Caiophora coronata

A botanical trip to Chilean Andes – part II

Another awesome trip, that shouldn’t be missed if you are in the region, is towards Embalse de Yeso. This is an artificial dam with an amazing alpine style lake at about 2500 m elevation. The narrow, gravely road follows dangerously close to the lake edge so it’s best to keep your eyes on the plants growing on the other side (if you’re not the driver!).

Caiophora coronata, which belongs to another South American family: Loasaceae, is definitely one of the coolest plant that you’ll see here. This species has big bonnet-shape flowers arranged in a crown, hence its name; the leaves are pinnate, heavily dentate and the whole plant is covered by stinging hairs. Needless to say, it’s recommended to wear gloves if you want to get close to it. The next one, Tropaeolum polyphyllum can be quite a shock for everyone used with the annual nasturtium. It is a tuberous plant with trailing stems up to 50 cm long, sprawling over the rocks. Leaves are deeply cut, grey-blue with 5-9 (11) folioles. Flowers are produced in a great number and they are big, yellow-orange, with a spurred calyx. Another Tropaeolum growing there is the endemic Tropaeolum sessilifolium. Smaller in size and more compact, the flowers are a combination of yellow, around the calyx and pink on the corolla. Something looking like splashed dots of colours on the rocky, barren slopes it is usually Cruckshanksia hymenodon – a plant with a name that makes you check your spelling five times. The actual flowers are very small, yellow and are surrounded by lavender-pink bracts, supposedly with the role of attracting pollinators.

We did manage to see a rosulate Viola toward the end of our stay. We were somewhere close to Laguna de Teno and stopped at the view of a showy Rodophiala rhodolirion. This is an endemic Amaryllidaceae, about 15 cm tall, which is quite a sight because of the big white to deep pink flowers with red marks, appearing before the foliage. Climbing the slope to take pictures of it, I almost crushed a Viola subandina, an annual Viola with a small purplish rosette. There were just a few of them, not too showy to be honest, and the flowers already gone – you could actually see a few seeds in the capsule, but I didn’t care. At that moment, it was the feeling of discovery that mattered most.

Have a look at the Viola subandina and also at a few other awesome plant species: