Ten majestic trees enriching Spain’s natural heritage

by Deborah Cater
Dragon tree, Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife

Spain has more than 1,600 registered individual trees, often old and monumental, in forests or meadows. Almost a quarter of these are in Castilla y León, but special specimens can be found all over Spain.

Within the Spanish heritage, the trees are true ‘natural treasures’. An overview of ten characteristic specimens:

1 Yew of Santa Coloma (Asturias)

In Asturias, the yew (Taxus baccata) is a tree of high cultural value because it ‘played a symbolic role in the history of the principality’. The tree is protected within Asturias. The most extraordinary yew trees have a relationship with Christian tradition, as does the yew of Santa Coloma. The tree stands in front of the church. It is probably the first yew to be planted in Asturias in the 10th century and has been declared a natural monument by the inhabitants of the municipality. The tree is part of the ‘Route of the Teixos’.

2 The mountain pine Peixerani (Catalonia)

No other tree can withstand altitude as well as the mountain pine (Pinus uncinata), so it is no surprise that, sheltered in the Aigüestortes National Park, in the Boí Valley, is one of the thickest mountain pines in Catalonia.  The Pino de Peixerani, with a circumference of five metres and a height of 17 metres, stands alone in a meadow and, despite some lightning strikes, is in good condition.

3 The Pine of Castrejón (Castile and Leon)

It is not without reason the area is called ‘Tierra de Pinares’: Pinus pinaster (maritime pine) and Pinus pinea (stone pine) grow everywhere in Castile and Leon. In a meadow, the pride of Hoyo de Pinares stands out. The a pine tree is over 350 years old, 16 metres high and with a crown width of 25 metres. With a circumference of 4.78 metres, it is the thickest pine tree in Ávila province and one of the thickest in the Castile and León sub-region. The tree produces up to 2,000 pine cones per season.

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4 Taray de lo Santero (Murcia)

Tamarix canariensis (Canary Tamarisk) is a relatively small shrub, traditionally native to arid regions, saline, humid coastal areas and the Canary Islands. This magnificent specimen in Murcia is over six metres high and the diameter of the trunk is five metres. They estimate the tree is 103 years old, but because the bark grows so often, but no-one knows for sure. The tree was first a shady place for horses, as the remains of nails show, and later for vehicles. The Taray, which is in full sunlight, needs a lot of care and protection.

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5 La Terrona holm oak (Extremadura)

In Cáceres, in the Cordel de la Cumbre area, stands the largest and oldest holm oak (Quercus ilex) in Europe. A tree over 800 years old, its 16 metres of height and a trunk almost eight metres in circumference have seen history unfold and witnessed the march of the Knights of the Military Order of Santiago to the reconquest of the peninsula in the XIII century. According to poet Antonio Machado, this oak is the most representative tree for the flora of Spain.

6 The ‘thousand-year-old’ dragon tree (Tenerife)

The Canarians consider this tree species divine due to its peculiar shape. According to legend, dragons became dragon trees (Dracaena draco) after their death. There are several impressive specimens on the Canary Islands, but the tree in Icod de los Vinos on Tenerife stands out: weighing 150 tonnes, 17 metres high and almost 800 years old. The dragon tree underwent a thorough overhaul in 1985 with a fan installed in the trunk to improve air circulation and prevent the spread of fungi.

 7 The El Abuelo chestnut tree (Castile and Leon)

The El Castañar de El Tiemblo chestnut grove is a unique enclave in the whole of the western Mediterranean. Hundreds of old chestnut trees (Castanea sativa) were felled in the course of the twentieth century. Now, El Abuelo (the grandfather) stands alone in the park of El Tiemblo, the municipality responsible for El Castañar. El Abuelo is over 1,000 years old, seemed to have died in a fire, but lives on. The visits of thousands of tourists threaten the survival of the tree; scientists from all over Spain are making a case for stricter conditions.

8 The Emperor’s palm of Elche (Region Valencia)

In Elche there is a palm tree (Phoenix Dactylifera) that even the Empress Sissi looked up to. Amazed by the unusual shape of the seven-armed tree, she suggested giving the palm a name. It became la Palmera Imperial, the Imperial Palm. Later the tree gained international recognition. UNESCO delcared the palm grove of Elche a World Heritage Site in 2000.

9 Juniper Sabina de Blancas (Aragon)

Junipers (Juniperus thurifera) are typical for the Mediterranean region. The tree has to be able to withstand harsh conditions. The Sabina de Blancas in Aragon is special. Although the tree is almost 1,000 years old, it is less than eight metres high and less than four metres wide. Nevertheless, it is one of the oldest trees in Aragon, providing shade for shepherds and animals.

10 The elm of Guadarrama (Madrid)

In the municipality of Guadarrama, in the square in front of the town hall, there is a common elm (Ulmus minor) that is unusual in the eyes of visitors. The 21 metre tall tree, which probably dates from the end of the 19th century, has survived difficult situations, not only the paving of the Town Hall Square and the construction of the road, but also the elm disease (Graphia) that killed most elms in the Iberian Peninsula, Europe and North America. In spring the elm is preventatively treated to stay in perfect condition.

Read about another impressive Spanish tree which won European Tree of the Year this year.

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