Monday, 6 December 2010
The Monkey Puzzle Forests (updated)
A forest of monkey puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana) after snowfall. These have given us the biggest botanical buzz of the trip so far.
Magnificent coniferous survivors from Jurassic times, when they dominated forests the world over. In the Chilean Lake District, they were growing on hill tops above 1000 metres.
Before I have only ever seen them growing in front of semis in suburban southeast England - a setting which utterly diminishes them.
In nature and en masse, they are stunning. They are huge when fully grown. Strands of pale green lichen festoon their trunks.
The indigenous people of this part of Chile are the Mapuche. Traditionally their culture not only includes these funeral carvings, but also spiritual beliefs about and practical uses of the araucaria tree. Uses include eating the large nuts in the tree´s cones. This was explained and demonstrated to us by our somewhat distant guide Manuel (whose legs you can see in third photo down). Shame he didn´t offer us any. So we can´t tell you what they taste like.