A walk around the globe at the new Palmetum

The amazing story of how a huge rubbish tip became a unique botanical garden.

The official opening of the Palmetum in Santa Cruz has caused an unprecedented wave of excitement.

Not only did it receive the Royal seal of approval from the Prince and Princess of Asturias, it also becomes one of the capital’s biggest tourism attractions and a pivot point for the city’s revival.

In the words of the Mayor, José Manuel Bermúdez, it is “the miracle plant of Santa Cruz”. He used the description because 30 years ago, the site on which the botanical garden now stands was nothing more than barren land used only as landfill. However, for Tene-rife’s capital, it may well be a miracle in another sense of the word as the Palmetum is already generating publicity around the world and will be visited by hundreds of thousands of people.

The Royal opening event was attended by representatives of the international media, photographers, journalists and television crews eager to capture a story which many felt would never have a happy ending.

The ambitious project had to overcome huge hurdles over the last three decades, including the challenges of preparing the site perched high up on the Lazareto mountain overlooking the sea, capital below and the Anaga mountains, as well as the massive financial cost. The landfill site closed in 1983 but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the transformation slowly began.

Bit by bit, plants and trees from all parts of the world were planted, to take root for the future.

The Prince and Princess led the admiration as they enjoyed a 40-minute tour of the gardens which feature more than 2,000 different plant species, of which 472 are palm trees, the best and largest collection in Europe. One of the unique species is the tahina palm, discovered in 2008.

It has lakes, streams and waterfalls set in 11,500 square metres on the mountain plateau and a long mean-dering pathway which takes the visitor on a very special botanical journey. There are rubber plants, exotic fruits and puzzle trees, with 70 of the species being endangered and 14 of them on the critical list. The most delicate are contained within “El Octógono”.

There are 14 sections in all and a tour of the Palmetum has been likened to “a walk around the globe” with many countries represented, includ-ing Hawaii, Africa, Central America, Borneo, the Philippines, Australia, the Caribbean, Madagascar and even the Solomon Islands.

“An extraordinary setting” was how the Prince described it, a public park and botanical garden which combined science and social environ-ment with sensitivity and tourism management. Twenty five years ago, he added, it would have looked so different.

Don Felipe said the bo-tanical garden within the park placed it amongst the most important of its kind. He added that it was amazing how a former rubbish dump could be transformed into a place of such beauty.

The Mayor said that with the opening of the Palmetum, Santa Cruz took another step forward to becoming a more lively, attractive, dynamic city and, of course, a greener one. It also represented an extraordinary opportunity for the city as a major tourist attraction, one which would become a land-mark worldwide. He also described it as a triumph of will and patience.

For the first few days of February, special open days were held when admission was free and how man could create the best conditions and the most beautiful scenery from the worst environmental conditions.

From February 6th, the Palmetum opens Thursday to Sunday, remaining closed to the public on other days of the week. The hours are 10.30am to 1.30pm and 4pm to 6.30pm, admission being with a ticket which costs 1.50 euros for residents and four euros for other members of the public. There is also a special price of one euro for the unemployed, those over the age of 65, under-12s and large families.

From March, a campaign will be launched to promote environmental awareness with organised visits from schools, associations, universities and others. In this case, visits should be made be-tween Monday and Wednesday, although it might be possible to fit them in on another day.