly uninodal, but occasionally multinodal on vigorous young trees.
  • Shoots are stout, 0.28 to 0.6 inch (7 - 15 mm) thick, rough, and colored buff to yellow-brown.
  • Winter buds are large, cylindric to ovoid-acute shaped, with red-brown scales having long free, revolute tips, fringed with white hairs.
  • Adult leaves (needles) are retained 1.5 to 3 years on the tree. They are borne in fascicles of 3 with a persistent 0.8 inch (2 cm) sheath, and measure 6 to 11 inches (15 - 28 cm) long. Needles are bright green to yellow-green colored, slender, about 0.04 inch (1 mm) thick, with serrulate margins, and fine lines of stomata on all faces. Those measuring over 8 inches (20 cm) long droop gracefully with their weight.
  • Juvenile leaves are strongly glaucous, 1.2 to 2.4 inches (3 - 6 cm) long, on slender, 0.12 inch (3 mm) shoots, and are grown on young trees for 3 to 6 years (occasionally longer), and produced again on epicormic shoots after injury (they may be mixed with adult foliage on some cultivated trees.
  • Seed cones grow slightly deflexed on short stout peduncles. Their structure is symmetrically ovoid-conic, hard and heavy, measuring 4 to 8 inches (10 - 20 cm) long and 2 to 2.8 inches (5 - 7 cm) broad when closed. In April, two years after pollination, the cones ripen to a rich, glossy, chestnut-brown color, measuring 3.6 to 5.2 inches (9 - 13 cm) broad, finally opening the same summer or up to a year later.
  • Cone scales are stout, thick, woody, and very stiff. The rhomboid-shaped apophysis is 0.6 to 0.88 inch (15 - 22 mm) long and 0.8 to × 1.1 inches (20 - 28 mm) wide with a slight to moderate transverse ridge. The umbo is dorsal, flat to slightly raised, measures 0.24 to 0.36 inch (6 - 9 mm) wide, colored brown to grey-buff.
  • Seeds are shiny blackish brown above, matt gray below, measuring 0.44 to 0.6 inch (11 - 15 mm) long and 0.24 to 0.28 inch (6 - 7 mm) wide with a 0.6 to 1 inch (15 - 25 mm) long and 0.4 inch (10 mm) wing, buff to reddish with numerous wavy dark brown streaks. Unlike most hard pines, the wing is not easily removed from the seed.
natural range of <em>Pinus canariensis </em>
natural range of Pinus canariensis

Distribution. This species is native to the western Canary Islands of Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, Hierro and Gomera (west of north Africa), an area of sub-humid Mediterranean climate. Predominant substrate is volcanic (of necessity, as the Canary Islands are volcanoes), growing at elevations of 2000 to 6,600 feet (600 - 2000 m) above sea level (varying with aspect). The tree forms distinct belts of sparse woodland. Forests in the northern cloud belt of Tenerife are much denser, with closed canopy, while those in the drier south and west are open, with widely spaced trees. It is a sub-tropical species unable to survive the winter frosts of temperate climates, which also restrict its ascent on the mountains of the Canary Islands.

Hardy to USDA Zone 9 — cold hardiness limit between 20° and 30°F (-6.6° and -1.1°C).

Attribution from: M. P. Frankis; Conifers of Tenerife; ©1992 Conifer Society of Australia, Newsletter 11.

A forest of Pinus canariensis in Caldera de Taruriente, La Palma, Canary islands (España).
Photo by By I, Luc Viatour, CC BY-SA 3.0
Pinus canariensis growing in nature, Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma, Canary Islands.
Photo by JuVlai from Germany
Pinus canariensis — foliage and pollen cone detail.
Photo by Santamarcanda
Pinus canariensis — seed cone detail.
Pinus canariensis — bark and epicormic shoot detail.
Photo by Paul Venter, via Wikipedia
Pinus canariensis growing in Santa Cruz de La Palma, La Palma, Canary Islands.
Photo by Frank Vincentz

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