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Tree 35: Rauli

Latin name: Nothofagus nervosa
Other names: Southern Beech, False Beech
Origin: Chile
Height: 30 metres, but up to 50 metres in its native territory
Lifespan: up to 450 years
Autumn leaf loss: Deciduous
Gender Type: Monoecious (Male and female flowers on same tree)

Of the alternative names, ‘Southern Beech’ relates to its origin in the southern hemisphere while ‘False Beech’ tells us that, although it has similarities with the common beech, it is not related.

The latin word nothofagus translates as false beech but, curiously, notofagus translates as southern beech. It has been suggested that the ‘h’ was included by mistake! The name Rauli is from Mapuche, a Chilean local language.

The Nothofagus family consists of over forty species from South America and Australasia. Of these, only Chilean nothofagus species, the Rauli and the Roble, have been successfully introduced to the British Isles. The Rauli was first introduced around 1910 by F R S Balfour in the Scottish Borders.

There are about 70 hectares of Rauli on the public forest estate of Britain, over half being in Wales. We have two Raulis in the Park, the other being in the children’s play area.

In native conditions the Rauli is fast-growing and grows to up to 50 metres, but in the British Isles they are sensitive to spring frosts, do not grow as quickly nor as tall. They like damp conditions and do particularly well in the West of Scotland. There is some concern about a pathogen that has had several outbreaks since 2009, killing a number of trees.

A distinctive feature of the Rauli, which can be observed in our tree, particularly in winter when the leaves have been shed, is its straight cylindrical trunk. The leaves are similar to, but larger than, those of the European beech.

In the Southern Hemisphere, rauli timber is second only to Eucalyptus in importance. The heartwood is the wood of choice for the barrels in which highly regarded Chilean red wines are matured. It is also used for furniture, veneers, windows, doors and floors. The poorer quality sapwood is used for roof ties, boards and pulp. Rauli grown in the British Isles have more sapwood which makes the wood less valuable.

As an introduced species, the Rauli has no cultural or mythological significance in Europe. Nor does there seem to be any in South America, where it is often the backdrop to the sacred monkey puzzle (araucaria), the national tree of Chile.