PACSOA - The Jardin Botanico del Palmetum de Santa Cruz
The Jardin Botanico del Palmetum de Santa Cruz

(The original Spanish version of these pages can be found here)

Part I - Introduction and Description

The Palmetum of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is an unfinished botanical garden of 120.000 m2 specialized in palms (Arecaceae) and divided in biogeographical sections. It is the largest green space in the centre of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the Western Canary Islands. It was created above an artificial hill between the city and the ocean: a former landfill of urban garbage which was closed 1983.

Figure 1.

The project was started in 1995 with funding from the European Union and the city of Santa Cruz. The hill was landscaped under the direction of the agronomists Manuel Caballero and Jose Timon, the biologist Carlo Morici and the garden designer Carlos Simon. The park includes a large system of waterfalls, streams and ponds, an unfinished Ethnographical Palm Museum dedicated to palms with >1,000 ethnographical pieces, with offices and labs and a shadehouse called the octagon for the most tender species. The collection grew conspicuously during the years of intense cooperation with other botanic gardens, in 1996-1999, but at the end of 1999 the incomplete project was paralysed as it run out of funding. The garden has never been opened to the public. From 2000 to 2007 the gardens had highs and lows, with some years or months of near-abandonment that reduced the palm species in cultivation from about 460 in 1999 to 296. The friends of the Palmetum struggled for years to keep the valuable collection alive through the worst times. In 2007 a new wave of interest and a larger flow of money allowed us to work on the project again. The government of the Canary Islands funded some major works and we improved the overall state of the park and landscaped the Southern slopes of the hill, which had never been planted on before.

The garden now keeps about 800 plant species and has a total number of approximately 2.600 specimens. About 300 palm species constitute a reference palm collection with many valuable uncommon species. 72 of the represented taxa are endangered species included in the IUCN red list. The collection focuses on palms from islands, with the biogeographical section dedicated to the Caribbean being the largest, spreading over an area of 50.000 m2. The collection of the Caribbean palm genera Thrinax, Coccothrinax and Hemithrinax are among the most complete in the world.

A brighter future will come in the next years, because a public foundation was created in June 2007 to manage the future of the Palmetum. The full name is Fundacion Canaria del Jardin Botanico del Palmetum de Santa Cruz. It will be controlled by some of the most important political institutions, and also the local University of La Laguna.

Figure 2. Plan of the Palmetum

Location and Climate
The Palmetum is located on the hill named El Lazareto, at the SW tip of the city of Santa Cruz, by the ocean. It was a landfill, closed in 1983. The total surface of the hill is 120.000 m2 (296 acres), the flat top has a height of 42 m (138 ft) and a surface of about 55.000 m2 (135 acres). The slopes or hillsides are 65.000 m2 (161 acres).

The climate of the Canary Island is Subtropical Oceanic, with a Mediterranean rainfall pattern. The Average Annual Temperature of Santa Cruz is 21 C (70 F), with the Average Yearly Rainfall being 230 mm (9 inches), falling mainly in winter. The minimum winter temperature is usually about 15 C (59 F). The oceanic climate is extremely even, so cold or hot fronts from the mainland hit the island are weakened by the effect of the sea. Winds are frequent, mostly from the NE, especially in summer, and the short rainy season lasts a few months in winter. Strong windstorms happen every few years, with the most intense wind speeds reaching maximums of about 110 km/h (January 1999) and 147 km/h (November 2005). Hail fell in January 1999.

Project Scope and Goals
The goal was to transform one of the most degraded areas of the island: an old and huge abandoned landfill bordered by the sea located on the outskirts of this city. It was a hill of dust and a stink with virtually no life except for the flora and fauna typical of the degraded dry areas of the archipelago, such as ice plants (Mesembryanthemum) and lizards (Gallotia). We had to convert the hell into a paradise with a large palm collection in the part of Europe where more tropical plants can thrive outdoors. The Palmetum had to be the new recreational green space for the inhabitants of a new neighbourhood which had to be built soon. The city centre would grow towards the south and reach the abandoned mountain. The city of Santa Cruz needed a new institution devoted to science and culture and also needed a tourist landmark able to catch attention and prestige in one of the most visited islands of the world. The Palmetum would support botanical research on new palm species, also to feed the needs of the thriving local industry of ornamental palm nurseries on the islands. It would host a school of gardening and landscaping, and an ethnographical palm museum. The Palmetum would also be committed to spread knowledge on the native flora, because one of the sections is dedicated to Phoenix canariensis and the Canarian termophilous woodland. The target was truly ambitious and the artificial hill had to be deeply landscaped.

Figure 3.

Criteria for Landscape Design
A natural garden style was chosen, the goal was to create the most informal and natural landscapes possible on one of the most artificial hill of the world. The plants in the garden are spatially separated by their geographical origins in order to represent the flora from the distinct regions of the world. The majority of the plateau is designed in order to reconstruct their natural environment. The section from Madagascar has been partially covered with lawn. The slopes that face the Oceanside Park and the city have been covered with flora from the Canary Islands, in order to attain a Canarian appearance for the city to see. This space, consisting of 11,500 square meters, has the best collection of indigenous plants in Santa Cruz.

There is a great system of cascades, rivers, and lakes, decorated with natural rocks, separating the distinctly themed areas. A crown of mixed trees surrounds the edge of the plateau, blocking the wind and creating an even more favourable environment for the trees inside as they begin to grow larger.

The technicians responsible for the design of the landscape were Carlos Simon, who designed several waterfalls that were built with immense natural rocks, and also Carlo Morici, author of the present report. Carlos Simon designed the sections dedicated to Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands, Australia, South America, Africa, part of Caribbean, Indochina, and the Octagon (A shade house for the palms). Carlo Morici designed the Hawaiian sections, Melanesia, New Caledonia, New Guinea, Borneo, Canary Islands, part of the Carribbean, Indochina, and the majority of the slopes. Elias del Castillo, fellow worker of the late Cesar Manrique, co-directed the design of the large cascade of carbonated rock dominating the Caribbean section.

Criteria for the Selection of Species
The collection focuses on the palm family (Palmae o Arecaceae), that comprises about 2.400 species. In 1996 we selected a list of 500 that could better thrive in the climate of Santa Cruz. A bias was set on palms native to island ecosystems of the world and to the Caribbean flora, because West Indian palms do perform well in this climate and also because of the tight cultural ties that exists between the Canary Islands and the Spanish Caribbean islands, which had been partly populated by immigrants coming from the Canaries. Some plants were purposely excluded from the collection: those palms that could produce hybrids with the only native palm, Phoenix canariensis , and those species, of any family, that could escape from cultivation to become invasive weeds.

History And Future Of The Project >>>

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