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Growing in its typical habitat, the soggy "Magellanic moors" of Patagonia [Jeff Bisbee, 2013.02].

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Several twigs bearing foliage and immature seed cones; in habitat, Patagonia [Jeff Bisbee, 2013.02].

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A stand of mature plants ca. 10 cm tall in habitat, Patagonia [Jeff Bisbee, 2013.02].

 

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Conservation status 2010: protocol 2.3, needs updating

Lepidothamnus fonkii

Philippi 1860

Common names

Ciprés enano [Spanish]; Chilean rimu, Chilean pygmy cedar [horticultural only].

Taxonomic notes

The type species of Lepidothamnus Phil. Syn: Dacrydium foncki (Phil.) Benth. & Hook. f. 1880. Long submerged in Dacrydium, it was restored to Lepidothamnus by Quinn (1982), a classification that is now generally accepted. See Dacrydium for details.

Description

A densely branched, usually prostrate shrub up to 60 cm tall, with short, slender erect branchlets up to 5 mm in diameter. Leaves scale-like, triangular-ovate, obtuse, closely pressed, keeled on the back, apex blunt and incurved, 4-5 × 3-4 mm. Male cones ca. 6 × 2 mm, the scales ca. 1 mm, subtended by basal bracts, terminal on branches. Seeds at the apex of branchlets, ovoid, 3-4 × ca. 2 mm. Flowers November to February (Dallimore et al. 1967, Moore 1983).

Mature plants can be as little as 10 cm tall, perhaps less; as such, the smallest conifer in the world is either L. fonkii or its New Zealand relative L. laxifolius, of which mature specimens only 7.6 cm tall have been found.

Distribution and Ecology

Argentina: provinces of Chubut, Neuquén, and Rio Negro. Chile: provinces of Aisén, Los Lagos, and Magellanes; from Tierra del Fuego N to 40° S in Magellanic moorland and bogs at 0-1150 m elevation, with normative elevation decreasing from north to south range limits (Moore 1983, Conifer Specialist Group 1998, Farjon 2010, and review of herbarium specimen collection records). As such, this species is in a close race with Pilgerodendron uviferum for the title of "world's southernmost conifer."

I have found two precise but divergent climate summaries. Heusser (2003) asserts a cool, wet climate with average temperatures of 3-5°C in winter and 8-10°C in summer, and annual precipitation of 1,500 to 1,800 mm. Biffin et al. (2011, Table S5) state that for 10 recorded specimen collection locations, mean annual temperature is 7.5°C, with an average minimum in the coldest month of 0.4°C, and a mean annual precipitation of 2610 mm. Hardy to Zone 7 (cold hardiness limit between -17.7°C and -12.2°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Common associates include mosses, sedges, Nothofagus antarctica, Fitzroya and Pilgerodendron (Conifer Specialist Group 1998, Farjon 2010).

Distribution data, compiled from various herbarium records available online.

The IUCN reports that this taxon is "vulnerable" to extinction in the wild in the medium-term future, due to a limited range that is severely fragmented and undergoing continuing decline in extent and/or quality of habitat. Habitat loss usually includes drainage of the wetlands upon which this species depends, often in association with land conversion to pasture. The species' status is more secure in the remote, largely unsettled southern portion of its range (Farjon 2010).

Big tree

No specimens more than 60 cm tall have been reported.

Oldest

Dendrochronology

Ethnobotany

No known uses, though it might make an attractive ground cover in areas of wet, acid soil (Farjon 2010).

Observations

Remarks

Named for German physician Francisco Fonck (1830-1912), who collected the type in 1857 during an early Patagonian exploration which he led along with Fernando Hess. Fonck (whose name is sometimes spelled "Fonk") made Chile his home and became a most notable scholar, publishing widely in the natural and social sciences.

Citations

Conifer Specialist Group. 1998. Lepidothamnus fonkii. www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/34154/0, accessed 2013.03.23.

Heusser, C.J. 2003. Ice Age Southern Andes: A Chronicle of Palaeoecological Events (Table 8.2). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Philippi, R.A. 1860. Zwei neue Gattungen der Taxineen aus Chile. Linnea 30: 730-735. Available: Botanicus.org, accessed 2013.03.24.

See also

Chebez, Juan Carlos. 1994. Los que se van. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Albatros.

Enciclopedia de la Flora Chilena, accessed 2013.03.24.

Hechenleitner, P., M. Gardner, P. Thomas, C. Echeverria, B. Escobar, P. Brownless and C. Martinez. 2005. Threatened Plants of South Central Chile. Distribution, Conservation and Propagation. Valdivia: Universidad Austral de Chile and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. 188p.

Pisano, E. 1983. The Magellanic Tundra Complex. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Last Modified 2014-12-13