Reserves of the Canary Islands: Paradises of Native Flora and Fauna



The work and gift of evolution, each island of the Canary Islands jealously hoards its rare animals and plants—species so valuable to science they would captivate Darwin himself.

They are the most outstanding elements of the Canary Islands’ lush natural environments: four national parks, each with its own raison d’être. Each park has its own biological treasures, its natural gems, all encased within a specific ecosystem. Thus do the high mountains and their ravines find shelter in the Cañadas del Teide National Park on the Tenerife Island. The desert, pure and simple, in this case of volcanic origin, safeguards itself within the Timanfaya National Park on Lanzarote Island. The most impenetrable vegetation--a veritable jungle-- gives shape to the Garajonay National Park on the La Gomera Island, with its famous laurisilva. The Caldera de Taburiente National Park on La Palma Island protects its rugged landscapes, where deep ravines blend with densely populated groves of Canary Island pine, a species endemic to this island paradise.

On the Canary Islands, the above-mentioned species are what scientists call endemic or native plants, which are as frequent here as on Europe’s highest peaks. And we don’t need to look to Charles Darwin’s famous theory on the evolution of species to explain their existence. Everything can be explained by their geographical isolation, and by the evolution that all creatures living within each islands’ borders have undergone over hundreds of thousands of years. This is what has happened to many species of plants that are unable to transport their seeds over long distances, as well as to animals that are unable to move from one island to another. Land mammals, amphibians and reptiles have, of course, been the “victims” of this forced confinement.

Thus, in the first of the national parks mentioned, Cañadas del Teide, of its 139 species of classified plants no less than 50 are endemic to the archipelago, and 15 are exclusive to the park itself. Among these we find the violet, daisy and the wallflower, and all three have del Teide in the second part of their common name to mark their local origin. In Timanfaya, 240 plants have been recorded, with endemic species including Odontospermum intermedium, curly dock, Aeonium lancerottense and wild leek. Garajonay shelters another important species group within its laurisilva, its heath and rocks. Of these, Echium gentianoides, Euphorbia balsamifera, Aichryson tortuosum and “bea” are noteworthy. The ravines of Caldera de Taburiente boast the rare La Palma violet and the rockrose, known as amagante, among many other species.

In terms of Canary Islands fauna, there are more endemic species the smaller they get, making insects the largest group in this regard. These are followed by reptiles, with lizards and geckos exclusive to each island, although certain scientists continue to categorize them as a subspecies. Among the few species of birds are found the colorful Teide finch and two types of pigeon, the Columba bollii and Columba junionae, plus a number of native subspecies, from Egyptian vultures and Neophron percnopterus majorensis to tiny insect-eating birds such as the firecrest. There are also kestrels, woodpeckers and corvids. Finally, in the mammal group, we find only the Canary Island shrew and various types of bats.

Native flora and fauna are more than just adornments to the landscape; their biological and ecological importance lies in the fact that they are part of the food chain, and help life flow within the different ecosystems. Scientists take a still broader view, which translates into the richness and diversity of life on Earth, of biodiversity, something that benefits the lives of human beings as well.


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