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Day 5: a Stroll in the Beautiful Andes


a panorama of the area surrounding Salto río Maule and the adjacent waterfall

After our last night in the bustling city of Santiago, we left in early morning to make our way to our next stop: Talca.

The class was joined by Flavia Schiappacasse and Steffen Hahn our guides for our time in Talca, and left on a scenic bus ride through the Andes towards Laguna de Maule.  We made several stops to observe the flora of the area- alpine species were flowering everywhere! Mistletoe, Alstroemeria, Rhodophiala, and a terrestrial orchid to name a few.


flora by the SAG station


Sapphire blue waters of Laguna de Maule










It was also interesting to see a micro-ecosystem created by the water running through a ditch next to the SAG station by the Argentinian border.  The man-made ditch juxtaposed with the colors in flower inside of it.   We later saw this phenomenon on a larger and more impressive scale later at the waterfall where ferns thrived only under the constant humidity of the falls.


Solanaceous flower


Boraginaceae flowers, clinging low to the ground










Schizanthus sp. found by the ditch


ferns thriving under the waterfall’s mist










Plants were not the only feature on this trip; Steffen pointed out unique bird species as well as the volcanic pumice and obsidian in the area.  From the bus, we peeked into the valley below and caught sight of a stallion galloping alongside the river.

As we stepped off the bus again at Salto río Maule, Flavia warned us not to step on the native violas as they were tiny and colored like the soil. Before we found them, we weren’t sure what to look for, and they were nothing like the violas we knew from the US.


Chloraea alpina, a terrestrial orchid species native to Chile


a Viola, the size of a golf ball, the color of sand









Needless to say, being at the waterfalls was incredible.  Salto río Maule is perhaps one of the most beautiful places on the earth.  Alpine flora all around, wind coursing through hair, and mist flying up the waterfall onto our faces.  The view itself was breathtaking.  I can speak for others in the class when I say I intend to return and see it again.


Patty Chan (me) by one of the two falls


an alpine stream


Dr. Elizabeth Lam crossing a stream to reach Salto río Maule


Salto río Maule

Featured Chilean Plant: Yareta

You’re hiking far into the Andes mountain range, high above the sea.  For miles upon miles, all you see is sky, sand, and rocks— wait…except for that lime green amorphous mass right there.  Are you seeing this right? You sure are.  It’s not Oobleck or alien slime, but a plant with clever adaptations, Yareta.


Yareta (Azorella compacta) is a plant native to South America, present at altitudes between 10,000 and 15,000 ft above sea level.  It’s in the family Apiaceae, same as many familiar plants such as carrots, celery, and parsley.  In contrast to how it may appear, Yareta is an incredibly firm, dense plant with a woody structure covered in many small waxy leaves.

Its foreign appearance is due to the plant’s adaptations to surviving a fairly inhospitable environment where it must endure drought and regular bouts of cold temperatures.  It grows incredibly slowly, at a rate of 1.5 cm in any direction a year to conserve resources needed to produce biomass, and grows dense to conserve the plant’s internal heat and moisture.  The waxy cuticle on the leaves also ensure less water transpires from the plant.  Botanists theorize that Yareta limits itself to several feet in height because it’s slightly warmer clinging close to the ground.


Pretty crazy, isn’t it? It’s amazing what forms plants can take to survive.



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