Plant Paradise in Madeira & Canary Islands

Geranium maderenseOne of the botanical expeditions I have dreamed about at some length would take me to Madeira and the Canary Islands.
These islands are situated in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Africa. They are home to many plants that are observed in Valley gardens and others that would be suitable for growth in our corner of the globe.
My dreams about embarking on such an expedition came to life upon receiving a picture of Madeiran cranesbill (Geranium maderense) from Virginia Snow of Granada Hills. This is one of the most glorious geraniums, growing to 5 feet in height with large, finely cut leaves, and putting on a magnificent display of magenta flowers as well.
Although it dies after its second or third year in the garden, it reseeds prolifically, so you will never lack for new plants. Madeiran cranesbill prefers a shaded location in Valley gardens. Ideally, it would be planted beneath a group of eucalyptus or palms or in the shadow of a large ash tree. Incidentally, geraniums are often referred to as cranesbills on account of their elongated seed capsules that come to a point and resemble the beak of a crane.
Madeiran cranesbill is endemic to Madeira, an island 400 miles west of Morocco and 600 miles southwest of Portugal. Madeira gained fame in the 16th century for its fortified wine, a favorite of sea voyagers since an opened bottle would hold its quality for an extended period of time. As is often the case with island flora, the plants of Maderia and the Canary Islands have exotic features that are markedly different from plants found anywhere else.
The difference between “endemic” and “indigenous,” two words that are frequently on the lips of geobotanists and students of native plants, is worth noting.
Endemic refers to a plant that is native to a single place on the map, such as Madeira, whereas indigenous refers to a plant or plant type native to more than one geographical locale.
For instance, you would say that coast redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) are endemic to the central and northern Calfiornia coast and that giant sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are endemic to the western slopes of the Sierra. However, you would say that redwoods, as a group, are indigenous to both California and Asia since dawn redwood trees (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) are native to a remote province of China as well.
Pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum) shares many of Madeiran cranesbill’s characteristics. Each of these island species looks good for two to three years. Following a single major flowering event, typically in the spring, they both go into decline and, though they may still live for another year or so, and even flower sparsely a second time, they will never recapitulate their defining moment of floral splendor. Both plants are also hardy to around 25 degrees Fahrenheit and may be counted upon to drop seeds that will germinate and ultimately, in their second or third year of growth, produce flowers.
Pride of Madeira can appear in any hue of blue, from baby or powder blue to royal and marine blue. You may even see an occasional pink or magenta version.
Flowers are uniquely charming, appearing as gigantic, fuzzy cones which may eventually bend to the horizontal, whereupon they resemble humongous caterpillars.
The Canary Islands, located 260 miles southeast of the island of Madeira, are home to some unique botanical treasures. Canary Island palm (Phoenix canariensis) is the most popular palm tree where a formal yet elegant statement is wanted and it is typically encountered in entry plantings. A single Canary Island palm makes a bold entry accent and two rows of them, planted in a colonnade along a driveway, create a positively regal effect.
Canary Island pine (Pinus canariensis) is also planted along entryways because of its strong apical dominance or vertical growth habit, which is more pronounced than that of any other pine tree. There was a time when Canary Island pine was planted as a street tree but this practice was abandoned, despite the majestic beauty of this pine, because of its roots, which raised sidewalks without conscience. Yet, if you drive north on Coldwater Canyon Boulevard from the Valley, just before you reach Beverly Hills, you will witness the most amazing collection of Canary Island pines in the city.
They are the healthiest street trees anywhere, despite three conditions that you might think would have hindered their growth: They are growing in lawns (conifers are not recommended for turf); they are just inches away from the street (compaction of soil from adjacent asphalt is deleterious to root growth); and they are very closely planted (resulting in competition for light and restricted air circulation).
As arborist Robert Wallace once suggested to me, it could be that the health of these trees is attributable to a high water table – isn’t that what Coldwater Canyon is named for? – underneath. With abundant water below, roots are happy there and have no reason to search out moisture above or grow along the soil surface.
Tip of the week
Be patient. That is the tip of the week. The garden may be the last place on earth where the virtue of patience is richly rewarded.
Brenda Robles, of Sun Valley, merits having the tip of the week dedicated in her honor since she was patient enough to wait nearly two decades to have her black lily produce a flower.
Surely, it would have been reasonable to dig it up and discard it somewhere along the way. “I have waited for 18 years for my black lily to bloom,” she notes. “Having heavy rains seems to do the trick, as I have only had leaves or nothing at all for all these years.”
She attached a photo of her lily (Arum palaestina), a relative of the more common white calla lily.
I have seen the black lily pop up unexpectedly, here and there, in Valley gardens over the years. Apparently they can be remain invisible, if not dormant, for years, sending up flowers only rarely.
The lesson here is not to disturb any vegetation in your garden until it can be positively identified, especially where bulbous or rhizomatous perennials such as the black lily are concerned.

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