Fitzroya cupressoides - Alerce

  • Posted on: 3 July 2017

To document Fitzroya, the "redwood of the south" and the 'National Tree' of Chile, was another exciting task for our expedition in 1996. It was a real treat to work in the magnificent Araucaria forests – huge stands, many old trees, and incredibly beautiful scenery on the foothills of Volcán Llaima.

Similarly extensive ancient stands of Fitzroya are actually absent. As known from the history of "Alerce exploitation", during the many decades of uncontrolled forest harvest in Chile no other conifer species has been logged so extensively as Fitzroya… Logged to almost zero especially from the lowland areas, from where it was easier to extract the fine wood the fallen trees provided for timber traders.

Recent research has shown that once the Alerce stand is cut, this noble species cannot regenerate successfully, that is, Fitzroya cannot be "sustainably logged".

There are many factors contributing to this sad conclusion. In the very humid environment where Alerce grows there are many, including alien, species that immediately take over the place, overshadowing, hindering the species' regeneration. – We studied this species and its plant associations in February 1996 in a few locations.

One was Monumento Natural Alerce Costero where there is a remnant very old tree with a trunk diameter of 4.26 m at the widest. Though its crown is damaged, the large trunk is extremely impressive (see photo with Zsolt and Gyöngyi) as it provides a real "Sequoia-like" appearance. Close to it there were some very old trees of Saxegothaea conspicua which (along with Podocarpus nubigenus) is the most typical associated conifer at that location.