Texto: Aider La Gomera, Juan Montesinos.
The Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis, Hort. ex chab) due to its elegance and beauty is one of the most universally known plants of the Canary Islands. It has been one of the most distinctive and characteristic elements of the landscape of the Canary Islands, being part of its identity. Great bearing and beautiful, solitary, well appreciated for ornamental purposes, it reaches a height of over 30 m in occasions, worthy of a large and stylish trunk, always unique, covered throughout its youth by leaves called “tajalagues”, “talajagues” or “talajague” and once it has reached maturity it becomes a cylinder of 1 m diameter called “estípite”, whose surface is covered with scars caused by the “tajalagues”. These scars form a series of rhombus, thick rather than high, on the terminal area (at the end) in which the base of the leaves and old parts of the leaves bring about swelling of the trunk which is known in the Canary Islands as the head of the palm.
The crown of the palm consists of a green mass, interweaved and of spherical form, integrated by a great number of (more than 200) dark green curved leaves (named Pinnadas). The leaves can be up to 6 m long. Each of these leaves are formed by 150-200 straight and flexible folioles at both sides of the rachis –purguan –which has strengthened at the area closest to the base and has turned into strong thorny leaves (acantofilos), which form a prickly tangle that covers and protects the core. To begin with, they are green but they eventually turn yellow (the process previously named as “tajalague”).
The Canary Island Date Palm is a dioecious species, which means that there is no other specimen that has both masculine and feminine flowers at the same time. Therefore, the specimens are either male or female. In both cases the inflorescence is a kind of reddish yellow branch, with a coriaceous spadix of about 70-80 x 15-20 cm, and it is prickly. If it is masculine, the spadix is about 60-70 cm long and the peduncle is flat with many plain branches that form an oval shaped mass with a great amount of white flowers. The feminine spadix, flexible and yellow, can be 1.6-2 cm long, underneath has about 2/3 of its length many plain branches which have a great amount of flowers which have a globular corolla and hardly any calyx. The fruit (known as Tamara) has an elliptical oval shape, and they gather at the top of the spadix. They obtain a reddish yellow colour when they are ripe, smooth on the outside, approximately 2 cm long a 1.5 cm wide with a subtle, crustaceous pericarp, and very little pulp inside. The seed (stone) has an elliptical oval shape, its colour is greyish and its size is roughly 14-16mm x 9-10 mm.
Its transversal part is circular with a very narrow and deep groove on its dorsal side. The seed is located on the ventral side with no apparent signs on the outside n=18 (number of aploide chromosomes). Its flowering usually takes place in spring.
The root apparatus is extensive and does not possess main roots: it has thousands of fibres that do not increase in diameter in time and that allow it to make the most of subterranean to water, survive during short periods of flooding, to fix to the substratum on which it grows and stand firm on the most unstable ravines.
It is a long-lived species, some exemplary has been known to grow older than two and sometimes even three centuries old.
The palm has been classified as freatofito because of its ability to depend on subterranean water and it tolerates the temporary soaking of its roots. This species has great ecological amplitude that allows it to survive in different environmental conditions. Today it grows naturally in all the islands forming isolated groups more or less dense depending on the area. However, in La Gomera there are so many that they have definitely become a characteristic of the landscape of this island. It prefers the lower areas, between 200 and 400m high although they may go down further, close to the sea; it may also go higher, towards the peak, at about 1000m altitude. This ecological distribution can also be explained by the potentials and uses the inhabitants of the islands found in the species. In the Canary Islands, like all the other species that belong to the termophillic forest of the Canaries, the palm and palm groves suffered from extermination after the conquest because they occupied the most fertile areas that were destined for agriculture. However, the new settlers of the island understood the value of this species: they learned how to make the most of each and every one of its parts probably using techniques already known by the aboriginals.
Therefore, the palm became an excellent complement for the economy of provisions, and it started a rural industry with its variety of products, becoming a benefit for the population and was inherited in time and it became subject to lease. From traditional basket making to the use for fodder, plus thousands of other uses the palm has not only given them respect but has also led to their cultivation. The usefulness of the Phoenix Canariensis in the rural world, so fragmented and so open to a great diversity of cultivation, has made the palms such a decisive element in the landscape of the Canaries.