Tag Archives: Trees in Spain

Almond blossom in the Sierra de Grazalema

Pale pink almond blossom is a delightful sight and a harbinger of spring when it opens in late January through February. As it flowers before the leaves appear there is a delicate candy-floss appearance to the trees. You can see almond blossom in the Sierra de Grazalema grouped in orchards, or as singles marking the edges of pastures and arable fields.

Continue reading Almond blossom in the Sierra de Grazalema

The Stone Pine, an iconic tree of the Mediterranean

The Stone Pine is an evergreen tree easily recognized by its outline, the dense crown is almost a round globe in young specimens whereas in older trees it is shaped like a wide spread parasol, supported on large, elegant radial branches. It originates from the Mediterranean area and is popular there and elsewhere in the world as a cultivated tree. It is favoured both for its attractive form and edible pine kernels. For around 6000 years pine nuts have been collected as nutritional snacks!

These trees can reach a height of 25m, with a trunk diameter of around 1m. In woodlands and forests they form an undulating rich green canopy as opposed to the conical shapes of other pines. The bark flakes in thin layers, greyish on the exposed surfaces and a reddish brown underneath, it is notably segmented by deep fissures. Dark green, semi rigid needles are arranged in pairs and measure from 10 to 18 cm long. Pine needles are highly suited to periods of drought as experienced in much of the Mediterranean area, with little surface area and a waxy layer, their rate of transpiration is greatly reduced.

The pine cones are a helpful way to recognise this tree as they are solid and ovoid (about 10 to 15 cm long). They begin to develop from flowers which are borne in the spring, initially forming small cones. These don’t actually mature until their third year, which is quite unusual in pines. Tucked inside the scales of the rather woody mature cones are hard shells which look like smooth nuts. These are covered in a dusting of black powder and look totally different to the small, winged seeds of other pine trees. Inside this nut-like shell is a 1 cm long fleshy white kernel with a brown papery cover; this is the part that would grow into a new tree if germinated. These kernels are rich in oil and protein, with a soft texture and a delicate hint of resin to their flavour. They are eaten raw or used in cooking, for both savoury and sweet recipes.

In Spanish the tree is commonly called Pino Piñonero. The cones are harvested during the winter or early spring when they are still green and tightly closed. They are plucked from the tree using a hook on a long pole. They are then gathered and stored until the summer when they will open naturally in the heat, or they can be heated artificially, so releasing the seeds.

Their viability for the seed crop is under threat. The accidental introduction of a beetle into Europe from its native North America is jeopardising future harvests. The Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) feeds on the sap of the cone in its first stages, thus preventing their development. The would-be cones simply wither and fall from the tree. In its native country they breed only once a year, but here in Spain they breed twice a year and as a winged beetle they are able to disperse easily to other trees. Another pest eats the leaves, in small numbers this in not a major problem, but the Pine Processionary Caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) can decimate a younger tree if there are numerous nests.

Stone pines, or Pinus pinea as they are known botanically, can be found growing alongside other pine species and mixed oak trees – although they are certainly more impressive when they form extensive woodland on their own. These are long-lived trees, to around 300 years, and usually bear fruit in abundance at 20 + years of age. With this in mind, the 3 year development of the seeds and knowing that their collection is labour intensive, it is easy to see why the prepared kernels are expensive to buy in the shops. This is not the only part collected, as the timber which is hard, lightweight and durable, is used for carpentry, construction, fencing and firewood.

Spinach with Cream and Pine Kernels.

  • 1 kilo spinach leaves
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 250 g cream for cooking
  • 2 tablespoons of Pine Kernels
  • 50 g grated cheese
  • Olive oil and salt
  1. Boil the prepared spinach leaves in (salted) water for 3 minutes.
  2. Peel and finely slice the garlic, fry in a tablespoon of oil until golden.
  3. Add the well drained spinach to the garlic and oil, sauté for a few minutes.
  4. Add the cream and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring often.
  5. Meanwhile fry the pine kernels lightly in a small amount of oil, being careful not to burn them.
  6. Add the cooked pine kernels to the spinach, mix well and spoon into an oven dish.
  7. Cover with the grated cheese, grill until the cheese has melted.

A variation would be to add raisins to the mixture before turning into the oven dish.

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Turpentine tree – Pistacia terebinthus – Cornicabra

  • English: Turpentine tree
  • Scientific: Pistacia terebinthus
  • Spanish: Terebinto
  • Catalan: Noguereta
  • Portuguese: Cornalheira, Terebinto

The Turpentine tree – Pistacia terebinthus – Cornicabra is a resinous small tree or shrub that is native to the Mediterranean region. In Iberia it is commonly found on limestone areas, occurring more frequently along the Mediterranean coastal line up to an altitude of 1,500m. It is a slow growing tree reaching around 9 metres, although often less.

Turpentine tree - Pistacia terebinthus - Cornicabra

The turpentine tree grows in full sun, being found in open woodland and dry exposed slopes as it also tolerates droughts well.

It is a deciduous tree, turning beautiful shades of yellow, orange or red in autumn. Being dioecious, more than one tree is needed if fertile fruits are to develop. (The male and female flowers are on separate plants.) Flowering in the spring the attractive and aromatic seeds ripen in the autumn. There is little flesh covering individual seeds.

The common English name is derived from the resin that can be tapped from the bark. The name of the resultant gum is Chian or Cyprus turpentine. The resin has traditionally been used in medicine as an antispasmodic and expectorant as well as in treatment for cancer amongst other things. The young leaves can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable as well as the seeds being used to add a spicy flavouring. Oil can be produced by pressing the seeds and the wood is popular for inlay crafting.

