Chile’s bold new plan on how to save a national emblem: eat it!

On the verge of extinction, the slender copihue is making a comeback, thanks to a nursery that plans to export the flower to international kitchens. 

Australians will often make the claim to be the only country in the world to eat the animals on its coat of arms, both the kangaroo and emu. (It’s not true though, goat is eaten in Chad and marlin is considered a delicacy in the Bahamas.)

And while no plans are afoot to use Chilean standard-bearer, the Andean condor, in a cazuela stew, or serve up the huemul as a venison entrée, one of the country’s national emblems could soon be appearing on dinner plates around the world.

That is to be the fate of the delicate, bell shaped copihue, Chile’s floral emblem, despite it being notoriously difficult to cultivate and in danger of extinction. But before anyone gets indignant, it’s important to state that the commercialization of the copihue could actually save the flower from disappearing from the forests of central and southern Chile – the only place in the world that it exists.

The plan was hatched by Eric Chait, who along with brother-in-law, Juan Pablo Plaza, founded Alupra some three years ago, with the ambition of becoming the first company to produce the copihue as a cut flower.

“Eric began to research the issue, and he saw an opportunity. That is, it was now both technically and legally possible to commercialize the copihue flower for the market,” said Plaza, now chief executive of the business.

In June 2012, the “in-laws” behind Alupra announced that they had not only created eight new strains of the flower, but had reduced its cultivation period from seven years to three, and were now ready to become the first company to market Chile’s national flower.

But perhaps its most promising export will be the long, red, white and pink petals, which are to be exported as a gourmet product to the global food market, with an eye toward some of the world’s most prestigious kitchens.

Alupra counted on the technical support of the Universidad de la Frontera, and its startup funds came from the Chilean economic development agency, CORFO’s, Capital Semilla (“Seed Capital”) program.

The nursery can be found in the Araucanía Region, five miles (eight km) on the road toward Labranza from Temuco.

For more information (in Spanish) and for photos of the new copihue strains, see the Alupra’s website.