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Exploring the native plant nursery-Day 4

Hauk and Emma sample Chilean wine during lunch.

Hauk and Emma sample Chilean wine during lunch.

Sitting down for lunch in Monica's garden

Sitting down for lunch in Monica’s garden

Monica giving us a tour of her native plant nursery

Monica giving us a tour of her native plant nursery

After being able to leave at 9 instead of 8:30 like the past few days (thank goodness), we headed out Saturday morning to the native plant nursery. Founded and owned by Monica Musalem, the nursery is the first of its kind in Latin America. Monica, through our handy translator Leynar, gave us a tour of her established native plant nursery operation.

Creating a native plant commercial nursery from scratch was a monumental task. In order to establish the nursery, Monica and her team had to conduct extensive research on the climate conditions of the native plant and the cultural practices that were required to successfully propagate the plants for production. Factors such as soil conditions, light requirements, and water requirements are some examples of what characteristics needed to be well understood for developing the native plant nursery. Once the research was conducted and the base of native plants were collected, propagated and grown, Monica took charge in developing awareness and promotion of using native plants in the Santiago area. To make native plant selection efficient for her buyers, Monica developed her own zone system based on the varying conditions of the native plants. For example, “Zone 1” would categorize native plants that grow well on the coast while “Zone 4” would categorize plants native to the Atacama Desert climate in Northern Chile. Using her own zone system and research on the native plants, Monica organizes her native plant nursery into groups based on both ease of care and plants with similar growing conditions such as water requirement, pH of the soil, etc..

Once we finished the tour of the plant nursery, Monica treated us all to an amazing lunch in her beautiful garden. Some items on our lunch menu included chicken and pork cooked in her brick oven stove, a drink consisting of peach and white wine, sheep cheese made from her own farm, the famous Chilean carmenere red wine(goes great with the sheep cheese), salmon, quinoa, and espresso. Combined with the beauty of the garden and our intellectual conversations we had at the table, Monica’s hospitality will be an experience none of us will ever forget.

 

Day 4 – What a Day

By the time our group sat down to eat dinner at the end of our last day in Santiago, we had all walked over 10 miles throughout the day! Our time was well spent in the afternoon as we hiked through some of Santiago’s culturally significant landscapes. First we started our walking tour in Santiago’s City Center; an open paved area bordered by many significant buildings, including the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, which had been rebuilt five times throughout Chile’s history! In the main plaza, numerous species of plants provide resting shade areas and a break in the city texture. Here we saw people relaxing with their families and lounging under the canopy of the taller trees. An interesting fact about Santiago is how the city started developing and was designed to be a noticeable city block planning.

City Center flora includes various species from flowers and shrubs to enormous trees!

City Center flora includes various species from flowers and shrubs to enormous trees!

Here is one of the illustrations of the block design of Santiago over the years.

Here is one of the illustrations of the block design of Santiago over the years.

Our next stop was Santa Lucia Hill, a 69 meter high rock hill jutting out from the center of Santiago. At the top, we took in the views of Santiago from the highest point in the city center. History of the Santa Lucia Hill crosses between the original inhabitants [Heulén] and conquerors around the 1500s as lookout points. In the late 1800s, Benjamin Vicuna Mackenna redesigned Santa Lucia Hill to include fountains and lookouts with exquisite flora. Our group loved exploring the vastness of the creativity present on Santa Lucia Hill.

Taken from one of the tiers at Santa Lucia Hill.

Taken from one of the tiers at Santa Lucia Hill.

We finished the day with a ride in a rail tram up to San Cristobal Hill, home to the 22-meter statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This statue was also blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1987 and on the same day he blessed the city of Santiago. We opted to walk down from San Cristobal Hill, a decrease in 300 meter elevation, which turned into an hour stroll on our way back to the hotel. Needless to say, we all happily took a seat when it came time for dinner.

The Blessed Virgin Mary at San Cristobal Hill.

The Blessed Virgin Mary at San Cristobal Hill.

Views of Santiago on our journey down from San Cristobal Hill.

Views of Santiago on our journey down from San Cristobal Hill.

Our group truly appreciated the help of many of the people who showed us around Santiago, especially Leynar! Day 5 we travel to Talca so stay tuned for more!

Laguna del Maule

Schizanthus

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Laguna del Maule

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Native terrestrial orchid: Chlorea

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Zoe Friedberg

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 www.chlorischile.cl.

Adesmia bijuga Phil. (http://www.chlorischile.cl/adesmia%20bijuga/figs2y3.html)

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.

 

References

http://www.chlorischile.cl/jardintalca/Botanical%20Garden%20of%20Talca%20Universityweb.htm

http://www.chlorischile.cl/adesmia%20bijuga/figs2y3.html

Lunch at the Native Plant Nursery

Lunch at the Native Plant Nursery

Taking a tour of Santiago

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the Funicular

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At the top!

