This is the first in a series of posts on the Canary Islands, three of which I visited for three weeks in November 2014. I'll be focusing on thoughts and images that I envision leading to further artworks, some continuing the style/approach that I've been developing over the past few years and others taking that approach in some new directions.
The Canary Islands are part of the Macaronesian Ecoregion, a group of volcanic archipelagos that also includes the Azores, Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands. The climate ranges from Mediterranean in the Azores to arid in Cape Verde, with the Canaries experiencing both types. Botanically, the region is notable for three primary reasons. First, the islands' isolation from the European and African continents has led to the evolution of an array of unique species, many of them highly recognizable and widely cultivated. These include Phoenix canariensis, the Canary Island Date Palm so familiar in similar climates throughout the world; Phoenix atlantica, a date palm endemic to Cape Verde; Dracaena draco, the Dragon Tree, from the Canaries, and numerous species of aeonium (popular rock garden succulents) also from the Canaries. Second, the three northern archipelagos are home to the world's last remaining tracts of the laurisilva, or laurel forest, a subtropical rainforest that once covered much of the Mediterranean region when the climate was warmer and wetter. And third, the Canaries in particular, given their altitudinal range and their location at the latitudinal midpoint of the region, experience an exciting diversity of ecosystems ranging from desert to cloud forest, pine forest, and alpine.
I chose to visit the Canaries given this last consideration in particular, but also because of my love of palms, succulents and volcanoes, and the fact that the islands contain the region's best examples of laurisilva. (I still find it surprising that despite all of this, the great majority of visitors are beach tourists, which has unfortunately resulted in quite a bit of ugly resort development.)
The Canary Islands consist of seven main islands. Tenerife, near the center of the archipelago, is the largest, tallest and most populated; it contains the highest peak in Spain - Volcan del Teide at 3,718m - and contains close to the archipelago's full range of ecosystems from semi-desert through cloud forest and pine forest to alpine desert. Several other islands extend up into the cloud forest and pine forest, while those at the eastern end of the chain are low and almost entirely desert-like. In total, the islands' area covers only about half of that of the Big Island of Hawaii, which makes its ecological diversity even more astounding.