DixPix Photographs



  Flora: The GYMNOSPERMS  


The term Gymnosperm means 'naked seeds' and is used to refer to a grouping of flora which are considered primitive, in that they may be traced deeply into the fossil record.  Of interest here are two botanical orders, namely the Pinales, which include the coniferous trees that once blanketed much of North America and northern Eurasia, and the very different Ephredales, the Ephedras.

The conifers are not nearly as important in the forests of the Southern Cordillera as they are in the northern hemisphere, except where silvaculture has created foreign monocultures.  There is one tree, however, which has a special status in southern Chile and Argentina, namely the Araucaria of the small family Araucariaceae.

The Araucaria tree (Araucaria araucana) is also known as Pehuen, and is sufficiently unique to have been planted widely in temperate climates, under the name of Monkey Puzzle Tree.  It is slow growing, but is said to be capable of living for as much as a thousand years. Click to see big picture (513x480 pixels; 135 KB)
One of the unique features of the Araucaria is its foliage.  Stiff and sharp pointed, it discourages most climbing animals.  The trunks also have an unusual texture. Click to see big picture (640x449 pixels; 111 KB)
Araucaria trees are either male or female.  Here the more spherical female cones are on the left, and the male on the right. Click to see big picture (326x480 pixels; 81 KB)
The female trees produce a cluster of "nuts" called piñones, which have a high nutrition value and were of great importance to survival of the indigenous peoples.  Click to see big picture (640x430 pixels; 106 KB)

The Cypress Family, CUPRESSACEAE,  is moderately small, with roughly 140 species, but has an unusually wide range around the world. 

Austrocedrus chilensis may be found in central and southern Chile, and in patagonian Argentina.  It goes by the local names of Lahuan or Cipres del Cordillera (Mountain Cypress).  These are the empty seed cases. Click to see big picture (611x480 pixels; 159 KB)
For some reason Austrocedrus chilensis is also known as Chilean Incense Cedar.  Here it is planted at the Botanical Gardens of UC Berkeley.
The cypress more commonly found around habitations, however, is likely to be Cupressus sempervirens, which originated in the Medirerranian, but has been widely planted and appears to be taking hold locally.  Click to see big picture (477x480 pixels; 107 KB)
And then there are the junipers.  They are widely distributed in the northern hemisphere, but not southern South America.  Juniperus communis, however, has been introduced into patagonian Argentina. Click to see big picture (571x480 pixels; 125 KB)

PODOCARPACEAE is a family of gymnosperms with 105 members, of which seven species are registered in the southern Cordillera, where they have the general name of Mañio.  Lacking flowers or distinctive features, they tend to evade photographic attention.


Meet one of the more common Mañio, Saxegothaea conspicua.  Despite the "conspicua" name, it is not much to look at. Click to see big picture (498x480 pixels; 121 KB)
One of the few photogenic aspects of the Podocarpus trees, is that their new foliage tends to be much lighter than the old. Click to see big picture (459x480 pixels; 110 KB)

The Pine family Pinaceae will be familiar to anyone in the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere, and gives its name to the botanical order Pinales.  It is not, however, native to the southern Cordillera.  The examples present are introduced.


And nothing has been introduced more blatantly than Pinus radiata, the Monterey Pine from coastal California.  Due to its outstanding qualities in silvaculture, the native vegetation of vast areas of Chile and Argentina have been stripped and planted in this monoculture.  Some goes to lumber, but most suffers the indignity of being converted to wood chips. Click to see big picture (640x374 pixels; 130 KB)
Pinus contorta has also been imported into patagonian Argentina.  This covers vast regions of north America under the name of Lodgepole Pine. Well, it used to, but it is being destroyed by the mountain pine beetle.  The male (pollen) cones are on the left. Click to see big picture (607x480 pixels; 150 KB)

One thing can be said of the Ephedra family, Ephedraceae-- it is different.  In fact the genus Ephedra is not just the only one in its family, but in its order Ephedrales.  It is best known as the original source of the stimulant and decongestant ephedrine.  In north America the species are known by names such as Joint Fir and Mormon Tea.  Through much of southern South America, the plants go by the very indigenous name Pingo-pingo.


Likely the most widespread member in the southern Cordillera is Ephedra chilensis, here seen near Santiago with characteristic gray stems.   It ranges from Ecuador to Patagonia and is sometime either called or confused with Ephedra americana andina.  This is a male plant, the females come up with red berries which are edible. Click to see big picture (401x480 pixels; 88 KB)
Ephedra frustillata, native to southern Chile and Argentina, but here exiled to the UBC Botanical Gardens.  The male plant and cone or flower. Click to see big picture (640x331 pixels; 113 KB)
And this is the female fruit. Click to see big picture (527x480 pixels; 120 KB)
Ephedra chilensis is likely better known as E. andina.  As the name suggests, this climbs high into the Cordillera from both sides.  Some authorities treat these as separate species.
According to the Van Dusen Gardens, this is Ephedra americana, which in its native range may be found from Ecuador to northwestern Argentina. Click to see big picture (359x480 pixels; 83 KB)
In the semi-arid steppes of southern Argentina, ephedras tend to be called Sulupes.  This dryland species is likely Ephedra ochreata. Click to see big picture (640x337 pixels; 112 KB)
And finally, the male flower of Ephedra tweediana, from the Quail Bot. Gardens.  Its natural range tends to lie to the east of the Cordillera proper. Click to see big picture (447x480 pixels; 71 KB)