Masato Ishiguro
Professor emeritus at NAOJ
Former ALMA-J Project Director
Former JAO international staff
(at the time of writing)

June 2008
・ALMA Construction Site -1-
July 2008
・Scenery around the ALMA Office
August 2008
・ALMA Construction Site -2-
September 2008
・Trees and Flowers in Santiago -1-
October 2008
・Trees and Flowers in Santiago -2-
November 2008
・Clouds Seen in the Atacama Desert
December 2008
・The Dog that Trots about Finds…
January 2009
・ALMA Construction Site -3-
February 2009
・Memories of the Atacama Desert
March 2009
・Chile from North to South


Trees and Flowers in Santiago -Part 1-

This time, I will write about a topic completely different from the previous reports: trees and flowers in Santiago. When walking along the streets in Santiago, I often see tall cedars and palm trees with amazingly thick trunks. Though there is little rain in the summer season in Santiago, trees are growing energetically like these giant trees. I think this is because the soil has abundant snow-melting water from the Andes and people are taking care of the street plants warmly. In Santiago, thanks to many leafy trees on the streets which block strong sunshine in summer, we can enjoy walking even on a hot summer day. For me, the most interesting tree in Santiago is a plant with a tongue-twisting name, Araucaria araucana (Photo 1).

Trees of Araucaria araucana and their nuts
Photo 1: Trees of Araucaria araucana that have a beautiful streamline shape (left) and their nuts called pignon.

The outline of the Araucaria araucana trees has a bullet-like streamline shape. I wonder why they can form such a smooth rounded-conical shape by themselves. Some trees of this type grow to over 80 meters in height, and in earlier years their trunks were used for masts of sailing ships. In southern Chile, the appearance of the trees is a little different: the branches and leaves are gathered at the top of the trees and the trees do not have a beautiful streamline shape unlike those shown in Photo 1. However, the trees in this shape are more popular in Chile and drawn in many picture books and on T-shirts.
The name of Araucaria araucana comes from Arauco Indian, the name of a native tribe who lived in central Chile and in southwestern Argentina. The nuts of the tree (pignon) seemed to be an important source of food for them. In the fall, I found pignons at a supermarket and bought one for a try. I boiled and ate it. It has a hard shell, and tastes bland somewhat like chestnut or pine nut. In English, Araucaria araucana is called “Monkey-puzzle” perhaps because monkeys would be puzzled by its toothed leaf margins when attempting to climb the tree.
Walking in the streets or parks in Santiago, I see a tree with a giant root, though it is not as tall as Araucaria araucana. This is a tree called Ombu (Photo 2). On a narrow street, the big root is almost blocking the path, and I am always overwhelmed by its giant root when I stand in front of it. It looks like a big animal such as an elephant or a rhinoceros lying on the ground, which serves as a good play area for children.

Ombu tree
Photo 2: Ombu tree’s overwhelming root blocking the street

In August, flowers similar to those of cherry trees and Japanese-plum are in full bloom. It is still cold in the morning and at night, but in the day we are enjoying the warm weather like spring. As the flower of the Japanese-plum-like tree is pinky and rather small, it looks like “Fuji Cherry” from a distance. On the other hand, the peach-like trees are now in full bloom and their double blossoms are really beautiful against the blue sky. In addition to these, there is a tree that has flowers quite similar to those of a cherry tree (Photo 3). This is an almond tree, and the street lined with almond trees looks like a row of cherry blossom trees that can be seen in Japan. Looking the tree more closely, I can distinguish it clearly from a cherry tree as it has many almond shells. I didn’t know almond trees produce flowers so similar to cherry blossoms.

Almond tree
Photo 3: Almond tree in full bloom like cherry blossoms

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