January 7, 2017

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Monica Musalem, owner of Pumahuida Native Plant Nursery gives us a great tour of her nursery, with the help of Leynar Leyton

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Nor Kamal Ariff looking at plants at Pumahuida Native Plant Nursery

Pumahuida Native Plant Nursery

Karl Kunze walking amont the plants at Pumahuida Native Plant Nursery

January 6,2017: An Afternoon With Monsanto

The genetic advancement of agricultural crops is a growing area of research that many people are not aware about. Today we had the tremendous opportunity to visit one of the three Monsanto Research stations in Chile where we were able to learn about the different projects that are taking place at the station. Upon arrival we were greeted by some of the staff members and sat through a short presentation that explained about DH technology and how it is changing the direction of plant genetics. We also had the opportunity to drive out to different field sites where the staff explained to us different breeding projects that were  being worked on with corn, soybean, and canola. One of the main things that stood out to me was a conversation I had with one of the agronomists on the drive out to the field where he spoke to me about the importance of Chile’s climate which makes the research station possible. The consistent dry climate in the southern hemisphere allows for research projects like these to take place. The cool climate at night is helpful to prevent diseases and insects from being a problem, and the availability of  labor allows for long labored tasks to be possible. Finally, one of the most amazing things I realized was that although Chile may be thousands of miles away from the United States our westernized market and the amount and type of seed that our  American farmers use each season also affects the Chilean people. These are things that the common public does not think about when they sit at the dinner table to eat a meal, but a changing global climate will begin to drive the way our farmers and our suppliers work, and will in turn affect prices for consumers. Visiting the Monsanto Research station was definitely an eye opening experience and a very exciting way to get young people like us that are interested in agriculture to see potential futures with the industry.

Plant Biodiversity Student looking at Corn Breeding Fields

High up in the Andes Mountains, almost 10,000 ft.

Valle Nevado - looking for native plants in Chile

Valle Nevado – looking for native plants in Chile

Piga Seed Exchange Company

On Friday, we had the pleasure of touring Pointa Piga Seed Exchange company. As we rolled up the dusty, tree-lined rural road to the facility, we were greeted by the security guard at the gate and by the dogs sleeping under the trees on the perimeter of the facility. 19 of us filed off of the bus and Sandra, who also guided the PLHRT 4940 tour of Piga in 2012, gave us a warm welcome before delving into a brief history of Piga and explaining its importance in globalized agricultural production.

Chile is important for seed production because of its counter-season, which, along with Peru, Argentina, and Brazil, allows it to produce seeds during the time that client countries are experiencing the winter season. Piga grows crops like corn, squash, cabbage, melons, and tomatoes at their locations in Chile, Peru, and Argentina. These crops are predominantly grown for Japan and the United States, though Piga also works with a handful of European clients. As a seed company, Piga does not choose for specific traits or establish cultivars, it only seeds for crops sent in by clients, multiplies them, and sells back the seed they produce. Piga can supply seed for small scale production or handle large volume contracts.

As we observed different netted growing plots for crops like tomatoes and lettuce, the extreme complexity of running an operation like Piga became clear. GPS systems, flawless planning, and close contact with competitors is necessary to ensure that cross-pollination among crops does not occur. When mapping where certain crops will be grown, Piga prioritizes placing hybrid brassicas and melons 2.5-3km away from each other.

The process for seed production is specific to each crop and, of course, dependent on way a plant reproduces. For tomatoes, first the original seed from the client is sown after being checked for potential pathogens. Then, seedlings are transplanted into a plot. Once mature enough, tomato plants are castrated to ensure full control of reproduction. Next, Piga workers hand-pollinate flowers. The resulting fruits are harvested. The tomatoes are fermented for 24 hours to release their seeds from the mucilage, and a special enzyme is added to complete the cleaning and preparation of the seed to be sent to clients. No step along the process or plant or flower can be missed, so Piga workers are extremely skilled and careful. Sandra stressed that without its diligent employees, Piga would not be the reputable and reliable company it is. Piga recognizes this and is managed in such a way that encourages workers to want to stay with the company for a long time with incentives like bonuses for long-time employees.

After touring multiple plots, we were invited into the lab where seeds are treated and tested for pathogens before planting, as well as the facility where seeds are sorted and packaged. Many of us were struck by how transparent, warm, welcoming, and informative each part of the tour was, and as our journey around the facility came to an end with the agua con gas and traditional chilean candy treats that Sandra and Piga had layed out for us in the office where our tour began, I heard classmates, only slightly joking, or perhaps not joking at all (I wasn’t) saying that they wanted to come back and work for Sandra.
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