In December 2021 the group was treated to a fascinating talk by Liz Livermore about her two AGS group trips to this geographically and botanically diverse country.
4300km long but only 350km at its widest, Chile is home to four botanical zones: Atacama is arid, Central Chile is Mediterranean, South Central Chile is temperate rainforest and Patagonia is sub-polar.
Cerro la Campana is the highest peak in La Campana National Park, at 18800m. Darwin came to this region in 1834. Puya chilensis is a terrestrial bromeliad that grows on the arid hillsides here, bearing stall spikes of lime green flowers. Jubea chilensis, the Chilean Wine Palm is commonly grown as a street tree but it is endangered in the wild and the park is home to one of the few remaining stands.
Further inland Liz visited Parque Andino Juncal, a stunning landscape of mountains, glaciers and wetlands with Mediterranean type flora. Ground hugging Alstroemeria parvula grows here, with a ring of pink flowers. Daisies include hot red Mutisia subulata and white Mutisia sinuata. Amaryllis family member Rhodolphiala rodolirion bears short but showy pink trumpets.
South Central Chile
A short flight took Liz and the group to visit Conguillo National Park. Growing here is native bamboo Chusquea culeou, bright orange Alstroemeria aurea, shrub Drimys andina with white, waxy flowers and Berberis darwinii, familiar to UK gardeners.
Liz visited the southernmost lakes, by the snow-capped Osorno Volcano. Darwin glimpsed Volcán Osorno from a distance during the second voyage of the Beagle, catching sight of its eruption in 1835. She visited a ‘Living Monument’, the Fitzroya cupressoides, a species that can live up to 2000 years, this particular plant is 1600 years old. This swampy area is home to bamboo Chusquea quila, fern Blechnum chilensis and Luma apiculata, a tree with attractive cinnamon coloured bark.
Another flight further south to Punta Arenas on the Straights of Magellan gave Liz the opportunity to explore Torres del Paine National Park, famous for its blue coloured tower peaks. The area is incredibly windy and plants are usually low growing, such as Mulinum spinosum which forms low domes of spines, which are reduced leaves to protect against herbivores and also to retain moisture.
Lago Grey is a botanically very interesting area, home to more low growing plants such as Berberis empetrifolia. Its juicy berries are made into jam, desserts and to flavour a local alcoholic drink. At higher altitudes grows Embrothrium coccineum, the Chilean fire bush, and Calciolaria uniflora, with yellow flowers and red and white lip. A white sugary patch can be rubbed off by birds, the pollen from the stigma being transferred in the process.
Thank you Liz for a sharing these fascinating journeys with the group.