Geography and distribution
Found only in the Canary Islands, on Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma and La Gomera.
Canarina canariensis grows on the margins of the species-rich laurel forest, growing up through brambles and bracken, or climbing into tree heath (Erica arborea) at 300 to 1,000 m above sea level. Laurel forest (laurisilva) is a unique type of vegetation found on the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores. The forest of each archipelago, and indeed of each island of the Canaries, has its own locally endemic plant species (species found only on individual islands or restricted to individual forest patches), making this type of forest one of the world’s centres of plant diversity, and of great importance for conservation.
Species related to C. canariensis are found in east Africa, from Ethiopia and Kenya south to Malawi.
Canarina canariensis is a scrambler with a rootstock with many thick, tuberous roots. It is glaucous (covered with a waxy, grey-green bloom) and has abundant milky sap. The stems are fleshy, hollow, dichotomously branched, and climb or scramble to a height of 3 m. The leaves are triangular, shaped like an arrowhead, with blunt teeth and deeply impressed veins. The leaves are 6-10 cm long, 5-9 cm wide across the lower lobes, and are borne opposite each other on the stem.
Illustration of Canarina canariensis by Sydenham Edwards (1799) reproduced from Curtis's Botanical Magazine.
The flowers are solitary and are borne at the ends of shoots, the stems then forming two further branches from the leaf axils. The calyx has six narrow, spreading lobes. The corolla is orange or red, with distinct purple veins and is campanulate (bell-shaped), with six pointed lobes. The style is club-shaped at first, dividing at maturity into six recurved stigmas. The fruits are ovoid, formed by the swollen ovary, topped by the persistent calyx lobes and are reddish, purplish or black when ripe. The fruits are sweet and sticky.
Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.
Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.
Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine
The genus Canarina is interesting in being a small, diverse group of Canary Island flowers which appear to be adapted to pollination by sunbirds. Sunbirds are not found in the Canaries today, though they are common in eastern and southern Africa. The stiff-textured, orange flowers and copious watery nectar are characteristic of bird-pollinated flowers and birds such as tits and finches have been observed visiting the flowers. Digitalis (Isoplexis) species, Lavatera phoenicea and Lotus berthelotii also appear to be specially adapted to bird pollination.
Canarina canariensis has a long history of cultivation in England. It is recorded by Philip Miller as being grown in the royal garden at Hampton Court in 1696.
The fruits of Canary bell-flower ('bicacaros') are edible. They were among the wild fruits eaten by the Guanches, early settlers on the Canary Islands who may have arrived from North Africa between 2-3,000 years ago.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those likely to be of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Two
Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant survive drying without significant reduction in their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)
Germination testing: 80% germination achieved on a 1% agar medium, at a temperature of 16°C, on a cycle of 12 hours daylight/12 hours darkness. 95% germination achieved on a 1% agar medium + 250 mg/l gibberellic acid (GA3), at a temperature of 15°C, on a cycle of 8 hours daylight/16 hours darkness.
Canary bell-flower is easily grown in a large pot of sandy soil, with the stems trained up a tall support and then allowed to hang down. It should be allowed to dry out during the summer when the stems die down, and watered again in late autumn after growth begins. Care should be taken to allow the soil to become almost dry between waterings; some high potash liquid feed will help to build up a strong plant.
Propagation is best by seed, formed from the cross-pollination of two clones. Propagation can also be achieved by division of the dormant roots, but care should be taken to ensure that each piece has a portion of the rootstock attached, and that any broken piece is allowed to dry before replanting. The stems are frost-tender, being killed by temperatures of about -2°C.
This species at Kew
At Kew Canarina canariensis can be seen planted in the ground in the Canary Islands section (zone 3) of the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Although it grows in partial shade in the wild, in more northern areas it is best grown with as much winter sun as possible.