Turpentine tree - Pistacia terebinthus - Cornicabra

The common Spanish name is due to the growth of insect galls which are associated with this species. The dried galls from the previous year resemble the horns of goats, “corni-cabra” (image at top of article) . The scientific name for the insect responsible for this long horn shaped gall is Baizongia pistaciae.

There are also aphids which cause galls to form on the leaves of the tree, their scientific name is Forda formicaria and they instigate the formation of crescent-shaped galls on the leaflet margin. Within the gall cloned aphids develop whilst feeding off the host plant.

Turpentine tree - Pistacia terebinthus - Cornicabra
Turpentine tree – Pistacia terebinthus – Cornicabra – leaf galls caused by aphids

This tree is related to Pistacia lentiscus which is a smaller, more shrubby type and also the crop producing tree Pistacia vera (from which come the edible pistachio nuts). Pistacia terebinthus is often used as a root stock onto which Pistacia vera is grafted.

Read about other interesting tree species in Spain here.

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Carob Tree – Ceratonia siliqua – Algarrobo

The Carob Tree – Ceratonia siliqua – Algarrobo is a long lived tree which grows to a height of around 12 to 15 metres and extends to a wide canopy. It is native to the Eastern Mediterranean area where it thrives in arid conditions but is also cultivated commercially in warm climates as the pods have an important economic value that has been known for at least 4,000 years.

In Spanish it is called “Algarrobo”and the name ‘carob’ comes from the Arabic el kharroub


Carob Tree - Ceratonia siliqua - Algarrobo
The trunk of a carob tree gnarled and twisted

It is an evergreen tree with oval glossy green leaves and a short wide trunk which on mature specimens is rough and gnarled. The scientific name of the carob tree, Ceratonia siliqua derives from the Greek word keras, meaning horn, and the Latin siliqua meaning pod, alluding to the hardness and shape of the pod. It is a member of the botanical Fabaceae family of plants (leguminous beans and peas).

Carob flowers and fruit grow out of older branches, twigs and even the trunk of the trees. (This botanical phenomenon is known as “cauliflory”.) The flowers are insignificant as they have no petals (similar to catkins) and are green/yellow or red in colour, these being mostly on separate male and female trees. The pollen from the male flower needs to be distributed by insects to the female flowers from which the beans then develop. The carob tree flowers in September and October with the developing carob pods slowly gaining the appearance of green broad beans. It takes 11 months to develop into a pod that is flattish, shiny brown and around 15 to 20cm long.

Carob Tree - Ceratonia siliqua - Algarrobo
The Carob Tree – Ceratonia siliqua – Algarrobo. The seeds within the pods are of a uniform shape and size, so much so that it is thought they are the original standard weight for gemstones used by jewellers and goldsmiths

The Carob tree produces little fruit until it reaches15 years old, although it can live for 100 years with a large tree producing one ton of beans in a harvest. It is now grown commercially in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Africa, California, Arizona, Mexico, South America and Australia,

A long hot summer ensures a plentiful crop of the long beans which are collected by hand from the tree or later from the ground after they fall. Many small-holdings in Spain will still have a carob tree to give a supply of fodder to their animals through the winter. They are also gathered and taken to agricultural co-operatives for bulk re-sale.

The seed pods and E410

Carob Tree - Ceratonia siliqua - Algarrobo
The seed pods take around 11 months to fully ripen.

The seed pod or bean is thick and glossy from a healthy tree. The interior consists of multiple, disc like, brown seeds set in a sweet pulp. The washed carob pod is kibbled (coarsely ground) to separate the pod from the 5 to 15 seeds. When the seeds are removed, the pod is further kibbled to various grades for animal feed and even more finely to produce chocolate-like flour that is used in all sorts of carob preparations.

The seeds are ground down with the resulting powder being used as a natural additive. This contains galactomannon, a commercially valuable carbohydrate that is used as a thickener, emulsifier and stabilizer in many products. It is known as E410 (LBG locust bean gum) and incorporated into foods such as ice-creams / cream cheeses / sauces etc to help thicken them whilst keeping the mixture smooth. It has a similar use in the production of textiles, paints and to lesser extent paper products. Spain is the main producer of Locust Bean Gum.

There are only a dozen or so production plants creating LBG which has a worldwide demand of around 35,000 tonnes of carob seed per year.

The sweet carob pulp taken from the pod is ground into a powder which is gaining popularity as a healthy alternative to chocolate as it is free from the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Carob products contain substantially less sugar than their chocolate counterparts as it is already naturally sweet. Carob powder, found mostly in health food shops, can be substituted for cocoa powder in any recipe. This substitute is often used to create snack bars for people who are diabetic.

Also called St Johns bread and locust bean

It is popularly believed that John the Baptist, later known as Saint John, sustained himself while traveling in the wilderness. by eating carob pods. (The debate is as to whether it was locust beans as they are sometimes called or locusts the insects.) Therefore, giving rise to another common name for the Carob tree, “Saint John’s Bread”.

The seed pods and gemstones

The seeds within the pods are of a uniform shape and size, so much so that it is thought they are the original standard weight for gemstones used by jewellers and goldsmiths. Carob seeds weigh between 197 and 216 milligrams, 200 milligrams is the standardized “carat” weight of diamonds brought in at the beginning of the twentieth century.

There are many other reasons for planting The Carob Tree – Ceratonia siliqua – Algarrobo
  • The Carob tree is fire resistant and has few disease problems.
  • The timber can be turned and carved, used for fuel and also for making slow burning charcoal.
  • Planted at a perimeter they make good windbreaks and shelter for livestock as well as creating perfect habitats for wildlife.
  • The strong root system can be invasive so do not plant directly along side buildings.
  • Being evergreen it will shed small amounts of leaf debris throughout the year.

Read about other interesting tree species in Spain here.

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