Christmas in Tenerife
Tenerife is perhaps not a place that springs to mind when you think about Christmas but in fact it is an ideal place to spend the festive season. And not just because of the countless bars and cheap prices for drinks!
For a start, if you want to see some snow you are perhaps more likely to find some here, where it often covers the peak and slopes of Mt Teide, than you are in Britain or Europe where global warming has caused it to be more likely a wet Christmas than a white one. What is so great about this place is that you can easily get away from the snow by simply going down into the warmer coastal areas.
Mother Nature dresses up for Christmas in Tenerife
Christmas in Tenerife in the Canary Islands is a colourful time of year because there are plenty of flowers like the Poinsettia in bloom as well as festive decorations.
Christmas in Tenerife
Mother Nature celebrates Xmas in Tenerife
Many people like to give the gift of an attractive Poinsettia potted plant at this time of year but sadly most people are dismayed in the weeks and months ahead to see the red bracts fall and the plant to drop its leaves and possibly even die.
However, here in Tenerife, Poinsettias grow so well they form large bushes and small trees even. Local councils use them as small border plants to make wonderful displays in parks and gardens.
The Poinsettia is actually known as "Flor de Pascua," which means Flower of Christmas and at this time of the year they can be seen in all their glory on roadsides and in gardens around the island.
The Poinsettia is actually a spurge, or "tabaiba," as it is known in Spanish, from the Euphorbia family, and the Canary Islands are ideal for many varieties of these unusual plants to grow.
Some types of Euphorbia look far more like a cactus than their leafy relatives. For example, the Cardón, with its clumps of spiny green column-shaped stems, is a common site on the volcanic slopes and dry, rocky ground.
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Crown of Thorns
A spiny euphorbia succulent plant
The Milk-striped Spurge is grown as an ornamental bush or small tree and is distinctive with its short spines, three-edged branches and whitish stripe down the middle. Its sap is white and milky too and this is a distinguishing feature of all the plants in the family because they all bleed this poisonous and corrosive latex.
Another member of the spurge family that is very commonly planted in Tenerife, is the Crown of Thorns, aptly named because of its spiny appearance and because it is believed to have been what was used to make the painful crown for Jesus, so perhaps it would be more suitable for Easter than for the festive season.
Sacred to the Virgin Mary
Christmas is the time for the baby Jesus and his Mother Mary, and a very useful herb that starts growing around this time of year and that is sacred to the Madonna is the Milk Thistle. I remember when I first came to Tenerife and spotted this plant growing as a weed in La Laguna and was amazed because back in Britain it is sold in capsules and tablets and tinctures in health shops yet here it is a common sight.
Milk Thistle is called Cardo de Maria in Spanish (Mary's thistle) and is very good as a tonic for the liver and especially good for detoxifying the body after over indulgence. So it could well come in handy after Christmas partying has caused you to have one too many. Milk Thistle is sold as a preparation in health shops here too but it easy enough to grow your own and later on in the year it bears purple-red flower heads contrasting with its spiky leaves marbled with white. The Virgin Mary is the Patron of Tenerife so it seems fitting to find that this useful herb that is named after her grows so well on the island.
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The Holly and the Ivy
Holly and the Ivy - a Christmas tradition
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Holly and the Ivy
You probably know the Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy but perhaps you don't know that these two evergreens can be found here on Tenerife as well. There is a native species of Canary Island holly but because it is a protected species and should be left where it grows in the forests, however, some people have ordinary holly growing in their gardens. As for ivy it rambles up walls and trees, just like it does in colder climates. There's one big difference though, because on Tenerife ivy can be found growing up palm trees.
Nature at Christmas time
Besides the wonderful display of plants here in December it always amazes me at the wildlife you can encounter on a typical winter's day. I remember last year on Christmas Eve sitting in the hot sun at a bar in Costa del Silencio when a bright Scarlet Darter dragonfly went by and its bright red was just right for Xmas I thought.
I have also seen Monarch butterflies at this time of year and to see these fabulous insects in the depths of winter is a real Christmas present from Mother Nature!
Footnote: First published in the Tenerife Sun.
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.