The Cactus Patch
Volume 7       June 2004      Number 6

Isle of the Singing Dogs
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

We left Botswana on 18th April, the worst birthday of my life. All the way to Madrid there were noisy young people in the aisles of the plane shooting flash pictures. The ride was bumpy but they refused to obey seat belt signs.

[Incidentally, Polly chose Madrid as there were security warnings & delays in London!] Fortunately the onward flight to Los Palmas was better – +we each had three seats and got some sleep. We managed to find an inexpensive but clean hotel (the Valencia) in the downtown area and spent the rest of the day (the 19th) changing money and shopping.

For those not familiar with Los Palmas, it is the largest city in the Canary Islands and is on the island of Gran Canaria. Many people assume the isles are named for birds (they do have canaries), but in fact the name stems from the Latin "canis" or dog. King Juba of next-door Mauritania (now Morocco) named them that after receiving large dogs from there. (Incidentally this is the same king who had a physician Euphorbos (=well fed) from which we get the name "euphorbia" for one of his medicinal plants.)

On the 20th we went to the Canary Museum and learned about the early islands’ inhabitants who came from North Africa and spoke a variation on the Berber language of today. Today the Islands are a part of Spain and the islanders speak a variety of Spanish (or should I say "Thpanith".)

Next we passed a fountain with a roof to keep the rain off and a large Cathedral with dog statues out front. From there we visited the House of Columbus and learned about his stays there going to and from the New World.

We ended the morning with lunch at "La Dolce Vita", an Italian place.

That afternoon we went to a science museum with lousy Aeoniums and watched an IMAX film on caves – in Spanish. We also looked at a 3-D exhibit on Mars and I found I had no trouble using my new glasses. (Polly also got new ones, but still has trouble.) There was a huge sundial outside which clearly demonstrated that the Canaries are two hours out of the time zone they should be in. (It was dark when we got up and light late in the evening.)

On the 21st we went to the Botanic Garden at Tarifa Baja. The bus stop let us out right at the garden, but then we found the path crawls down a very steep volcanic cliff. It was well worth the climb down with euphorbias, aeoniums, dragon trees etc., all over, but at the bottom we found there was no bus! We were kindly given a ride back around to the top or we might still be standing looking up at that cliff.

The next day we took a three-hour ferry across to the next island, Tenerife, landing at Santa Cruz. We visited a terrific Natural History Museum in which we learned there are caterpillars (of the spurge hawk moth) which eat some of the euphorbias! Then we went up the coast to San Andrea and checked out succulent relatives of carrots, senecios (= kleinias) and more euphorbias. It was a long day – the boat got back to Los Palmas just before midnight.)

On Friday the 23 we took a bus south to Faro de Maspalomas where there is, indeed a faro or lighthouse. We strolled past the nude beach (Polly swears she didn’t notice) to a dune reserve. There we rode camels and Polly got sunburnt. The plants were not great – a lot of invasive foreigners such as wild tobacco, mesembyanthemums and castor oil plants. That evening we had dinner back at Los Palmas at "O Solo Mio" with Sophia Loren and Pavarati (painted on the wall).

On the 24th we did more shopping and then headed out for a plane to take us to a marathon month of visits in California. Incidentally, books were a problem – most were in Spanish. The first I bought was Planta Curativas en Canarias (Healing Plants of the Canaries – Manuel Mora Morales, 1997, Globo, Islas Canarias). I struggled through it and learned (among other things) that the milkweed Periploca laevigata is a purgative but is a cure for Euphorbia canariensis (also a purgative) when the euphorbia latex gets on the skin. Fortunately we found both the euphorbia and the periploca in bloom.

The best book I found is fortunately in English- Wild Flowers of the Canary Islands (David & Zoe Bramwell, 2001, Rueda, Madrid. It has a history of botanic exploration, descriptions of vegetation on the seven main islands, areas of botanic interest and, of course, pictures and descriptions of each species. Well worth the 33 Euros (about $39).

Euphorbia canariensis

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