The Canary Island pine tree: an extraordinary creature in the shape of a tree (I)

22 August 2013
Comments: 0
22 August 2013, Comments: 0

The Canary Islands are exceptional for lots of reasons: we enjoy the best climate in the world, we’re a cultural bridge between the continents and we have some of the richest biodiversity to be found anywhere on the planet… And, in the midst of all these countless life forms, there’s a simply marvellous tree that we’d like to tell you about today, the Canary Island pine tree.

As species go, the Canary Island pine tree has been around a lot longer than we have. We appeared on Mother Earth some 200,000 years ago; well, the Canary Island pine tree has been growing for the last 150 millions years. Let’s put it another way: if the Canary Island pine tree was 40 years old, we’d be a little bitty baby of just 19 days.

During all this time it has always known how to adapt to the world it lives in. The branch of the species that reached the islands began to set itself apart from its relatives as time went by, and today it possesses certain unique characteristics that make it very special indeed.

Perhaps its most well-known characteristic is its ability to sprout up again after a fire, like a veritable phoenix rising from the ashes. In the Canaries we have a rare privilege in that our forests recover just a few years after they have been burnt down. In other places it takes various decades before people can begin to enjoy all their multiple benefits.

In spite of what is believed, this quality is not exclusive to the Canary Island pine tree; there are other species of pine trees in México (Pinus leiophylla), the United States (Pinus echinata) and Asia (Pinus merkusii) that have this same capacity.

The fact that they are able to resist fire is due, among other things, to its enormously thick bark that protects the living cells within the wood from high temperatures. But it has also developed other strategies such as growing really high so that the tree tops are a long way from the ground, and storing dormant buds all over its trunk and branches.

And in fact this is not the only way in which the Canary Island pine tree has learnt to adapt to fire: it has another strategy up its sleeve which is unique to species that have learnt to adapt to fire. We’re talking about the so-called “serotinous” pinecone, a special type of cone that only bursts open up once it has endured really high temperatures. This means that these pine cones are in fact a whole horde of seeds ready to start germinating and recovering the land that has been devastated by fire.

Next week we’ll share more information about this wonderful tree, stay tuned!

Picture: Alberto García (Trebol_a).

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