Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Flower from Chile

In her novel Daughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende vividly relates the historical connections between Chile and California - especially between Valparaíso and San Francisco - and the role that Chileans and other immigrants played in the California Gold Rush. One theme she overlooks, though, is the similarities between the natural environment of the two countries - make no mistake, California is a country in almost every sense of the word - and the way in which contacts between them have affected the landscape.

That came to mind yesterday when the San Francisco Chronicle's Wednesday Garden section published an article on the copihue, a climbing vine whose reddish blossom is Chile's national flower. Known here as the Chilean bellflower, it first came to Berkeley's University of California Botanical Garden through Elbert Reed, who worked at the El Vergel nursery near the Chilean city of Angol in the early 20th century. Oddly, the Chronicle article claims that the nursery, which I last visited a couple years ago, is now defunct, but its website runs into late 2007.

It's worth adding that the the movement of flora between Chile and California is not a one-way process. In the austral spring, from September on, the California poppy - the state's own official flower - carpets Chile's Mediterranean hillsides just as it does in the northern hemisphere after California's winter rains cease in March or so.

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