The forests of Patagonia cannot be described as sub-tropical but Patagonia is too important in any account of the complex Gondwanan scenario to be left out. Gondwanan ancestry is evident not only in its vegetation but in the fact that fossils found in Patagonia are similar to others found in Madagascar, central India, Antarctica and Queensland. Gondwanan rainforest can be found both on the westward slopes of the Andes in Chile, and on eastward slopes in Argentina where there is sufficient rainfall.
Parque Nacional Lanin on the Argentinian side of Patagonia was set up in 1937 to protect the forests typical of the zone where the altiplano meets the Andean peaks, between the Copahue Volcano and the Lacar Lake. Among the protected trees is the Argentinian Araucaria araucana which, it is claimed, is genetically distinct from the Chilean. At higher elevations may be found two deciduous southern beech species, Nothofagus obliqua or roble pellín and N. alpina or rauli. In the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi can be seen the most impressive examples of the evergreen southern beech, Nothofagus dombeyi or coihue.
The 2630 km2 Parque Los Alerces protects the largest alerce forests to be found in 21st century Patagonia. The alerce, Fitzroya cupressoides, grows to 60m metres in height, and 4m in diameter, at the rate of one centimetre every twenty years. Growth rings have demonstrated that some specimens are more than 3,500 years old. Even bigger and older trees were easily found before two centuries of logging all but wiped out the species. The genus, named by Darwin for the captain of the Beagle, Robert Fitzroy, is monotypic, but fossil twigs of a different Fitzroya have been unearthed in Tasmania in company with Nothofagus.
South of these temperate forests lie the colder Magellanic forests. Where rainfall is sufficient these support evergreen Nothofagus betuloides; eastward, where yearly rainfall is less, N. betuloides gives way to two deciduous species, N. pumilio or lenga, and N. antarctica or ñire. N. antarctica can be found growing all the way to Hoste Island in Tierra del Fuego, further south than any other known tree species. N. betuloides grows as far south as 56°; N. nitida, another evergreen species, grows on very wet ground as far south as Ultima Esperanza (53° south) along with a Podocarp, Podocarpus nubigena, which is almost identical to New Zealand’s P. totara.
Foreign investors have been buying land in Patagonia for many years. In 1991 US entrepreneur Douglas Tompkins bought a run-down farm on the River Renihue, with the aim of protecting its 42,000 from exploitation. His Conservation Land Trust acquired further proerties from absentee landlords, 700,000 acres in all; the result was the 3,250 km2 Parque Pumalín. This was recognised in 2005 by the president of Chile as a nature sanctuary; the Conservation Land Trust has now given the property to a Chilean organisation, the Fundación Pumalín.
Less well known is the small reserve of Las Vertientes where the owners began propagating endangered endemic plants in an attempt to reverse the destruction of native ecosystems in Patagonia. In 2009 Las Vertientes was set up as a private nature reserve, where the emphasis would be on rehabilitating the ecosystem rather than providing a public amenity. One advantage such private resrerves have over reserves in public ownership is that they can protect flora and fauna from visitor stress.