Greener earth

Conservationists protect native Chilean conifer species

In a month-long journey throughout Chilean forests, U.K. botanists collect seedlings of some of the Andean nation’s rarest trees.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013  
A team of conservationists visited Chile with the goal of preserving native conifer species. Photo b A team of conservationists visited Chile with the goal of preserving native conifer species. Photo by Gwynne Hogan.


Conservationists from the United Kingdom traveled through Chilean terrain in January, collecting the seedlings of some Chile and the world’s rarest trees. The coalition of environmentalists hailed from The iCONic Project and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), two U.K. based organizations dedicated to the preservation of threatened species.


While traveling through Chile’s forested areas, the team aimed to collect seedlings from species like the Chilean plum yew, the southern beech, the Araucaria or monkey puzzle, and Alerce trees.


“The seedlings and young plants are destined for a range of carefully selected sites within Perthshire,” Tom Christian, The iCONic Project leader said in an online statement. “[They] will act as a valuable conservation collection that Chile can draw on to help restore its native populations in future years.”


According to Vanezza Morales, a Chilean botanist working with the team, Chile has approximately 4,295 species of plant life, nearly 2,000 of which are only found in Chile.


“Our plants are the result of millions of years of evolution where plants have adapted and developed many different techniques for living in deserts, forests, and mountains,” Morales told The Santiago Times.


Chile’s unique conifer species were of particular interest to the team.


“Forty percent of conifers worldwide are threatened in one way or another so Chile is a very important country for us because you have several threatened conifers [here],” Martin Gardener, coordinator of the U.K.’s International Conifer Program told The Santiago Times.


During their month in Chile, the group issued weekly updates on the project’s progress on their website.


An unexpected triumph arose when the team stumbled across a small grouping of Ruil, an extremely rare tree native to Chile’s coastal mountain range. Although they had been targeting other species at the time, the team eagerly took advantage of their discovery.


“[The] impromptu collection of seed and herbarium material ultimately may mean the difference between extinction or survival of this extremely rare species of tree,” the team related afterward in an online statement.


After extensive collection efforts, the coalition returned to their homes in the U.K. in early February.

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