The giant of Valdivian rain forests
Alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) is the only species in this genus of conifers. This is an increasingly rare tree which grows only in southern Argentina and Chile. The Latin name of the tree has been given by none else than Charles Darwin – he named the tree after the captain of "Beagle" – Robert Fitzroy.
The wood of alerce is excellent for many uses. As it became increasingly rare, logging was prohibited in 1976 but has continued illegally since then. Only some 15% of the original stands of alerce remain.
There are several larger alerce woods, but many smaller stands of alerce are located in countless isolated valleys of Patagonian Andes.
According to an article in journal "Science" (Lara, Antonio and Villalba, Ricardo. A 3620-Year Temperature Record from Fitzroya cupressoides Tree Rings in Southern South America, Science 21 May 1993, Vol. 260 no. 5111 pp. 1104-1106.), in Southern Chile has been made a tree ring analysis of alerce – and this tree was at least 3622 years old! Thus alerce is the second oldest known tree species in the world after the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) in the United States. Alerce trees with the measured age around 2000 years are met rather frequently.
Alerce is the largest known tree in South America and possibly – one of the largest trees in the world. It grows more than 60 m tall (some sources give as much as 80 m) and trunk circumference reaches 11.4 m.
Charles Darwin reportedly has written about an alerce which had a girth of 130 feet girth (39.6 m)! This almost sounds like an exaggeration – captain Robert Fitzroy wrote instead that the largest alerce trees reached 40 feet (12.2 m) in girth – measured five feet from the ground. As both Darwin and Fitzroy were members of the same expedition, it sounds dubious that Fitzroy did not hear from Darwin about the existence of such tree giant. Maybe somebody has garbled the circumference and diameter?
Nowadays in several areas of Patagonian Andes are reported (but not officially confirmed yet) giant alerce trees with trunk circumference reaching up to 22 – 24 m girth ((1) in Cochamó Valley, Los Lagos region, Chile). Another location to look for champion trees is located to the south from Lake Menendez in Chubut, Argentina, where magnificent, little visited groves are located.
If alerce trees really would have confirmed trunk circumference above 20 m – this species would be one of the largest in the world by trunk volume – may be even the third largest after giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens).
The largest known alerce is Alerce Milenario in Monumento Alerce Costero. This tree has a circumference of 11.4 m, it is more than 60 m high, the age of this tree is believed to be 3,260 years. Alerce Milenario ("thousand years old alerce") is located in a protected forest – Monumento Natural Alerce Costero, established in 1987. Now this forest (area – 2,308 ha) forms a part of a large, new and very beautiful national park – Parque Nacional Alerce Costero.
There have been developed several tourist trails in this beautiful old growth forest, but especially impressive is the "Alerce Milenario" trail which allows seeing many giant trees, including the amazing Alerce Milenario.
- The Explorers Club Flag No 24 Alerce Field Study, Chile. Global Exploration & Oceanographic Society.
Alerce Milenario in Monumento Alerce Costero on the map
|Location, GPS coordinates:||40.1917 S 73.4562 W (possible mistake up to 400 m)|
|Rating:||(2.5 / 5)|
|Where is located?||South America, Chile, XIV Los Ríos, Monumento Natural Alerce Costero south-east from Valdivia|
|Species:||Alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides I.M.Johnst.)|
|Height:||> 60 m|
|Diameter:||4.26 m (in 1991)|
|Trunk circumference:||11.4 m (in 1991)|
Patagonia is a strange and terrifying place, a vast tract of land shared by Argentina and Chile where the violent weather spawned over the southern Pacific charges through the Andes with gale-force winds, roaring clouds, and stinging snow. Squarely athwart the latitudes known to sailors as the roaring forties and furious fifties, Patagonia is a land trapped between angry torrents of sea and sky, a place that has fascinated explorers and writers for centuries.
Like a conquistador drawn to gold, glory, and God, Caspian Ray has always felt a magnetic pull toward Latin America. He visits anytime he has the chance.
Of all the places that have captured his heart, Patagonia–a sparsely populated area shared by Argentina and Chile–has been the site of his defining adventure.