Study in Bosque Pehuén Finds Naturally Growing Bonsai-Like Trees

A 114-year-old raulí was found eight meters from the ground.

© Iván Díaz

Iván Díaz and his team from the Laboratory of Canopy Ecology and Biodiversity, Institute for Conservation, Biodiversity and Territory (ICBT) of the Austral University of Chile, have been carrying out explorations in the canopies of temperate rainforests in Chile since 2005. Recently, they observed epiphytic habits of some plants and seedlings that grow in the treetops of Bosque Pehuén.

Epiphytic plants are those that live on other plants, but not as a parasite; that is, without negatively affecting any of its organs and functions, taking advantage of the structure of other plants as physical support, and using trunks and branches of older trees to reach higher altitudes and catch sunlight.

In Bosque Pehuén, 99 trees were sampled and findings demonstrated that 21% of those had seedlings or sprouts in their canopies. The largest individual established in the canopy was found at a height of 15 meters above the main trunk of another tree, a small coigue (Nothofagus dombeyi), whose trunk was 12 centimeters in diameter, and aproximately 2.5 meters in height and 59 years old. Meanwhile, the oldest tree sampled in the canopy was located 8.4 meters above the group, a small raulí (Nothofagus nervosa), with a 10 centimeter diameter at the base of the trunk, less than 1 meter high and 114 years old.

According to the team of researchers, these bonsai that inhabit the forest canopy could be part of a regeneration mechanism for old, untouched forests. If so, a better understanding of these mechanisms could provide us with new techniques for reforestation and forest management. The rings of these trees showed an exceptionally slow growth rate, that look more like a “bonsai” tree than a common tree, which represent another form within the natural regeneration mechanisms of the forest.