Whilst travelling in South America, we came across this intriguing plant by the name of Llareta – the Spanish name for the Yareta – Azorella compacta. It was highly conspicuous on the rocky and seemingly infertile mountainsides in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Only growing at high altitudes between 3200 m and 4500 m., the plants are in some cases reputed to be as much as 3000 years old!
Driving through this stark but beautiful treeless terrain, the landscape is brightened by these bright green comfy-looking cushion-like mounds on the scraggy rocky slopes that are inhabited by the gentle Vicuna grazing on what to us seemed very little of substance!
The Yareta is a member of the Apiaceae family and is native to South America in the high alto plano mountains and grasslands of the Andes. Some of the mounds are massive and at first glance one thinks it is one large plant but look more closely and you see that it is in fact a colony of 1000s of individual pinkish flowered plants. These are hermaphroditic – insects can also pollinate them.
It is incredibly dense and compact so as to reduce heat losses and to harvest any moisture from dew or the very rare rainfall. The mounds are ground-hugging to be close to where the maximum warmth is – these plants have to grow in the sun and are painfully slow growing – about 1 cm per year! Touching the Yareta mound is akin to touching a really wobbly surfaced piece of wood!
The Yareta was traditionally harvested for fuel – in particular the dead sections of the mounds that are excellent for burning but this was impacting on the survival of the species. Being such a slow grower, the Yareta was on the endangered list but since it has been listed as a protected plant, the numbers have increased and it looks set to grace the mountainsides for centuries to come.
All the humble Yareta wants is peace, time and solitude so that it can continue to grow at a snails pace!