Auracaria! Embothrium! Drimys! Oh my! We have had exciting few days in the Lake District, seeing old friends from our gardens and being captivated by new ones. We arrived in the area and nearly immediately went into the Andes to see Auracaria auracana in the wild. While this species brings both love and hate in Seattle, including among our group, everyone agreed it looked splendid in the wild, silhouetted against Volcan Lanín. We also did a short hike in the area, seeing lots of Alstroemeria aurantiaca (a weed here, though native) and Mutsia spinosa. Embothrium coccineum was flowering too.
Yesterday we did a fantastic hike most of the day in a private conservation area that is designed to preserve Aextoxicon punctatum, a rare tree that almost does not exist in the wild because of its harvest for wood. The Valdivian rain forest here was really exciting and we raced from plant to plant exclaiming over the Luma apiculata, the ferns both huge and tiny, and sweet-smelling Myrceugenia. As we walked, we spotted the orange flowers of Mitraria coccinea on the path – this epiphyte was up high and we mostly saw it this way. I grow it in-ground in Seattle and it does VERY well for me. The forest was thick with vines of the Chilean national flower, Lapageria rosea, which may be my very favorite flower of all time. I grow it in Seattle and cherish the flowers, though it may be hard to grow in the colder parts of our area. Sadly, we were about six weeks too early to see it flower, though if all those vines had been dripping in flowers, you would probably never see us again. This hike would have been outstanding for the fabulous forest, but the fact that it was also set among the spectacular scenery along the Pacific Ocean did not hurt.
We also did a hike in Lahuen Nadi Park, which is set aside to protect Fitzroya cupressoides (alerce) another tall tree now rare because of over-harvest. This forest was also a humid forest, but very different from the other. The underbrush was thick with native bamboos (Chusquea species) and some of my beloved Drimys winteri. Lapageria relative Philesia magellanica was just opening here (Dan impishly tucked one behind his ear and tried to convince me that it was Lapageria – he had me going for about 2 seconds). It is similar to Lagageria, but smaller and less deeply colored. We also saw the wonderful flowers of Desfontainia spinosa, another favorite of mine, though only very high up. These flowers look like orange candy corns dangling from branches with holly-like leaves. I grow this in Seattle, but have not gotten it to flower and recently my mountain beavers attacked it, so I don’t know if I will ever get it to flower.
I would be remiss if I did not recount our last day in the north as well. We visited an inspirational place near Santiago called “Herbarium” which has nothing to do with herbaria such as our Hyde Herbarium. Instead, they focus on horticultural therapy and the use of plants to heal those with physical and mental problems. Perhaps most important, they work with kids 3-14 that are from families with problems. Somewhat similar to Seattle Youth Garden Works, a collaboration we share with Seattle Tilth and work with at-risk teenagers, this program provides children with healing and learning.
We also spent time in the wine country, especially at a winery called De Martino. We had probably the best wine making tour I have ever had and then tasted three wines. The signature wine of Chile is the Carménère. The story is fascinating. The vines have been grown as merlot for years, about 15 years ago a French viticulturist was visiting and recognized it as different. DNA testing showed it was a different variety and now it is a very popular red wine.
We have been blessed with absolutely spectacular weather – crazy good, actually. Here in the Lake District it has been sunny and just perfect for hiking – warm, but not so hot that you overheat as you hike. I hope this continues the rest of our trip!
Tomorrow we head south for our final, and perhaps most exciting adventure – a visit to Torres del Paine National Park. None of us, including Dan or me, have been there before. Dan and I had to bear keeping a terrible secret from the group for a few days – when we first got here there was civil unrest over an increase in the cost of natural gas and tourism to the Park was blocked! It was resolved a few days ago and the adventure is on!
I hope you guys are all good.