National Geographic : 1930 May
HUNTING FOR PLANTS IN THE CANARY ISLANDS BY DAVID FAIRCHILD AUTHOR OF "FORMING NEW FASHIONS IN FOOD," "A HUNTER OF PLANTS," "THE JUNGLES OF PANAMA," ETC., ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE W HO would think of going to the Canary Islands in July to find a cool climate? One knows they are as far south as St. Augustine, Florida, and east from there across the Atlantic; but when in St. Augustine the mere thought of a sweater brings out beads of perspiration on your brow, people are but toning up their overcoats on the high road ways of Tenerife. The city of Orotava has a mean daily temperature in July, August, and September of 73° Fahren heit, and its absolute maximum is only 90.1°, with an absolute minimum of 48.4°, while at Monte de Izafia, in the hills, the mean maximum in these months hovers between 57° and 66°. And yet, in spite of this apparent chil liness of climate, the marvelous terraces which cover the mountain slopes are planted with millions of bananas, and such a thing as frost occurs only at the highest elevations. One thinks of the Canaries as a tiny archipelago, but as a matter of fact it is nearly half as large as the Hawaiian Archi pelago and has twice as many inhabitants. It looks so small on the map that one im agines one could explore it in a summer's afternoon, but when the yacht Utowana drew in close to the largest island, Tene rife, which is almost the size of Rhode Island, and I could look up into its cloud covered barrancos,or ravines, I soon real ized that I could spend the balance of my days on the mule trails of its vol canic slopes without beginning to see all of its gorgeous scenery or to collect any thing like all of the interesting plants with which the rocky sides of its barrancos are covered. There is a special fascination in an archi pelago which does not apply to an equal area of mainland, for each island has a character of its own. Its vegetation dif fers, its scenery differs, and its people differ. The lack of communication, which used to separate our own South from the North, but does so no longer, still persists in this archipelago, and you find the great majority of people on one island have never been on any of the other islands, and they have developed different customs of their own. For, say what you will, to a landlubber the sea to be crossed in a small boat still represents an almost impassable barrier-the barrier of imal de mer. COLLECTORS OF PLANTS AND ANTS ItwasaJulydaywhenwedrewupto the breakwater in Santa Cruz and the members of the Allison V. Armour Ex pedition, in search of useful plants, walked up the mole into the little town and took a motor across the island to Orotava. We had come over from Casablanca, Morocco, to see if any of the 335 species of indigenous plants which still grow wild in the barrancos and nowhere else, or any of those which have in the course of cen turies found their way into the private and public gardens of the Canaries, might be worthy of introduction into the gardens and farm lands of our great Southwest and South or perhaps prove choice green house plants for popularization. We were not in search of species new to science, for the Canaries have too long fascinated European botanists and their visits have resulted in more or less com prehensive floras. As the car rose on the hairpin turns which zigzagged up the mountain side and we entered the clouds, we pulled our over coats about us and wished they were heav ier, for there is a penetrating quality in the cold of a mountain cloud. Mr. Armour's guests, who composed the scientific branch of the expedition, were both botanical and entomological in their tastes, and this account of the Ca naries is necessarily tinged with the point of view of both plants and ants-plants because I was collecting seeds and cut tings, and ants because Dr. William M. Wheeler, of Harvard, has the habit of collecting ants wherever he travels. My son Graham aided us both in our work.