More about the Trees
Trees of the Araucaria family (the Araucariaceae) are undoubtedly some of the great horticultural oddities of the world. Their prehistoric looking foliage, bizarrely symmetrical form and obvious deep dissimilarity from other plant groups makes them seem like they could be trees from another planet. They are especially alien to people who live in the northern hemisphere, where this plant family has not been native for millions of years.
Of course, they are not trees from another planet but rather living fossils; trees that have been around since the age of the dinosaurs and have changed remarkably little since then. Along with Ginkgos and Redwoods, these trees represent the dominant forest trees tens of millions of years ago, when vast areas of the earth were warm, humid, conifer-dominated rainforests. Like Ginkgos and Redwoods, today these trees exist only as small, remnant populations. These trees retreated to isolated niches over millions of years as the climate changed and broadleafed trees evolved into serious competitors. Due to the small size of their current ranges, these trees are all vulnerable to human disturbance, whether from pressure for development (as is the case with Ginkgos and Dawn Redwoods), or from timber producers excited by the trees' large sizes (as is the case with American Redwoods and many Araucaiaceae).
Two of the only widely known trees of the Araucariaceae are Araucaria araucana and Agathis australis. Commonly known as Monkey-Puzzle Tree and Kauri respectively, these trees are sometimes planted as ornamental specimens in northern hemisphere gardens. The former is the national tree of Chile and serves as an evocative symbol of the Patagonian wilderness, while the latter is known as one of the stoutest trees in the southern hemisphere, the national tree of New Zealand and the sacred 'king of the forest' to native Maori peoples.
Of course, the focus of Trekking for Tropical Conifers is to explore the more obscure members of the Araucaria family. While the two aforementioned trees are (these days) well protected and cherished, the same cannot be said of the trees this trip is intended to document. Despite the group's beauty, biological uniqueness and extreme age, it is under increasing threat from timber intrests. As local populations increase and more easily accessible forests are used up, logging operations will likely move farther into the remote, mountainous areas where these tropical conifers grow. To add insult to injury, the wood is generally not used for high-end veneers like tropical hardwoods, but is more likely to be used for plywood and other more disposable wood products.