Caressing the Green Skin of Lanzarote
It starts raining and the show begins. We walk through a transformed island, shedding its usual toasted skin for chlorophyl-green grass. The seeds that were silently awaiting the arrival of the winter rainfall have painted the countryside in wild colours. Do you want to come and take a look at this temporary exhibition of biodiversity?
If we didn’t know it was impossible, we would think that the valleys, the ravines and even the joints of the cobblestones have come together and agreed to celebrate their own Carnival.
We started the year with a rainier January than usual in these latitudes. A few molliznas (light, gentle rains) soaked the earth, making it possible for the peas planted in the sandy volcanic soil to be ready to enjoy in stews.
This liquid gift has painted every fertile corner of Lanzarote in yellows, crimsons, violets and volcanic greens as intense as those found in New Zealand or Costa Rica.
700 different species of flowers and ferns
Make no mistake: Lanzarote is an arid island but it has extraordinary biodiversity. Fleshy, small, exuberant, ephemeral, perennial? Here 700 different species of flowers and ferns await you.
To get to know them better and discover how to identify them, the best thing to do is to get hold of a copy of the Guía Visual de la Flora Vascular de Lanzarote (Visual Guide to the Vascular Flora of Lanzarote), a work by agronomists Jaime Gil and Marta Peña, published by the Cabildo of Lanzarote’s Biosphere Reserve Office to celebrate 25 years since UNESCO awarded the island this title that accredits the special relationship that a population has with nature. This is an essential manual if you want to find out the curious popular name of each species, its habitat, its flowering time, its traditional uses and its botanical description.
The island’s endemic plants deserve special attention – those plants that can only be found here and nowhere but here:
- Lengua de vaca (cow’s tongue) dresses entire meadows in purple. It is an annual species whose colour fluctuates between bluish violet and pink. The sight of it in contrast to the grey-red earth we are accustomed to creates a technicolour postcard that startles the retina.
- Tajasnoyo goes rather unnoticed at the beginning of its life, but when it blooms it displays exuberant yellow flowers that would make a perfect location for a Studio Ghibli film.
- To find wild Santa María you have to walk in the north of the island, specifically in the ravines of Haría (Chafaris, Malpaso, Elvira Sánchez) or the Risco de Famara, good places to see the delicate tajosé, a wild thyme with pinkish, fragrant leaves.
- The tojía, which looks like a daisy, is a Lanzarote species that grows on rocky outcrops as well as in badlands.
- The flared flower of the chinipilla is at home in the tabaibal of the Malpaís de la Corona.
- The yesuqera (tinder) plant lives on outcrops of basalt and its name comes from its traditional use: it was relied on to make fire.
These days we have the opportunity to admire many more flowering plants: the palomilla that seems to dressed up for the San Fermín festival, the abundant yerba cordero, the beautiful white flowers of camellera, the indigo explosion of uvilla, the little yellow flowers of relinchón covering a whole valley…
In the Vascular Flora Guide you will find plenty of references to help you identify all the wild beauty you can see at this time.
Environmental education: enjoy… and respect
More than 40% of the island of Lanzarote is protected due to the richness of its natural heritage, so it is very likely that on your walk you will pass through areas of special protection for birds, sites of geological interest, natural monuments or sites of scientific interest. What do we need to make the most of Lanzarote’s colourful countryside without damaging the ecosystem?
Here are our recommendations:
- Try to keep an eye on the path signs. You will find chains and fences indicating the beginning of private agricultural land.
- Don’t stray from the path because you may inadvertently step on a clutch of eggs or a protected species. You will find wooden posts and stone cairns marking the short and long paths that cross the island.
- Always carry a rubbish bag with you to dispose of any rubbish you generate during the excursion. Soda cans are a death trap for small insects and reptiles. The plastic you leave behind will end up breaking up into millimetre-sized fragments that will contaminate land and sea.
- Keep an eye on where you put your facemask. This is the season of the trade winds, well known for their force and humidity, and any facemask you take off to take a photo is very likely to end up flying several tens of metres.
Are you already hooked on the wonderful world of Lanzarote’s botany? That’s no surprise. A final tip for before or after your walk: browse the Atlas Digital de Semillas de las Islas Canarias (Digital Atlas of Seeds of the Canary Islands), a project of the Cabildo of La Palma’s Agrodiversity Centre that contains seeds from all the islands that make up the archipelago.
This directory provides a digital magnifying glass that will allow you to see the ingenious mechanisms that plants have evolved to disperse their seeds: wings, hooks, feathers, thorns, etc. Plants have a thousand and one ways of reproducing themselves. As the mathematician Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, said in Jurassic Park: “Life finds a way.”