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Plants

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.

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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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The beauty of native plants on Valle Nevado in Chile

In Chile, there are plants that are found no where else in the world. The biodiversity of Chile is rich and precious, and its plants are valued highly throughout the world. Of its 5,100 species of flora and fauna, more than 2,500 are endemic – that is, found nowhere else on Earth.

Alstroemeria up in Valle Nevado

Alstroemeria up in Valle Nevado

Oxalis

Oxalis

Placea spp.

Placea spp. growing on the side of a hill

Chilean Flora

The overall diversity of Chilean flora is relatively modest, but because of its unique geographical location, Chile has the highest number of endemic plant species in South America. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 known vascular plant species in Chile, with roughly half of those being endemic to the country. So as we travel from Santiago to Valdivia, we can expect to see a great many plants that we are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world. A few of those species are shown below.

Araucaria araucana – Monkey Puzzle Tree

This evergreen coniferous tree is native to Argentina and Chile and has an unusual appearance that is often admired by viewers. It gets its name from the fact that with its spiny leaves, even a monkey would be puzzled with the task of climbing it. The tree produces edible seeds called piñones, which continue to be an important part of the diet of the indigenous people of the area. Even though this species has been declared a National Monument in Chile in 1990, which prohibits the cutting of wild trees, it still faces conservations threats and is currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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A. araucana female cones

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A. araucana stem with leaves

 

Lapageria rosea –  Copihue

This twining vine is highly revered as the National Flower of Chile, and is also endemic to the country. It can be observed in the southern third of the country as well as in the coastal mountains and the lower elevations of the Andes where forests are damp. Its vibrant pendulous flowers are hummingbird pollinated, and have inspired many different cultivars in horticultural settings. It bears an evolutionary relationship to the Lilies, and is the sole member of its genus, and one of only two species in the family Philesiaceae.

L. rosea in flower

L. rosea in flower

 

Fitzroya cupressoides – Alerce

This tree, sometimes referred to as the Sequoia of South America, can be found in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Chile and Argentina, and is an important species in the Valdivian temperate rain forest. It is widely recognized as the tallest and oldest tree in South America. An individual from Argentina was measured at 187 feet tall, with a 7 foot trunk diameter, and an individual from Chile was dated at over 3,600 years old. This makes it the second-oldest living tree after the Bristlecone Pine of western North America. The wood of the Alerce is lightweight and durable, and has historically been used for the production of a variety of products, but logging was officially stopped in 1976 to ensure conservation of this extraordinary tree.

F. cupressoides foliage and cones

F. cupressoides foliage and cones

F. cupressoides growth form

F. cupressoides growth form

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