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

26 August 2013
Comments: 0
26 August 2013, Comments: 0

But this ability to resist fire is not the only thing that makes the Canary Island pine tree a totally amazing tree. Another of its unique strategies is the way it manages to survive when it is young because unlike other pine trees, the Canary Island pine tree spends its first few years growing downwards! While other species are busy developing a decent-sized trunk and spreading their branches as high as they can go in search of sunlight, the Canary Island pine tree is busy developing a powerful root system to ensure that it will have a good supply of water.

Another unusual characteristic of this pine tree is the effort it puts into strengthening its trunk so that it can gain greater stability and guarantee itself a long life. The heartwood of the Canary Island pine tree, in other words, the very centre of the trunk, becomes impregnated with special substances which make the wood denser and more resistant to rot – what’s known as tea-wood. This tea-wood part of the tree is not uniform along the length and breadth of the trunk, rather it tends to be much broader up to some four metres off the ground, which gives it more strength and allows it to resist the onslaught of the local winds.

And let’s not forget its flying pine nuts! If you open up a Canary Island pine cone that still has pine nuts inside, you’ll see that there’s a part that is shaped like a wing and is quite big compared to the actual pine nut itself. Thanks to this wing the pine nut can be swept away by the wind and with a bit of luck, it can travel for miles and miles. In fact it’s thought that that’s how the pine trees came to colonise the islands, they blew in on the wind!

There’s one more thing that we in Mirlo just love about the Canary Island pine tree and that is its ability to live in all sorts of different regions. You can find them on the edge of rain-forests where the climate is fresher and the sea of clouds never ceases to bathe the forest in rain and mist. It’s also found in the higher mountains of the archipelago, where the temperatures in wintertime can fall to freezing. It grows in the southern desert regions which barely receive two hundred litres of water each year and where there are pine trees that are genuine cathedrals! And finally, you can see them growing in volcanic lava where only lichen and these fantastic pine trees dare to germinate. The leaves of pine trees that grow in lava often have a more yellowish colour due to the scarcity of nutrients that their roots can absorb in such a young soil. Few trees are able to grow in so many different places.

If you’ve never seen a Canary Island pine tree forest, we invite you to visit one of them. If you have one nearby, congratulations for having the honour of its company! In either case, we encourage you to visit them more often, their vitality and their wisdom will undoubtedly leave a positive footprint on you.

This gallery features a tremendous report by José Mesa (Mataparda in Flickr) on how forests recover after a fire.

Change your world. Be mirlo.


Photo: José Mesa (Mataparda).

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