The oldest tree on the planet, the southernmost palm tree on earth and the tree that grows at the highest altitude in the entire world. Chile is characterized by its geographical diversity, resulting in a unique variety of flora. On World Tree Day, we present 15 native species that are characteristic of Chile and represent a sample of the natural wealth that exists throughout the country.
In 2022, the Science journal revealed that the oldest tree in the world could be an ancient alerce that grows in southern Chile’s Alerce Costero Park. However, our country doesn´t only have the oldest tree on the planet; it is also home to the southernmost palm tree on earth and the tree that grows at the highest altitude in the entire world. Chile is characterized by its biodiversity, which is a product of its geographical range and climate diversity. According to information from the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), Chile has 89 species of native tree, 42 of which are endemic (in other words, they only grow in the country), and seven are protected under the category of natural monument. On World Tree Day, we present 15 native tree species that are representative of Chilean flora and tell you where to find them on a journey from the far north to the extreme south of the country.
Queñoa (Polylepis tarapacana) and high-altitude queñoa (Polylepis rugulosa Bitter)
The queñoa is the tree that grows at the highest altitude in the world, at between 3,900 and 4,700 meters above sea level. This evergreen tree is found throughout the Andes Mountains in highland areas of the Arica and Parinacota, Tarapacá and Antofagasta regions. It is a vulnerable species, and frequently grows near to llareta (Azorella compacta), a bush native to these regions that is known for its resemblance to moss.
Meanwhile, high-altitude queñoa can be found in the Parinacota province of the Arica and Parinacota Region, at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,000 meters above sea level. It can reach heights of three to seven meters. It has a thick and reddish bark that comes away easily from its thick and foliated trunk, which gives it great tolerance to freezing.
Quillay (Quillaja saponaria Molina)
The quillay is endemic to Chile and Argentina, and is widely found in Chile’s central and south-central zone, between the Coquimbo and La Araucanía regions. It is an evergreen tree that can reach heights of 20 to 30 meters, and live between 100 and 150 years. It is widely used to produce honey. The quillay is very tolerant of poor soil environments, prolonged drought and direct exposure to the sun. It can often be found in flat north-facing sites.
Peumo (Cryptocaria alba Molina)
The peumo is an endemic evergreen tree that can grow up to 25 meters high. It has dense foliage and can live more than 400 years. The peumo can be found in both the mountain range and central valley between the Coquimbo and La Araucanía regions. It grows from sea level to 1,500 meters, and prefers moist and shady environments, such as the bottom of gorges, where it forms groves.
Boldo (Peumus boldus Molina)
The boldo is endemic to Chile and is found between the Coquimbo and Los Ríos regions. Its leaves have a strong aroma and are used for culinary and medicinal purposes. This medium-sized and slow-growing tree flourishes between sea level and 1,500 meters, and can exceed 15 meters in height.
Chilean Palm (Jubaea chilensis)
The evergreen Chilean palm is considered the southernmost palm tree in the world. It can grow up to 30 meters high and live for 1,000 years. The Chilean palm is native to the country’s central zone, and is found between the Coquimbo and Maule regions at below 300 meters above sea level. It produces an edible fruit and palm honey is extracted from it industrially.
Oak (Nothofagus obliqua)
The oak is found in temperate forest between the Valparaíso and Los Lagos regions, at altitudes ranging from sea level to 2,500 meters. It is the only deciduous tree that has red autumnal foliage in these regions. The oak can grow to 50 meters high and live up to 500 years. It is also present in Argentina.
Northern and southern acorn tree (Beilschmiedia miersii and Beilschmiedia berteroana)
Both the northern and southern acorn tree were declared natural monuments in 1995, due to being vulnerable or in danger of extinction. These endemic trees are found mainly in the coastal mountain range of the Valparaíso and Metropolitan regions (northern acorn tree) and in the pre-Andean and central valley areas of the Maule and Ñuble regions (southern acorn tree).
Canelo (Drimys winteri and chilensis)
The canelo is an endemic species found between the Coquimbo and Magallanes regions from sea level to 1,700 meters. Its flowers have white petals, its fruits are a blackish color, and its leaves are bright green. It is considered a sacred tree by the Mapuche, and its bark is widely used in traditional medicine.
Lingue (Persea lingue)
The lingue grows between the Valparaíso and Los Lagos regions, mainly in direct sunlight and semi-shade. It prefers moist terrain and is found between sea level and 900 meters. The lingue flowers from September to January and its fruits ripen from March. It can grow up to 30 meters high.
Queule (Gomortega keule)
The queule was declared a natural monument in 1995. It is an endemic perennial tree that can be found mainly in the coastal zone of the Maule and Biobío regions, between sea level and 700 meters. The queule has a straight trunk and pyramidal top, and usually measures around 15 meters in height.
Pitao or canelillo (Pitavia punctata)
The pitao or canelillo is an endemic evergreen tree found between sea level and 800 meters in the coastal zone of the Maule, Ñuble, Biobío and La Araucanía regions. This tree was declared a natural monument in 1995. It can grow up to 15 meters in height and its trunk can measure 50 cm in diameter. It blooms between October and November, and its flowers are hermaphroditic and white.
Ruil (Nothofagus alessandrii)
The ruil is a deciduous tree endemic to Chile. It is confined to a small area of the Maule Region coastal mountain range, and grows between 100 and 500 meters above sea level. It was discovered in 1926 by Chilean botanist Marcial Espinosa, and declared a natural monument in 1995. It has a straight grey trunk, and can reach up to 30 meters in height.
Pehuén (Araucaria araucana)
The pehuén was declared a natural monument in 1990. It is typical of the Biobío, La Araucanía and Los Ríos regions. The pehuén grows in clay and volcanic soils between 600 and 1,700 meters above sea level. It is a slow-growth species with a long lifespan of up to 1,000 years. The pehuén is perennial, with a height of up to 50 meters, a trunk that can measure three meters in diameter, and branches that begin several meters above the ground. It has historically been protected by the Mapuche (Pehuenche), who have used its seed, the piñon, as the base of their diet, to make flour and fermented beverages.
Andean alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides)
The Andean alerce has been a natural monument since 1976. It can measure up to 45 meters high, and be found in the Alerce Costero Park, in Los Ríos Region. The alerce grows in moist terrain with rocky slopes, at between 100 and 1,400 meters above sea level. It is the second longest-living species in the world. In fact, a study published this year in the Science journal by Chilean researchers Jonathan Barichivich and Antonio Lara, under the auspices of institutions like the Corporación Alerce, the Universidad Austral de Chile and CONAF, established that an alerce specimen could be the oldest tree in the world. The tree, the so-called “ancient alerce” or “great-grandfather”, can be found in the Alerce Costero Park and is 5,484 years old.
Magallanes Coigüe (Nothofagus betuloides) / Coihue (Nothofagus dombeyi) / Chiloé Coigüe (Nothofagus nítida)
The Magallanes Coigüe is found between Los Ríos and Magallanes regions, at altitudes ranging from sea level to 1,500 meters. The Coihue has a natural distribution that stretches from the O’Higgins to Aysén regions, and is found between sea level and 1,000 meters. Meanwhile, the Chiloé Coigüe is found between Los Ríos and Magallanes regions.
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