Chilean cedar (Austrocedrus chilensis)

Spanish: Ciprés De La Cordillera
GenusAustrocedrus (1)
SizeHeight: up to 20 m (2)
Trunk diameter: up to 1.5 m (2)

The Chilean cedar is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The only species in the genus Austrocedrus, the Chilean cedar (Austrocedrus chilensis) is know locally as ‘ciprés de la cordillera’ (cypress of the mountains), due to both its location in the coastal mountain range of the Andes, and its similarities to other trees in the cypress family (3).

The Chilean cedar is a conifer with a very straight, column-like appearance (2). It has reddish-brown bark and scaly leaves (4). The Chilean cedar is very sensitive to moisture, and tree-ring records from this tree have been used to work out past rainfall patterns throughout the Patagonian forest, as well as giving information on the glacial history of the area (5).

As its name suggests, the Chilean cedar is native to Chile, although it is also found in the Patagonian forest in Argentina. It has a range of around 160,000 hectares (6), but its distribution is highly fragmented, particularly to the east, and genetic variation has been identified between separated populations (7).

The Chilean cedar is found in submontane forest in the foothills of the Andes (8), often on steep slopes and around lakes (5). In addition, this tree can also persist in scrubland (1), and is able to establish itself in a variety of conditions, ranging from shallow clays to deep volcanic soil (6).

A slow-growing species, individual Chilean cedars as old as 900 years have been documented (5). It is a dioecious conifer, so individuals either produce male pollen cones or female seed cones. Pollen and seed dispersal is facilitated primarily by the wind (9).

The timber of the Chilean cedar is of local economic importance and logging has threatened this species in the past (1) (10). In addition, habitat loss is putting further pressure on this tree, as agricultural practices begin to encroach on the forest (1). Alongside this, the release of livestock into the forest, in particular deer, has proven problematic, as these herbivores graze on sapling trees, limiting their growth (11). Seed predation by insects is also thought to affect regeneration of the Chilean cedar in the wild (1).

Fires, both natural and deliberate, also threaten the persistence of the Chilean cedar, and if current climate change predictions are correct, there may be an increase in the frequency and severity of fires affecting this species (12). Climate change may also cause prolonged periods of water stress and drought, with as yet unknown effects on the Chilean cedar (13).

Over the last 50 years, in the wetter habitats where the Chilean cedar occurs, an unidentified disease affecting the roots has resulted in a condition known as ‘mal de ciprés’. Most likely caused by a soil-borne pathogen, this causes the trees to wither, lose their leaves and often be reduced in size (6).

At present, there are few specific conservation measures in place for the Chilean cedar. However, many initiatives do exist to conserve the Patagonian forests as a whole, with part of this species’ range falling within national parks which are managed to maintain biodiversity (11). However, 85 percent of the Argentinean population of the Chilean cedar remains outside of these areas, and is thus vulnerable to overexploitation (1).

There has been research into the success of afforestation with this species (3), as well as into the best practice for cultivating cuttings for replanting projects (14). Currently, research is being conducted into the differences seen in separated populations of the Chilean cedar, which will hopefully clarify which populations should be a conservation priority (7).

Find out more about the Chilean cedar:

More information on tree conservation:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
  2. Eckenwalder, J.E. (2009) Conifers of the World: The Complete Reference. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  3. Pastorino, M.J. and Gallo, L.A. (2006) Mating system in a low-density natural population of the dioecious wind-pollinated Patagonian Cypress. Genetica, 126: 315-321.
  4. The Gymnosperm Database (November, 2011)
  5. Le Quesne, C., Acuña, C., Boninsegna, J.A., Rivera, A. and Barichivich, J. (2009) Long-term glacier variations in the Central Andes of Argentina and Chile, inferred from historical records and tree-ring reconstructed precipitation. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 281: 334-344.
  6. La Manna, M. and Rajchenberg, M. (2004) The decline of Austrocedrus chilensis forests in Patagonia, Argentina: soil features at predisposing factors. Forest Ecology and Management, 190: 345-357.
  7. Arana, M.V., Gallo, L.A., Vendramin, G.G., Pastorino, M.J., Sebastiani, F. and Marchelli, P. (2010) High genetic variation in marginal fragmented populations at extreme climatic conditions of the Patagonian Cypress Austrocedrus chilensis. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 54: 941-949.
  8. Baccalá, N.B., Rosso, P.H. and Havrylenko, M. (1998) Austrocedrus chilensis mortality in the Nahuel Huapi National Park (Argentina). Forest Ecology and Management, 109: 261-269.
  9. Pastorino, M.J. and Gallo, L.A. (2002) Quaternary evolutionary history of Austrocedrus chilensis, a cypress native to the Andean-Patagonian forest. Journal of Biogeography, 29: 1167-1178.
  10. La Manna, L., Matteucci, S.D. and Kitzberger, T. (2008) Abiotic factors related to the incidence of the Austrocedrus chilensis disease syndrome at a landscape scale. Forest Ecology and Management, 256: 1087-1095.
  11. Relva, M.A. and Veblen, T.T. (1998) Impacts of introduced large herbivores on Austrocedrus chilensis forests in northern Patagonia, Argentina. Forest Ecology and Management, 108: 27-40.
  12. Veblen, T.T., Kitzberger, T., Villalba, R. and Donnegan, J. (1999) Fire history in Northern Patagonia: The roles of humans and climatic variation. Ecological Monographs, 69(1): 47-67.
  13. Mundo, I.A., El Mujtar, A., Perdomo, M.H., Gallo, L.A., Vilallba, R. and Barrera, M.D. (2010) Austrocedrus chilensis growth decline in relation to drought events in northern Patagonia, Argentina. Trees, 24: 561-570.
  14. Amoroso, M.M. and Larson, E.B.C. (2010) Can a natural experiment be used as a tool to design partial cutting regimes? The decline of Austrocedrus chilensis forests, an example. Journal of Forest Research, 15: 38-45.