Visitors walking along any of the many walking trails that criss-cross the laurel forest will immerse into an intricate landscape bustling with wild life forming a very harmonious ensemble. The first thing to catch our eye when venturing into this forest is the freshness and often also the fog and the smell of wet soil. On the ground, the fallen leaves conceal a highly wet and fertile soil: mountain soil. On the tree trunks -some of which have fallen down-, lichens make the most of the humidity and cover the trees in the manner of a soft rug. Above our heads, a tree canopy, which at times reaches so high up that we are unable to make out the tops of the laurel trees, canary laurels, beeches, etc. form a jungle of leaves glowing with the dew that let the occasional sun ray shine through. Hidden among the foliage, the mountain canary, the blackcap, the Eurasian blue tit, the Tenerife goldcrest and many other bird species keep us company with their singing. We reach a bend and a forest clearing that allows us to see the mountain slope covered in a thick mass of different shades of green amongst which only the expert eye will be able to tell the different tree species apart. Scattered over the slopes, we can also see some small hamlets and the sea all the way down to the coast.
This is one of the biggest treasures the Canarias hold: the laurel forest, an ecosystem that towards the end of the Tertiary could be found all over the Mediterranean and northern African areas and that subsequently disappeared due to climate changes – glaciations in the northern area and arid periods that created the North Africa desert barrier – to the point it is presently only found in the Azores, Madeira and the central-western islands of the Canarias. The above mentioned archipelagos and islands all show the necessary climatic conditions for this forest to survive, thanks to the impact of the ocean, a high humidity degree and the fact that temperatures do not drastically change along the year. Geographical isolation limiting the cross with continental elements to a great extent, along with the harsh orography in the higher islands, has resulted in the occurrence of numerous unique species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, which places the Canarias as the world’s fourth region in terms of autochthonous plant species, with approximately 600.
The value of the laurel forest is not restricted, however, to its ancient origin or the variety of fauna and flora it is home to. There is a purpose for everything that the forest is: the vegetation – with a large number of medicinal plants -, the fertile soil – perfect for farming -, and, especially, the water. Thus, in a land where water is a scarce resource, this ecosystem provided a priceless service, since it captures and stores rain and fog water – generated by the trade winds. This water then penetrates the soils and can be extracted by human means – wells and underground galleries. As a matter of fact, it was precisely the excessive advantage taken from it in the past -which was on the other hand necessary to subsist – what caused hundreds of acres of forest to disappear. Luckily, thanks to preservation policies that have been in place since the 70s, we can now safely say that the laurel forest is in its way to recovery. Over 9 acres of this forest remain in Tenerife.
The best way to familiarize oneself with Tenerife’s laurel forest is to visit either one of the two rural forests: the Rural Forest of Anaga in the northeast of the island, and the Rural Park of Teno in the northwest. Both have been declared rural parks due to the fact that they combine environment preservation and rural activities, as well as being of great scenic and cultural value.