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Endangered Canary Islands wildflowers: Tenerife's Parrot's Beak is almost extinct in the wild

Parrot's Beak, Lotus Vine, or Pico de Paloma

Parrot's Beak, Lotus Vine or Pico de Paloma to give it its Spanish name, is a very beautiful endemic wildflower of Tenerife, which is almost extinct in the wild but surviving in gardens and parks in the Canary Islands.

Parrot's Beak grows as a trailing vine and makes an ideal carpeting plant for flower beds or for growing over walls. It gets its name from the petals that are curved upward and resemble a bird's beak. It is often planted to help beautify the island.

Parrot's Beak flower photos

Lotus berthelotii

Lotus berthelotii

Lotus maculatus

Lotus maculatus

Bird's Foot Trefoil

Bird's Foot Trefoil

IUCN Red List of threatened species

Beautiful but in danger

There are actually two very similar species from Tenerife known as Parrot's Beak and both are seriously endangered in the wild. Lotus maculatus, which has yellow and red flowers, is known only from a couple of locations on the northern coast, and L. berthelotii, which has scarlet flowers is likewise only found in two places on the island, and the populations are very small in number.

These beautiful flowers have great difficulty producing seed-pods and are cultivated from cuttings, however, there are other plants in the Lotus genus that are common and widely distributed so it is a mystery why this has happened. In the UK and many other countries the Bird's Foot Trefoil (L. corniculatus) is an exceedingly widespread plant of grassland and sandy places and it is another species in the same family. It serves a a very successful species of Lotus.

One report I have seen on L. maculatus in the IUCN Red List of threatened species and included in the links below, states that seeds are produced in wild plants and that seedlings do occur but the numbers are very low. I quote from that report: "Its total population size has been reported to present a decreasing trend (Gobierno de Canarias 2004). In 1994, 49 individuals were counted; 10 individuals in 2003 (Marrero Gómez and Mesa Coello 2004) and 16 specimens in 2004. The presence of seedlings and juvenile individuals is very low."

This species of Parrot's Beak found on coastal scrub-land in Tenerife is being killed by rabbits and goats, by getting trampled on by ramblers and fishermen, and because of competition with other vegetation, including invasive species, in the growing areas they are found in. The same sort of problems presumably are threatening the species L. berthelotii as well.

It has been suggested in Wikipedia that the endangered species of Parrot's Beak were pollinated by bird species that have themselves died out, although other sources say this is not true because there are birds such as the Chiff Chaff (Phylloscopus collybita), which can pollinate the flowers. Bees too are pollinators of these flowers and are still common on the island, despite Colony Collapse Disorder which has been killing them off in many parts of the world. On a sunny day, of which there are very many on Tenerife, it is normal to see these insects on patches of Parrot's Beak growing in flower borders and over walls. But you will never find any seed-pods for these plants.

Another idea is that all the cultivated plants are clones and thus cannot pollinate the others because this would amount to self pollination. If the wild specimens have died or die in future it means that these species of Lotus are entirely dependent on humans for their survival. This is a crazy and very sad situation.

The related L. pyranthus and L. eremiticus from the Canary Islands are also both exceedingly rare in the wild in La Palma, and only known from single locations on the island. This is a real botanical mystery and I am surprised there is not a lot of work being done on solving it, or if there is I have not been able to find it.

Sadly I have seen cultivated specimens of the endangered species of Lotus removed from flowerbeds here, and presumably thrown away, just so that a new lot of geraniums or petunias could be planted. I suppose the gardeners and their bosses don't realise what they are doing and how rare the plants they are taking out are. They are just doing their jobs!

The species of Parrot's Beak from the Canary Islands I have described here are officially classified as "in danger of extinction" and listed in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species. The question is why have these pretty wildflowers become unable to reproduce themselves in the wild and why must they rely on us for their survival?

© 2008 Steve Andrews


Steve Andrews (author) from Lisbon, Portugal on November 11, 2016:

I am glad to hear that the species are available in the UK. Sadly these plants are some of the increasing number of species of flora and fauna that are safer in human care than in the wild.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on November 11, 2016:

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I know these plants from garden centres here in the UK, but so often they are incorrectly named. So it is good to have the two species together in photos, so one can see the differences. Sad however to hear of their plight in their native environment, and one sincerely hopes that the species do not become dependent on human cultivation to keep them alive. Thanks Steve.

Steve Andrews (author) from Lisbon, Portugal on July 10, 2010:

There are several species called that name. Two that are native to this island are definitely endangered in the wild.

BC on July 10, 2010:

We have just purchased a "Parrot's Beak" ...the hummingbirds love it! Hopefully we can take some cuttings and start some new plants. Amazing that they are endangered...such a beautiful plant!

Steve Andrews (author) from Lisbon, Portugal on November 27, 2009:

Eh? To whom or what are you referring?

naomi on November 27, 2009:

stupid hippies

Steve Andrews (author) from Lisbon, Portugal on August 12, 2009:

People have lost touch with nature far too much and that is why they cannot see what they are losing and have already lost!

Thank you for posting again!

Cindy Letchworth from Midwest, U.S.A. on August 12, 2009:

It's just disgraceful. Man has such little regard for the bounty and beauty around him. How true the report is that we are losing animals at an alarming rate also. Why does no one seem to care?

Biodiversity is fast becoming a thing of the past. A lot of folks don't realize that without it, we humans will soon be a thing of the past as well.

Steve Andrews (author) from Lisbon, Portugal on August 11, 2009:

Thank you for posting, Cindy! Island communities of plants and animals are under particular threat from habitat destruction because often there were only relatively small areas and small populations to start with!

The world is currently losing 150 species daily according to this report:

And here's another report:

Cindy Letchworth from Midwest, U.S.A. on August 11, 2009:

Very interesting. Most people don't even realize plants can be endangered or extinct. It's good this is being brought to light.

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