Marvelling at the beauty of the wooden balconies of Casas de los Balcones in La Orotava with their intricate carving and rich mahogany patina, it’s difficult to comprehend how they could still be in such remarkably good condition given that they are almost 400 years old. Then discover that they have never been treated or painted and you’ll begin to understand why the heart of the Canary Pine, known as tea (tay-a) is so prized.
Found extensively in Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro, the Canary Pine tree (Pinus Canariensis) has been the life blood of the Canary Islands since the conquest. The pine needles have provided stuffing for mattresses and were used extensively as packaging for banana exports; even today they are still collected and used as bedding for animals. Being the main raw material on the islands, the tree’s wood was used to provide fuel for heating and cooking; to build homes, churches, wine presses, water channels and furniture.
The Canary Pine produces three kinds of wood; white wood which is average quality, riga wood which is higher quality, and tea – the heart of trees 90 years and older. A heavy, hard wood, tea is incredibly durable and naturally resistant to pests and is high in resin content, so high that it was used as torches pre-electricity as it burned for such a long time.
Unfortunately, the resin was a double-edged sword for tea. Mixed with ash, it made pitch, a resinous substance used extensively in the manufacture of ships to waterproof hulls and seal joints. Pitch was so prized between the 16th and 19th centuries that, in Tenerife alone, it’s estimated 150,000 tons of tea wood were annually used to meet demand, leading to the destruction of much of the ancient forests of the island.
Tea wood is also very difficult to work with because of its strength and because the resin gets all over the woodworking tools which have to be cleaned constantly. Anyone who has ever got pine resin on their skin or clothes will understand exactly how difficult it is to remove.
But the rewards of working with tea wood more than outweigh the difficulties and you can see hundreds of examples of beautiful, traditional wooden balconies carved from tea wood in traditional towns and villages, much of it still looking as good as the day it was carved. Clearly the finest examples on Tenerife are the Casas de los Balcones but you’ll also find wonderful balconies in Santa Cruz, La Laguna, Puerto de la Cruz, Guimar, Icod de los Vinos, Garachico, Los Silos, Tegueste – in fact any town or village whose construction pre-dates the 20th century.
Pinus Canariensis continues to be the life blood of the Canary Islands, cleaning the air, condensing water from clouds, retaining soil, producing shelter for plants and animals and providing a beautiful environment for walkers, horse riders and cyclists to enjoy. So next time you’re out in the pine woods, look up and be thankful for this perfumed, wooden heart of the Canary Islands.
Category : about tenerife
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