Natural wonderland

The unique flora of the Juan Fernández Archipelago

Two French botanists have released a publication containing an inventory of the islands' many endemic plant species.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 Category: National parks
The Juan Fernández Archipelago has more than 200 endemic plant species. (Photo: hectorgutierrez/Flic The Juan Fernández Archipelago has more than 200 endemic plant species. (Photo: hectorgutierrez/Flickr)

As well as being spectacularly beautiful, the Juan Fernández Archipelago immortalized in Daniel Defoe's 18th century novel, Robinson Crusoe, is also home to some of the most unique plant life on earth.

After more than 14 years of investigation, French botanists Philippe Danton and Christophe Perrier have released a publication cataloguing the area's distinct trees and shrubs.

Entitled Green Jewels in the Ocean: Study for a Monograph of the Vascular Flora of the Juan Fernández Archipelago, the book showcases the great biological diversity of the isolated island habitat, with sketches and photos taken by the authors while conducting their fieldwork.

Declared a national park in 1935 and named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1977, the archipelago has more than 200 native plant species that are not found anywhere else on earth, making it an ideal site for studying plant life and broader evolutionary theories.

“On [Robinson Crusoe] island there is a forest that is completely original,” said Danton. “It is the only forest in the whole world where 100 percent of the plant species are endemic. This is exceptional! It has plants, insects, spiders and birds that belong to an entirely unique ecosystem, which we must study and protect before we lose them.”

Last year the Chilean Ambassador to France, Jorge Edwards, officially recognized the French botanists as Officials of the Order of Bernardo O'Higgins, the highest recognition that can be bestowed on foreign citizens by the Chilean Government.

Chile's Deputy Foreign Minister, Fernando Schmidt, said the botanists were recognized for their efforts to preserve the archipelago's unique plant life as well as for their scientific investigations.

“This publication is an important contribution to the conservation of this habitat and it will help to promote this extraordinary natural heritage,” he said.

Danton and Perrier were also named “Environmental Pioneers” by Chile's Minister of the Environment María Ignacia Benítez.

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