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Visit to University of Talca

A white strawberry at the University of Talca Botanic Gardens.

This afternoon, our group toured the Botanic Gardens of the University of Talca. As one of the six Botanical Gardens in Chile, the Botanical Garden is located at about 170 miles in the south of Santiago in the Central Valley of Chile with a Mediterranean climate (an average temperature of 57.7 F) and an average rainfall (about 26 inches) that mainly occurs in winter.

The garden was started in 2002 against the backdrop when technological and industrial development of the country in past decades has generated negative effects on many natural areas, endangering the natural habitats of lots of species in the country. As part of the ex situ conservation strategies  to maintain biodiversity, the garden was established to keep ex situ endangered rare plants, and promote the university’s teaching and research in areas such as Agronomical Science, Forest Science, and the Biotechnology/Vegetable Biology, while serving as a public cultural and recreational space for the city and the region.

An enclosure of 6.5 hectares encompassing both native flora and fauna, the Botanic Garden is an excellent display of the biodiversity of both plants and animals in Chile. Stefan led us through a tour of a trial garden, which despite many weeds was still very impressive. Since the establishment of the garden, efforts have led to the rediscovery of Adesmia bijuga Phil. (Fabaceae), specie endemic that had not been recollected since the last 120 years ago, along with the recollection of seeds of other endemic species with the goal of ex situ conservation, includuing Calydorea chilensis M. Muñoz, Calceolaria auriculata Phil., Austrocactus philippii, Buxbaum & Ritter, Anemone moorei Espinoza, and Calceolaria pallida Phil. We didn’t see Adesmia bijuga Phil in bloom, but here is a picture from

Adesmia bijuga Phil. (

Chloraea alpina. Ex-situ conservation helps maintain plant biodiversity.

Of the notable plants in the garden we saw were Brugmansia, a highly toxic and beautiful plant in the Solanum family, various economically important crops such as limes, tomatoes, tomatillos, corn, and a massive Cassava (Manihot esculenta) tree, and naturalized tender perennials such as Canna. Further inside the enclosure, native animals and plants coexisted to form a very natural setting for the botanic garden. Alpacas, numerous chicken, pheasants, geese, ducks, and turkeys roamed freely among semi-aquatic plants including cattails (Typhus), water lilies (Nymphaea), Taro (Colocasia), and carnivorous bladderworts (Utricularia). We were even greeted by 3 alpacas (2 adults and a juvenile) which grazed contently among established native plant populations. The botanic gardens also displayed plants more adapted to arid climates, such as Puya, Agave, Quillaja saponaria, and many others. Unlike other botanic gardens we’ve encountered so far, the botanic gardens at Talca succeeded in creating a harmonious ecosystem that exhibited both native plants and animals.

The botanic garden of University of Talca demonstrates the benefits of the ex situ conservation: genetic diversity of the plant population can be maintained, measured; breeding programs can be effectively managed; the number of endangered species can be increased. At the same time, research on endangered species can be easier, and the conservation sites can also be used for education purpose and as attractions to raise funds for further conservation efforts.

Botanic Garden of the University of Talca

After a nice meal in the University dining area, we were given a tour of the viticulture lab by Dr. Rodrigo Moisan, where we sampled a variety of wines, starting from wines created from grape varieties of lower latitudes to wines created from higher latitude grapes. Spanish settlers brought grapes and wine-making knowledge to Chile; later French grape varieties were introduced and Chile soon became the 4th largest exporter of fine wines (although not much was used for local consumption). In addition to creating new types of wine, the viticulture lab also conducts research, including the studying effects of foliar applications of nitrogen on grape wines and assessing the performance of various rootstocks with identical scions.



Climate change and plants

As many of you may already know, our climate is rapidly changing as a result of global warming caused by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases such as CO2 in our atmosphere. Current and future increases of CO2 will directly affect the physiological processes and growth of plants, stimulating growth in weedy species and increasing interspecific competition. Even though CO2 enrichment up to twice normal ambient levels increases growth, the indirect climate effects caused by global warming such as altered precipitation patterns and increased frequency of extreme weather events may will have a greater overall negative impact on plant ecosystems.

Climate change is beginning to affect the competitive ability and fitness of  plant species, and natural ecosystems may soon face the extinction of species, as migration and natural selection may be too slow to accommodate the rapid climatic changes we are currently facing.

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