One of the essential places for the plant fan visiting Tenerife is the Orotava Acclimatization Garden, better known as the Botanical Garden, in Puerto de la Cruz. That’s why we’re there as first thing in the morning, just open the doors. After the staircase of black basalt, the portico of oriental shades and the payment of 3 €, we enter a still light, sifted through a roof so thick that makes me wonder if I should use the flash. And after a first look at the fronds that await us, I must check if I have enough space on the memory card of the camera. As soon as a fresh life rises from the wet ground, the branches of the trees bend and drip as if a tropical storm has just passed. In the background a gardener tries to pick up a huge hose, the hour of irrigation is over.
According to the pamphlet, the beginnings of the Garden of Acclimatization of the Orotava go back until 1788, when it is created by grace of a Real Order of Carlos III. It is the second oldest botanical garden in Spain, after Madrid. Both began at the same time, during the Enlightenment. The project itself is from 1790 and it is not until 1792 when the first specimens are planted. It is installed in Puerto de La Cruz, the old port of the nearby municipality of La Orotava, on the island of Tenerife. The idea was to count in Spanish territory with a suitable place where to plant the most interesting species brought from the distant colonies. Once acclimated they would move to the colder climate of the Peninsula. In those days the lands of the Botanic were far and isolated,
The Botanic has a geometric layout, with two axes that cross in a roundabout with pond and between these are aligned the rectilinear corridors and the pictures of the plants. At the end of the whole is the large pond, which no longer have the irrigation function for which it was created. And there ends the order, because it is such the richness, the mixture and exuberance of the species that grow here that one would constantly have the sensation of crossing the forest if it were not for these walks lined with hedges that walks. The historic grounds of the gardens have been restored. It currently has 20,000 m2 of visitor area. In the future, another 40,000 m2 will be available, which are being built on an annexed plot. This expansion will include different facilities, such as the visitor center, nonexistent today and essential for the development of all kinds of cultural activities. As a good botanist, the Garden is also a scientific institution. It houses a herbarium dedicated to the Canarian flora and a library with ancient volumes. In addition, it carries out different investigations on the flora of the Canary Islands and the preservation of endemic species.
It is a pity that today no scientific order is preserved in the garden collections. There are also no complete historical records since the beginning of this valuable plant heritage, treasured since the end of the eighteenth century. Thus, data on the origin and age of the oldest trees are missing, although many are supposed to exceed 150 years of age. Among these are the mamey, certain araucarias or an old canary pine. But although some data is missing, the visitor enjoys the same with the more than 2,500 copies that come from the five continents. It impresses the beauty and diversity of the collections of tropical and subtropical plants, significant for their ornamental importance (the great majority), scientific (the ginkgo, The Cicadáceas) and economic (the bread tree, the rubber tree, the vanilla, the oil palm). They are very interesting varieties of Palms (of which there are more than 150 species), and the collections Aráceas, Bromeliáceas, Cactáceas and Moráceas.
However not everything has always been flowers in the Garden. Throughout its history it has suffered the ruin of its old wooden installations, the disappearance of specimens, the aviary, the old greenhouses … it has even survived some earthquake. The Garden has gone from institution to institution, suffering periods of neglect and decadence in which it has been on the verge of total ruin. This chronic neglect on the part of the authorities has been compensated in the last years with an effort in the improvement of the facilities and their maintenance and in the face of the diffusion and investigation. Although at present it still suffers from a shortage of means and personnel, besides a lack of activities for the many that could be developed.
Apart from the mini toy box office, nowhere is the visitor catered for. You miss a bookstore, a shop, a library, an information booth, a place to have coffee under these tree wonders … even a web page would not hurt.
In the middle of the morning there are many visitors who enter this place asleep and mysterious, perhaps romantic for some. They walk under the same centuries-old shadows as hundreds of thousands of visitors have done, many famous scientists, naturalists or artists. Exhausted but happy, we look for the orientalised porch of the exit. A last breath under the collection of bromeliads that thrive on the old trunk of a bald cypress and we leave without any regret, because we are sure that we will return …
A branch of the Botanic, much more discreet in size but no less interesting, is called the Hijuela of the Botanical Garden. It is a beautiful garden located in the nearby municipality of La Orotava. Just behind the Town Hall, are these beautiful gardens that were in the beginning the orchard of the convent of San José. It is a garden of romantic style, founded in 1788, as auxiliary center of the Botanical Garden of the Orotava. The intention was to acclimate species here to a higher altitude. They occupy almost 4,000 m2 in which we find native plants of the Canary archipelago and of all kinds. Even the fence of the enclosure, of forge carved with vegetable themes, is an authentic work of art. Without forgetting the historical center of this small town of the Orotava, with its narrow streets, houses, mills,
The Orotava Acclimatization Garden opens every day from 9 am to 6 pm, except on January 1, Good Friday and December 25.
Its address is calle Retama, nº 22, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife – Canary Islands.
Telephone numbers: 922 922 978/922 922 981. Fax: 922 923 138. E-mail: jao [at] icia.es
La Hijuela del Botánico opens from 9 am to 14 pm, except on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
It is located in La Orotava, Tomás Pérez street, nº 1, behind the Town Hall.