A botanist in Chile

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Auracaria aruacana in its Chilean habitat.

Dr. Scott Zona’s presentation, A Botanical Tour of Chile, mesmerized the Tropical Fern and Exotic Plant Society Monday night – not only because of the botanical knowledge imparted but also the fabulous photos (four of which he graciously allowed me to use here).

Scott, a former palm specialist at FTBG, is curator of the Wertheim Conservatory at Florida International University. He traveled to Chile with fellow botanists Dr. John Tobe of Tallahassee and Drs. John and Soejatmi Dransfield. John Dransfield is another palm expert who retired from the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.

Calceolaria crenatiflora.

Scott said they spent two weeks touring and botanizing in the temperate and central part of Chile, where the flora grows in mid-California-like conditions. With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andes Mountains on the other, the plants have been isolated for a long time, he said, and he added 10 to12 new families of plants to his life list.

 Some of the wild relatives of houseplants showed up, such as  Alstroemeria  pulchra var. maxima. Alstroemerias are bulbs. You’ve seen them sold in this country as cut flowers called Peruvian lilies. Another northern


houseplant relative, Calceolaria crenatiflora, with its cute pouch-like lip, is endemic to Chile. What seemed to be a mini Mussaenda turned out to be Cruckshanksia hymenodon, with colorful wide sepals and small yellow flowers.

            While lots of red and orange tubular plants seemed perfect candidates for hummingbird pollinators, Scott said he saw only one hummer on the trip.          

Jubaea chilensis.

What thrilled him? Seeing his favorite palm, Jubaea chilensis, with trunks four to five feet across and enormous crowns of pinnate fronds. The sap is used to make a kind of honey in Chile.

Another heart-stopper: the auracarias. Auracaria aruacana was “spectacular” he said, and a huge millenary  Auracaria with a burned-out trunk was thought to be 2,000 years old.

Scott’s photostream on Flickr is not only full of gorgeous images but the plants are correctly named!