Orchid in bloom

Orchid species
Credit: Photo by Steve Andrews

Tenerife's answer to Kew Gardens

If David Bellamy came to Tenerife there is one place he would make a beeline for and that's the Botanic Gardens in Puerto de la Cruz. It is a place I have made many visits to and it's the nearest thing to Kew you're going to find on this island.

La Paz means The Peace

It's certainly a bit different from all the other places to see here and it changes with the seasons so there's always something new to see. El Botanico, as it is also known, is easy to get to too because it is on the main road into Puerto, with a bus stop right outside and conveniently next to the La Paz centre if you fancy a bite to eat and a cooling drink before or after your visit.

You can't miss the place with its steps going up and its towering trees and for 3 Euros it is well worth the price of admission. As soon as you enter you have a choice of pathways and straight away you will feel as if you have entered another world as you see the long beards of Spanish Moss hanging down from the branches of a tree by a pool.

Australian Banyan Tree

Moreton Bay Fig Tree

Banyan Tree in El Botanico
Credit: Photo by Steve Andrews

Banyan Tree

Moreton Bay Fig

Down a side path there's a collection of tropical orchids and when they are in flower they are a must-see and some of the most beautiful flowers on the island. It's not just the blooms, because there are some incredible trees like the huge 200-year-old Australian Banyan Tree or Moreton Bay Fig, which has amazing aerial roots hanging down and rooting and in their turn becoming new trunks.

This tree always has people posing for pictures in front of it and it's not surprising. It looks so massive and so strange and as you look at the twisting roots and branches it is easy to imagine seeing all sorts of things in the shapes it forms.

It is a relative of the ordinary Fig Tree and the Rubber Tree and it bears small purplish fruits full of tiny seeds. I look at the size of these seeds and compare them with the size of the full-grown tree they can grow into.

The Moreton Bay Fig is a rainforest tree and in its natural environment more often starts life and grows in the form of a vine and banyan trees are also known as "strangler figs." When a seed lands in the branch of a host tree it sends strangler roots down the host trunk, which eventually kill it and leaves the banyan to take over its place.

King Carlos III

Back in 1778 in the reign of King Carlos III, the gardens were set up as a place where plants that were being brought by ship from all over the world could be established. The aim was to see if they could be acclimatised for growing in mainland Spain and Europe, and so the gardens were given the long name of La Orotava Acclimatisation Garden.

Besides the flowers and trees there are some types of wildlife worth seeing as well. At the far end of the gardens there is a big ornamental pond and there are always red and blue dragonflies hawking back and for, or resting in the sun on the lily pads or stonework. There are also several large terrapins and they haul out on rock platforms as well as paddling around in the shallow trough that runs around the pool.

Lily Pond

Lily Pool in El Botánico
Credit: Photo by Steve Andrews

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles

Unwanted terrapins

Back in the UK these reptiles became popular due to the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles craze and there are wild populations of some of these that have been let go by owners who had taken on more than they bargained for. I don't know if the Botanic Gardens terrapins were once someone's pets but they are certainly doing well there and are often getting their photos snapped by visitors with cameras.

As well as this pond there is another right in the middle of the gardens and recently some huge water lilies from the Amazon have been planted here. I was admiring them last time I was there and every now and then I could have sworn I heard a frog croaking. Maybe my favourite amphibian has colonised the gardens too, or maybe it was just my imagination and I was dreaming again.


Terrapin in the lily pool
Credit: Photo by Steve Andrews


A common songbird

Blackbirds are a common sight in the Botanic Gardens and seeing them makes you think of being back in Britain but looking around at the tall palms and exotic creeping vines and you quickly realise you are on Tenerife. But that is one of the main delights of the place because it is somewhere that different countries all meet together in harmony with plants and trees to act as ambassadors and visitors from all over the world who come to see them.

Footnote: First published in the Tenerife Sun

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.