The country has a wide variety of native species, including the Chilean palm tree that grows throughout the Coastal Mountains and the Central Valley. Chile’s national flower is the copihue. This is a delicate, bell-shaped flower that grows naturally in Chile’s southern forests. It is very hard to grow in flower gardens.
There are very few plants in the country’s Norte Grande or Large North because of the desert conditions. Only a few kinds of trees and haphazard cacti can be found in the area. A trip to see candelabra cacti lining the Chiu-Chiu Toconce like sentinels leading into the altiplano is highly recommended.
A very interesting phenomenon takes place every so often in Chile’s Large North. This event is climactically associated to the appearance of the El Niño current, which overheats ocean currents and is followed by increased precipitation. After it rains in the desert, over two hundred species of flowers burst into bloom, astonishing visitors. Tours leave from towns like Freirina or Vallenar to see unique flowers like garras de león (Bomarea ovallei), añañucas or the outstanding pussypaws (Cisanthe grandiflora) with their unmistakable violet brushstrokes criss-crossing the desert.
Another recommended stop is Fray Jorge National Park, near La Serena, that features a small mixed forest just like the cold forests in southern Chile. There are also forests of giant cacti in the area. We recommend that you avoid buying handicrafts made from cactus wood since you won’t be able to get it out of the country.
The longest-living tree
The greatest variety of flora is to be found in southern Chile, including several ferns, Chilean bamboo known as coligüe, and a wide variety of fuchsias and enigmatic trees such as the araucaria, which goes back to the time of the dinosaurs. The alerce has its own tale to tell, a solemn tree that grows ever so slow. Northern Patagonia has a species of alerce which may be the longest-living tree in the world. Trees such as Magellan’s beech (Nothofagus betuloides) and ñirre (Nothofagus antartica) grow further south.
Chile’s Antarctic territory is almost totally covered by ice and therefore only some species of moss grow in the area.
Out of all of Chile’s insular territory, we wish to highlight the Juan Fernández archipelago and its exuberant flora, one-of-a-kind in the entire world. Nearly 62% of all the plants in the archipelago are endemic, which means that at the time the island was discovered, six of every ten plants were not to be found anywhere else in the world. A special note of interest is the fruitless search for the mythical Juan Fernández sandalwood, which is now extinct.
Easter Island’s flora is generally quite limited and the island mostly has introduced species, such as banana and pineapple trees. There have been recent attempts to reintroduce the toromiro de Pascua, an endemic shrub associated to essential rites of the island’s culture.