Canary Islands, a Spanish group in the Atlantic Ocean, where 15° W. long. crosses 29o N. lat.; the nearest is only 62 1/2 geographical miles from the NW. coast of Africa. There are seven large and several small islets, with a joint area of 2808 sq. m., and a population of 360,000. The principal islands, proceeding from east to west, are Lanzarote (323 sq. m.), Fuerteventura (326), Gran Canaria (758), Tenerife (877), Gomera (169), Palma (718), and Hierro or Ferro (82). The coasts are steep and rocky, and the surface is diversified with high mountains, narrow gorges, and deep valleys, the loftiest summit being the Peak of Tenerife (12,200 feet). All the islands are volcanic, and everywhere show plain marks of their origin, in the shape of cones, craters, beds of tuff and pumice, and streams of lava; but eruptions have taken place within the historical period only in Tenerife, Palma, and Lanzarote. There are no rivers, and on several of the islands water is very scarce. Upwards of 900 species of wild flowering plants have been found on these islands - 420 of them peculiar to the group, and 48 others common to it and to the other North Atlantic islands, but found nowhere else. The flora as a whole is mainly of a South European character, with a large infusion of African genera. As to the cultivated plants, the warmth of the lowest region allows of the growth of the sugarcane, sweet potato, bananas, date-palm, etc.; whilst above, to the height of 3000 feet, the vine and various cereals are cultivated in a climate resembling that of the south of Europe. Minerals are few and of little importance. The temperature near the sea is genial. The mean annual rainfall amounts to 14 inches. In consequence of the higher temperature, the less rainfall, and drier atmosphere compared with Madeira, and of the much increased facilities for reaching the islands, Orotava and Las Palmas are coming into note as winter-resorts for invalids. A few years ago cochineal was the staple production, but the competition of aniline dyes has been severely felt, and cochineal, no longer bringing in a good profit, has fallen into neglect. The cultivation of the vine (almost ruined after 1853 by the grape disease) and sugar-cane is extending; wine being exported to the European continent, and sugar to Spain. Tobacco is also grown. Submarine cables connect the islands both with the continent of Europe and the African coast.
The Canaries, the Fortunate Islands of the ancients, were rediscovered in 1334, when a French vessel was driven amongst them by a storm. In 1404 the Norman Jean de Bethen-court, having obtained assistance from Spain, mastered four of the islands. His successor having sold his rights in Spain, they were afterwards acquired by the king, who sent a large force in 1477 to conquer the Guanches, a brave and intelligent race of large stature, and comparatively fair. Their origin is unknown, but they are assumed by many to have been of Berber or of Libyan stock. Their resistance was so stubborn, that it was not until 1495 that the last of the islands was finally annexed to Spain, of which they now form a province.
See works by Pegot-Ogier (Eng. trans. 2 vols. 1882), Olivia Stone (1888), C. Edwardes (1889), G. W. Strettell (1890), J. Whitford (1890), and J. H. T. Ellerbroke (1892)