Navaea phoenicea can prosper only on high, inaccessible rocky cliffs on the northern slope of the island of Tenerife, where it is present only in the extreme north-east and north-west.
It forms part of the shrub-land band along the lower edge of the laurisilva, in which the rock vegetation is interspersed with elements of thermophilous forest of the subhumid zones, 250–700 metres above sea level.
The 21 known populations of Navaea phoenicea together have a combined area of less than 5 square kilometres. Population studies using molecular genetics have determined that there is very little genetic diversity within these populations, which can lead to a high level of sterility due to self-incompatibility.
Cross-pollination mediated by birds is therefore crucial for the survival of this species in the future.