La Campana National Park – Jubaea chilensis

 La Campana National Park is situated in the province of Quillota, Chile, south of the Aconcagua Valley. The park was created in 1967 in recognition of the importance of this area as a biodiversity centre for species of plants and animals typical of Central, South and North areas of Chile. For the same reason it has been declared a World Reserve of Biosphere by UNESCO in 1985. Not too many plant species were actually flowering when we visited, but the main feature of the park is anyway the Chilean Wine PalmJubaea chilensis. This is an endemic palm from a small area of central Chile and definitely different than all the other palms we’ve seen. Growing up to 25 m, it has a ‘thick, muscular trunk’ over 1 m in diameter with a smooth, grey bark. The bottom part of the trunk is enlarged, resembling a bit in my opinion, with an elephant foot. The flowers are purple and disposed in long inflorescences, and the fruits, named ‘coquitos’, are orange in colour.

Past uses of this palm involved cutting down the trees for harvesting their sugary sap that was commercialized as ‘miel de palma’. Together with other human interventions in the region it has lead to a drastic reduction of Jubaea populations. Fortunately, now it has acquired the status of a protected plant. It is considered one of the hardiest palms, resisting up to -15º C, and it is cultivated successfully as an ornamental in Southern Britain, Switzerland, some parts of Italy, and France. I also found records of its cultivation in milder regions of Canada such as Vancouver area and Victoria in British Columbia.

Between many other interesting plants from the region I should point the parasitic Tristerix aphyllus, which from the distance makes Trichocereus chiloensis to look flowering and a few Alstroemeria species: A. garaventae, A. revoluta, A. zoelneri. Also Puya species (Bromeliaceae) are represented by quite a few endemics – but I’ll talk about them later.