Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tajinaste rojo, the blood of Teide

Plants seem otherworldly, primitive, antediluvian, aliens, strange, fingers of blood coming out of the lava and pointing toward the sun. Excited and impressed to see them for the first time in full bloom. The memory left is indelible in the mind, never to be forgotten. They are a great spectacle of nature, lush plants like giants compared to other plants that grow in the huge crater, almost all at ground level. They are not afraid of anything, not the wind, or drought, or the hot midday sun, or cold alpine night. Proud to stand up to the sky sometimes exceed three meters in height. They are the red Tajinastes of Teide, the blood of Teide, the pride of Tenerife. 

Its scientific name, Echium wildpretii subsp. wildpretii, was given by British botanists Pearson and Hook in honor of Hermann Wildpret Swiss horticulturist who lived in La Orotava in the nineteenth century. Belongs to the family Boraginaceae. It grows on the slopes of the crater of Mount Teide in full sun, on the gravel and volcanic rocks at 2,000 feet. (I recommend to enlarge the pictures with a double click to appreciate its spectacular beauty.) 

The first time I saw five years ago and struck me. They came to me as a great gift of nature, an explosion of beauty in its purest form. My heart pounded and my eyes watered at the sight great. I do not practice any religion, but I could not help me to come to mind the first phrase of a religious oration in Latin that in my childhood I learned to be an altar boy: GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO, ie, Glory to God in the highest. Thank you creative force, god almighty, cosmic energy, supreme being, what are you, thank you for allowing me to see this wonder of nature. My long journey from the distant Mediterranean has been worthwhile. 

Seeing these impressive herbs we can imagine what must have felt the first generations of Guanches when newcomers from the African coast with its original Berber culture, first saw the red tajinastes. It is possible they worshiped them as gods, the gods of Teide that, when were angry, they roaring and spitting fire and, when they were happy, they poked his red fingers through the lava for men to worship them and offer them blood sacrifices. 

Always starts flowering around May 10 and reaches its peak a week later and lasted until early June. Some years, early or delayed a few days as did more or less cold in winter. Other crater plants flower at the same time as Descurainia bourgaeana with its magnificent yellow flowers. Both are endemic to the subalpine zone of the Cañadas del Teide.

Its seeds carried by wind and water germinate on the volcanic soil rich in mineral nutrients and lead to a small plant in a rosette of leaves linear-lanceolate, very hairy, adapted to cold alpine scorching heat and drought . For several years the rosette grows larger and accumulating nutrients and water in their roots.

When the red tajinaste reaches maturity its central bud grows up and produces a long inflorescence with flower buds covered by leaves more and more smaller.

The red Tajinastes were nearly extinct by the intense pressure of livestock grazing by the Cañadas del Teide and eat the rosettes of tender leaves. The Canary Islands Government had to ban livestock grazing around the Teide National Park and since then the species has recovered to the point that it is not included in the Catalogue of Species of Canarian Endangered Flora. 

Echium wildpretii species has two subspecies, the intensely red flowers of Tenerife, Echium wildpretii subsp. wildpretii and subspecies endemic to the island of La Palma of pink flowers, Echium wildpretii subsp. trichosiphon called Pink Tajinaste, very scarce and protected by law, included in the Catalog of Canarian Protected Species. 

This photograph was taken on May 6. Here are the flower buds about to open. Like leaves, the buds are covered by trichomes as small needles that are stuck into the skin when touched. The trichomes of the leaves are less sharp. 

And finally the miracle of flowering. First open the buds facing the East. This photograph was taken on May 11. 

Also on 11 May, on a hillside sheltered from cold north wind, I found this magnificent and completely blossomed, surrounded by several endemic plants of the crucifer, Erysimum scoparium, called Alheli of Teide.

The first flowers of Red Tajinaste are extraordinary. Her blue stamens deep red highlights on the petals. 

Honeybees foraging on the abundant nectar as crazed, intoxicated. His flight from flower to flower produces a strong buzz that breaks the silence of the crater. 

If you look at the inflorescence is observed that the flowers are opening drawing an upward spiral. After flowering in summer mature seeds are dispersed by the slopes of the crater and wait patiently for the first autumn rains to germinate.

And like all living things reach the end, death. The proud inflorescence of about three meters dries and the wind falls down the corpse to the ground. It is a sad reminder of what once was one of the most beautiful plants of Tenerife. 

Even dead, red tajinaste is showing us the beauty of the structure of its inflorescence. Each flower leaves a mark on the dry bark. 

A close up allows us to appreciate the design in the form of crocodile skin. Nature never ceases to amaze. 

A new generation of red Tajinastes grows at the foot of the corpse of its mother. I gotta go. Other Tenerife wonderful plants waiting for me. I take a great treasure photo on my camera, the best of memories. Before getting into the car I turn around and I promise this little plant that one day back to admire the beauty of their children or their grandsons. And back emotion my heart will accelerate as the massacred Guanches were thrilled at what they believed gods emerged from the lava. 

1 comment:

  1. Truly glorious plants and love your enthusiasm for them too Juan