There were two key locations that I had to visit on my first trip to Chile. They are sites that are remnant examples of what were two of the largest and most amazing Forest Gardens in the world. Its is tragic that they have both been so reduced in size since their glory days but with these remnant patches and their patterns we can rebuild these systems.
The first was Conguillío. This is a national park near Temuco in the south of Chile. Around the latitude 39 South. In this park is the last refuge of wild Arucaria arucana. Arucaria is a genus of tree that is found in different Gondwannan locations. There are also arucarias in Brasil but they don’t produce edible seeds. In Australia in this genus are the classic “Norfolk Pine”, planted along the beaches of the East Coast of Australia, “Hoop Pine” originating in Tasmania and the Bunya Bunya which occurred up and down the East Coast of Australia in the Past. The bunya was a staple crop of indigenous people in the east of Australia as the nuts produce a good protein source and can also be sprouted to provide a carbohydrate source. Unfortunately, these slow growing trees are also great timber meaning that during the war for Australia many were cut down for timber or to deprive the indigenous of a food source that allowed to live of the land. Like when they killed all the buffalo in North America to harm the people. I would guess the same happened here in Chile with the Arucarias.
The name Arucaria is the name of the people from this part of Chile. The first nations of Chile are collectively called the Mapuche as they were a distinct culture from the Incas who they fought with from the North. However, there were many nations within this group as in Australia. The Arucaria were people from this southern cool temperate region. This tree was their primary staple carbohydrate complementing a diet of meat, eggs, seafood and fruits. These are the same people who bred the Arucaria Chicken. The one with the fuzzy head that lays blue eggs. Very advanced Forest Gardeners I think. A stable, perennial resilient system that provided food and sustained the environment. The españoles called this nut Piñones which is a common Spanish word for Pine nuts. The same word is used for different pine nuts in the Americas and Europe.
Taking a number of years to reach peak production, like 80yrs to start cropping heavily, many people I talk to write off this tree and the Australian Bunya because “it takes to long”. But really a large part of Forest Gardening is thinking in the long term, with a more whole and long term worldview. So plant away please. It was great to see the guilds that were naturally present in this park as it gave me a few ideas for my own Forests.
The Forest was actually a Nothofagus or “Beech” Forest of a deciduous Nothofagus called Hualle. Pronounced HUAYE. These were grouped by the Españoles as oaks, with the name Roble. This is applied to lots of trees with a pattern of oaks. The Arucarias stood tall above the Hualles and while we were there the Hualles had dropped all their leaves and spring growth was away off. However, the leaf mulch acted to build and preserve the soil in an area with rocky volcanic geology and provide light to the understory during the winter. Underneath was Chilean bamboo (awesome stuff, called Coligue or kila it is solid rather than hollow) and smaller shrubs of Glautheria which is in the same family as blueberry, cranberry and Australian Muntries.
Below this level was a ground cover of native strawberries. Could you get much cooler? I was enchanted in this park. Listening to the wind passing the leaves of the Arucarias and watching the condors. These trees are in Australia as is the bunya and is possible to grow in Canberra’s climate but with some protection from pioneer trees when its young. Search for seeds in Autumn and plant to over winter in the soil. They can be slow to emerge but patience seems to be the key here for long-term resilient food systems. Pe
Perennial polycultures, wonderful. Next up the second pilgrimage.
I bought a couple of bags of Piñones when I arrived in chile and they were delicious. Similar to roast chestnuts but with a nicer flavour. I had to boil the seeds with water for 20 minutes. The older the nuts, the longer they need to soak or boil. Its a real joy the eat, peeling off the skin and munching down on these protein rich seeds. Aloha.