Palmas de Ocoa, La Campana National Park is about a one hour drive out of Santiago, Chile, and famous mostly for its stands of Chilean Wine Palm, Jubaea chilensis. This species, the only one in its genus alive today, is restricted to only a few populations in central Chile. It grows further south than any other palm in South America.
Mostly it occurs on steep slopes of high mountains but in the La Campana National Park is grows in an accessible valley which Lynda and I visited under the guidance of Estela Davis and Catherine Kenrick from the Chigual Botanic Garden in Santiago.
The park also supports lots of other species restricted to this region. Our visit in autumn meant we were not destracted by many flowers but the local cactus Quisco (Echinoposis chiloensis) supports a leafless mistletoe, Tristerix aphyllus, which was in vivid red flower.
And there were the two species of large-flowering bromeliad, Puya beteroniana (with blue-green flowers) and Puya chilensis (with yellow flowers). Both had dry brown floral remnants when we visited in April.
But most importantly this is where the Chilean Wine Palm grows most abundantly today after its range has been severely reduced due to land clearing and fire, its seed traded as currency and many of the plants harvested (cut, then placed on their side to drain) for fermenting of the sap. Here, reaching up to 30 m, it towers impressively above nearby vegetation. Like the Monkey Puzzle Tree further south, it is an ‘architectural’ plant, described by Estela as like a column from a Greek or Roman temple.
When young it can be easily mistaken for the more commonly planted, and somewhat weedy, palm from the Canary Islands - Phoenix canariensis. The difference lies with the crease in the leaflets. They fold downwards in the Chilean Wine Palm and upwards in the Canary Island Palm.
In RBG Melbourne we have a number of specimens perhaps a 100 or more years old, growing outside. A particularly statuesque specimen (hardly narrowed at its top, interesting given its age) was planted on the lawn behind the Herbarium in 1904 by the Government Astronomer, Robert Ellery.