The dragon tree of the Canary Islands: a symbol of the nature of the islands🌳🌞

dragon tree of the Canary Islands
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The dragon tree of the Canary Islands is much more than just a tree: it is a living symbol of the Canary Islands, a natural jewel that captivates residents and tourists alike, yet is not always known and appreciated outside the islands. That is why in this article we are going to take a journey through the essence of this millenary being, discovering its history, mysteries and beauty. Come with us!!

🌳 What is the Canary Islands dragon tree?

The Dracaena draco (dragon tree), known in the Canaries simply as drago, is an unique tree species. Native to northwest Africa and the Canary archipelago, the dragon tree is known for its peculiar appearance, reminiscent of the arboreal plants that existed at the time of the dinosaurs, with a canopy of branches that takes the shape of an umbrella. This tree also represents a living piece of the history and nature of the Canary Islands, and is officially considered the natural plant symbol of the island of Tenerife, which is nowadays its main habitat.

🌿 What are the main characteristics of this species?

The Canary Islands dragon tree is distinguished by its slow growth – it takes up to 10 years to grow a single metre – and long life, since it can easily reach several hundred years of longevity. Its leaves are long and rigid, of an intense green, and are grouped at the end of its branches. Curiously, this species has no growth rings, so its age can only be determined by the rows of branches, which are generated approximately every 15 years after the first flowering.

It flowers in summer and produces fleshy, round, orange fruits. Its trunk is smooth, although it becomes rougher over the years. One of the most fascinating aspects, however, is its sap, known as “sangre de drago” (dragon tree blood), a reddish liquid historically used for medicinal purposes and in dyes. It is the only plant species in the world whose sap is red in colour.

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📍 Where can the dragon tree be found in the Canary Islands?

Dragon blood trees are endemic to the archipelago, mainly in Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Palma, and El Hierro, being absent in the eastern islands – Lanzarote and Fuerteventura – due to their more arid weather. These trees are found in areas with a mild climate, adapting perfectly to the volcanic soils of the islands. Their presence is an essential tourist attraction for visitors to the Canary Islands, providing a unique connection with the region’s nature.

🗿 The aborigines of the Canary Islands and the dragon tree

For the aborigines of the Canary Islands, the dragon tree had a special significance. It was considered a sacred tree, enveloped in an aura of respect and mysticism. The Guanches, the ancient inhabitants of Tenerife, used its sap – the “dragon tree blood” – in rituals and medicines, demonstrating the deep connection between the native culture and this majestic tree.

Once dried and crushed to a powder, the sap was used to cure everything, from ulcers to haemorrhages, and was also used to strengthen the gums and clean the teeth. It was also used to make dyes and varnishes. Until not so long ago, farmers still used the leaves of the dragon tree to feed their animals, or to make handmade ropes.

🐉 Legends and curiosities about the dragon tree

The Canary Islands dragon tree is surrounded by fascinating legends. One of the best known is its association with dragons, given its unique appearance and reddish sap that resembles blood. It was said that dragons turn into dragon trees when they die; also, this tree was related to the dragon that guarded the golden apples of the Garden of the Hesperides, which Greek mythology placed around the west coast of Africa.

According to another legend, an ancient merchant once came to the coast of Tenerife in search of dragon tree sap, already known from ancient times for its curative properties. When he was travelling around the islands and became infatuated with a young Guanche woman, while running after her he stumbled upon one of these trees and, on seeing it and surprised by its singular shape, attacked it with a knife; on seeing that a liquid similar to blood was gushing from the wound, the merchant was so frightened that he ran away and left immediately the island in his boat.

These and other tales have made the dragon tree a cultural and natural icon of the Canary Islands, also present in the art, literature and folklore of the islands.

🌲 The thousand-year-old dragon tree of Tenerife

The thousand-year-old dragon tree of Icod de los Vinos, in Tenerife, is the most famous and admired specimen of this species in the Canary Islands. It is estimated to be several centuries old, although the term “thousand-year-old” is more symbolic than literal, as its real age is estimated to be between 600 and 800 years, according to various studies, despite the fact that it has even been falsely claimed to be more than 5,000 years old.

It is 17 metres high and has a perimeter of 20 metres at its base, with a total weight of around 150 tons, only counting the visible part (without the roots). This dragon tree is a natural monument that is worth a visit for anyone travelling to the Canary Islands, as it represents the antiquity and beauty of nature in these islands.

the dragon blood tree of Tenerife

🚨 The Canary Islands dragon tree, in danger of extinction

Despite its strength, the Canary Islands dragon tree is a species that faces threats that put its survival at risk. Increasing urbanisation, tourist pressure on the habitat, climate change and diseases are some of the dangers faced by the dragon tree, which is listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List: this is due not only to its increasingly limited habitat (already restricted to the islands), but also to the severe dispersal of its specimens.

Although it is found on almost all the “green” islands of the Canary Islands, it is considered that originally the dragon tree was only naturally present on Tenerife and Gran Canaria, being introduced on the rest; however, in Gran Canaria island is also considered an extinct species in natural state, as the last known wild specimen, located in the Pino Gordo ravine, died in 2009.

The dragon tree of the Canary Islands is not just a tree; it is a witness to history, a symbol of resistance and an emblem of the natural wealth of the Canary Islands. The protection and conservation of this rare species are essential to keep this legacy alive. When visiting the Canary Islands, be sure to admire and respect these majestic beings, true guardians of the history and culture of these magical islands.🌲🌞

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