Before winter’s white falls, our forests come alive in shades of yellow, orange and red set against blue skies, looming snow-capped volcanos and the deep green of towering Pehuén. The transition begins in March and peaks in early May, offering many ways to enjoy the most colorful season, from both the artistic and scientific perspective.
The zone’s temperate forest blankets the foothills of the southern Andes and is comprised of many endemic species of trees, including deciduous beeches like coigüe (Nothofagus dombeyi), raulí (Nothofagus alpina), ñirre (Nothofagus Antartica), notro (Embothrium coccineum), lenga (Nothofagus pumilio) and laurel chileno (Laurelia sempervirens.) Although not native a stunning shade in the fall palette is the glittering yellow álamo chileno lining the roadside, or denoting where one parcel of land ends and a neighboring begins. Arbustos or shrubs like Maqui (Aristotelia Chilensis), bamboos Quila (Chusquea quila) and Colihue (Chusquea culeou) and Chilco (Fuchsia magellanica) are staples of the forest understory whether riverside or trailside.
A large part is protected and thriving in various national parks (Nahuelbuta, Tolhuaca, Conguillío, Villarrica, and Huerquehue), or national reserves (Malalcahuello, Las Nalcas, and Alto Biobío) but it is common to pass the ‘cemeteries’ on a drive to any one of these natural sanctuaries — logging industry farmland cleared of natives (also note no understory nor birds) and razed of its farmed species like Eucalyptus awaiting its next factory planting. A stark and sobering reminder of why the practice of native reforestation is so important to maintain the natural habitat that enriches our lives and the sustainability of the planet.
Unique in its ancient geographical isolation, Araucanía exhibits a special diversity — from dense undergrowth dominated by dwarf trees, ferns and herbs, to majestic soaring fauna such as white eagles and condors high above its peaks, or cerros.
Field Guide Primer
Part of the fun of exploring the region this time of year is learning to recognize trees by their colors, not just the shapes of their leaves. We recommend investing in a more comprehensive Guia de Campo for your visit — there are many and a few exceptional choices, some more specific and rigorous than others. We find those with illustrations like to be among the best and most functional for their ease of use whether in the field or back home with your own photos for identification and learning follow up. For a broad primer and good context for the south in the greater ecological diversity of Chile we recommend Lynx Ediciones’ “Flora Y Fauna de Chile” (in Spanish) and for a deeper dive into the zone, “Flora Silvestre de Chile: Zona Araucana” by Andrea Hoffman/Foundacion Claudio Gay. (We will address birds alone in a forthcoming post!)