baumzaehlen - Primeval Forests & Their Trees

©2018copyright christoph hase

Garajonay National Park, Canary Islands, Spain


Garajonay National Park on the island of La Gomera is the largest (40 km2) and the best preserved example of “laurisilva” on the Canary Islands1, though the same type exists even better preserved on Opens internal link in current windowMadeira. The park is also a World Heritage Site.


As the volcanic Canary Islands have never been connected to any continent2, subtropical luxuriance is here combined with low diversity in both plants and animals. The Garajonay laurisilva is formed by only about 20 tree species1, about half of these being very scarce in the park. The more abundant species are Opens internal link in current windowLaurus novocanariensis (the most abundant species), Opens internal link in current windowPersea indica (particularly in valleys), Opens internal link in current windowIlex canariensis (small-leaved holly), Opens internal link in current windowMorella faya, Opens internal link in current windowViburnum rigidum, Opens internal link in current windowErica arborea (tree heath, particularly on steep slopes and ridges) and Opens internal link in current windowPicconia excelsa (at lower elevations). Opens internal link in current windowOcotea foetens and Opens internal link in current windowSambucus palmensis occur in places. In the park’s forests, rarer species are unlikely to be encountered by chance, many of them occurring principally at lower elevations outside the park. The tallest trees are O. foetens, P. indica and L. novocanariensis, all of which reach slightly over 30 m. Note: the claim by identification guides that I. canariensis reaches only 10 m 3 4 is incorrect, the tallest specimen I have measured being 28.0 m tall (using TruPulse 200X laser). Most of the abundant tree species have a peculiar habit of continuously developing basal sprouts; individual trunks do not become thick but eventually die and are replaced by younger outer trunks. The process has resulted in the trunk bundles characteristic of this forest type. In particular, old P. indica and O. foetens develop enormous basal burls from which the sprouts emerge. E. arborea often grows on slopes almost horizontally. Almost all the species are evergreen. Differences between many species are small but learning to identify the main species is relatively easy. The basal sprouts help identification if the canopy leaves are high out of reach. Abundant moss grows on trunks. Undergrowth is rather sparse, mainly consisting of tree seedlings and saplings; ferns occur in places.


Mean annual temperature is 14–18°C and annual precipitation 550–850 mm 5. Additionally, the park is in the cloud zone of the northeastern trade winds; water condensing from fog compensates the lack of summer rains and increases the annual precipitation remarkably6. Elevations range from about 700 m to 1487 m (Alto de Garajonay). Many slopes are steep.



In the literature and nature documentaries Garajonay is often considered to be primeval forest but true primary forest can only be expected on steep slopes and in ravines7. Old cut stumps can be seen in places near the park boundaries. Old trees are often missing from larger valleys, some valleys even showing signs of past settlements. However, on slopes and in smaller valleys there are areas that look rather unmodified. Grazing continued until the 1940s and its impact on the understory was significant; particularly the southern part of the park (incl. the highest mountain tops) is seriously degraded1. However, for several decades there has been very little human intervention1. Introduced rats, mice, rabbits and cats are abundant8.


Most trails are located close to the park boundaries and roads. The park can be reached by bus. Camping is not allowed.





2       Wildpret, W. & Martín, V. E. (1997): Opens external link in new windowLaurel forest in the Canary Island: biodiversity, historical use and conservation. Tropics 6(4): 371–381.

3       Hohenester, A. & Welss, W. (1993): Exkursionsflora für die Kanarischen Inseln. Ulmer.

4       Schönfelder, P. (2012): Die Kosmos-Kanarenflora. Kosmos.

5       Moreno, J. M. (2011): Parque Nacional de Garajonay: Patrimonio Mundial. Turquesa.

6       Izquierdo, T., de las Heras, P. & Márquez, A. (2011): Opens external link in new windowVegetation indices changes in the cloud forest of La Gomera Island (Canary Islands) and their hydrological implications. Hydrol. Process. 25, 1531–1541.

7       Kunkel, G. (1993): Die Kanarischen Inseln und ihre Pflanzenwelt, 3. ed. Gustav Fischer Verlag.

8       Führer des Nationalparks Garajonay und der Insel La Gomera. CNIG.


Official sites:


Mostly Ocotea foetens. Elev. approx. 800 m.
Three over 30-metre Persea indica trees (left), the tallest (central) one being 31.7 m. Other trees are mainly Laurus novocanariensis. Elev. 1020 m.
The same Persea indica group as in image 2 (right centre). The tallest is the second tree (with slight bend in stem) from the right of the picture. The other two are to its immediate left. Other trees are mainly Laurus novocanariensis.
Ilex canariensis (small-leaved holly, larger trees on the left), Laurus novocanariensis (right foreground and the multi-trunked tree in the centre), Erica arborea (tree heath, the leaning trees in the centre). Elev. 1120 m.
Erica arborea (tree heath) grove near a ridge at 1130 m.
Valley bottom at 1140 m. Morella faya (the large tree on the left), Laurus novocanariensis (centre with dark smooth bark), Persea indica (right centre with furrowed paler bark and saplings in the foreground).
View of the park.
From 750 m elevation upwards.
Persea indica (the trunk in the foreground and the big tree on the right), Ilex canariensis (small-leaved holly, the pale trunks), Picconia excelsa (the saplings on the left with glossy leaves), Viburnum rigidum (the sapling on the right). Elev. approx. 1100 m.
Persea indica at 1050 m.
32.5-metre Ocotea foetens. The small tree in the foreground is O. foetens, too. Elev. approx. 800 m.
30.3-metre Laurus novocanariensis (centre) at 860 m. The other trees are mostly L. novocanariensis; also Persea indica (the brown-barked straight tree, left centre).
28.0-metre Ilex canariensis (small-leaved holly) at 1080 m.
The crown of the 28.0-metre Ilex canariensis (small-leaved holly).
Old Morella faya at 1080 m.
Morella faya on a slope at 1150 m.
24.6-metre Morella faya with basal sprouts at 1120 m. Laurus novocanariensis saplings, foreground.
Erica arborea (tree heath). Height 22.2 m, girth 139 cm. Other trees: Laurus novocanariensis (dark bark) and Persea indica (pale bark). Elev. 950 m.
Some trees of the park.