Geoffroea decorticans (Chilean palo verde)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Hosts/Species Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Vectors
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Wood Products
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Geoffroea decorticans (Gillies ex Hook. & Arn.) Burkart
Preferred Common Name
- Chilean palo verde
Other Scientific Names
- Geoffroea decorticans var. subtropicalis (Lillo) Burkart
- Gourliea chilensis Clos
- Gourliea decorticans Gillies ex Hook. & Arn.
- Gourliea decorticans var. subtropicalis Lillo
- Gourliea spinosa (Mol.) Skeels
- Lucuma spinosa Mol.
International Common Names
- Spanish: chañar; kumbara
Local Common Names
- Bolivia: cumbará; kimori
- GEODE (Geoffroea decorticans)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page In areas in its native range where G. decorticans has spread onto pastures, weed scientists recognize the species as a severe invasive weed. In other areas, where it is native, it is an important part of the flora and culture and is not considered a weed. However, due to the potential rapid spread by underground roots and seeds, it should only be introduced into new areas under the supervision of quarantine/weed specialists for long-term (10 year) evaluation. It should not be made available to the public for plant introductions.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Fabales
- Family: Fabaceae
- Subfamily: Faboideae
- Genus: Geoffroea
- Species: Geoffroea decorticans
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page Geoffroea decorticans was originally given the Latin name Gourliea decorticans by Gilles and Hooker as a new genus and species. Hooker and Arnot originally placed this genus in the tribe Caesalpinodeae. However, Bentham later placed the genus in the Papilonideae tribe Sophoreae. Due to the presence of free stamens, Burkart (1949) changed the tribe to the Dalbergieas and then discovered that the genus was indistinguishable from the older genus, Geoffroea, and thus Burkart (1949) established the Latin binomial as Geoffroea decorticans. Burkart (1949) lists 4 species and subspecies in the genus: G. spinosa, G. striata, G. decorticans and G. decorticans var. subtropicalis. G. decorticans and G. striata differ in that G. striata is a hexaploid (6n = 60) while G. decorticans is a diploid (2n = 20). Burkart (1949) also reported that Geoffroea decorticans var. subtropicalis has less of a tendency to propagate by root sprouts and that this subtropical species occurs as far north as Cuzco, Peru (Burkart, 1949). The common name in much of its native range is 'chañar', known in English as the Chilean palo verde.
DescriptionTop of page G. decorticans reaches the size of a 60 cm trunk diameter, 12 m tall tree with an 8 m canopy diameter. It has spiny branches, deciduous pinnate leaves and pale yellow flowers with an attractive aroma (Demaio et al., 2002). From 10 to 40 perfect flowers occur on a raceme from 2 to 5 cm long. The following floral description is given by Eynard and Galetto (1999). Protogynous flowers are small (less than 1 cm) and stamens (9 + 1) form two pentamerous cycles of different length. The gynoecium is composed of a hairy ovary with a style variable in length and the stigma can be observed over or under the position of the anthers. The nectary is persistent. Its upper part is located at the base of the staminal tube whereas its base is fused with the receptacle. The edible fruits are ovoid or globose drupes from 1.5 to 3.0 cm long, with a glabrous, brown pericarp, and cream-coloured mesocarp. The seed is dark red when dry. After the tree is about 20 years old, the greyish bark begins to peel to reveal a green underbark. The tree can nodulate (Becker, 1983) and nitrogen fixing aspects of this species have been reported (Aronson et al., 1992).
Plant TypeTop of page Broadleaved
DistributionTop of page The native range of G. decorticans is restricted to South America, approximate latitudinal limits being 20°S to 30°S, with the distribution centred on Argentina. For further information on distribution within this region, see section on 'Habitat'. In northern Chile, G. decorticans ranges from the Valle del Elqui (30°S) and northwards to the Peruvian border. It is also widely distributed in much of northern and central Argentina, and is found sporadically in southern Peru, southern Bolivia and central Paraguay.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 10 Jan 2020
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Planted||Reference||Notes|
|Tunisia||Present||Planted||CABI (Undated b)|
|Israel||Present||Planted||CABI (Undated b)|
|United States||Present||CABI (Undated a)||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Arizona||Present, Few occurrences||Introduced||Planted||CABI (Undated)||Original citation: Johnson (1997)|
|Argentina||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive||Tortorelli (1956); CABI (Undated)|
|Bolivia||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive||CABI (Undated)||Original citation: Burkart (1949)|
|Chile||Present, Widespread||Native||Invasive||Wickens (1993); CABI (Undated);|
|Colombia||Present, Few occurrences||Native||CABI (Undated)||Original citation: Burkart (1949)|
|Paraguay||Present, Localized||Native||Invasive||CABI (Undated)||Original citation: Burkart (1949)|
|Peru||Present, Localized||Native||Invasive||CABI (Undated)||Original citation: Burkart (1949)|
|Uruguay||Present, Localized||Native||Invasive||Frioni et al. (1998); CABI (Undated)|
|Venezuela||Present, Few occurrences||Native||CABI (Undated)||Original citation: Burkart (1949)|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page G. decorticans has not spread appreciably outside its native range. Only Burkart (1949) reports it's presence in subtropical regions of Peru, Venezuela and Colombia. Within its native range it has evidently spread to cover extensive areas of grasslands in the higher rainfall areas of Argentina. It is being evaluated experimentally in the Desert Legume Program in Tucson, Arizona (Johnson, 1997) but otherwise does not occur outside South America.
Risk of IntroductionTop of page It is highly likely that travellers to arid lands with an interest in plant propagation would be interested in taking chañar back to their native country to examine its potential due to the sweet pods and the very high resistance to salinity.
HabitatTop of page G. decorticans occurs as native from tropical environments in Peru, Venezuela and Colombia (Burkart, 1949; Kiesling, 1994), to the zero rainfall environment (by tapping into groundwater) of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile at 2900 m elevation (P Felker, Universidad Catolica de Santiago del Estero, Argentina, unpublished data). In Argentina it is present in subtropical, semiarid areas in northwestern Argentina with 750 mm annual rainfall, in grassland steppes of the Province of Santa Fe, and to 41°S latitude in the Province of Rio Negro where due to the cold it is only a small shrubby tree (Tortorelli, 1956; Anderson et al., 2000).
In the rural/urban areas near the city of Santiago del Estero, Argentina (capital of the Province of the same name), which is probably close to the centre of chañar world-wide distribution, chañar occurs about 500 to 1000 metres apart. On the edges of young, unmanaged fields a mixture of 3-4 m tall chañar trees accompanied by numerous small < 1.2 m tall) plants invariably occurs. Large trees, 30 to 40 cm in diameter with canopies of 10 m diameter, frequently occur as roadside trees and around homes where they are used as shade trees. New housing subdivisions in the urban areas have left 5-6 m tall chañar trees spaced every 5 to 8 metres for use as landscape trees. Very frequently the areas occupied are lower-lying areas subject to frequent flooding whose soils have a moderately high salt content. In the central and northern parts of the Province of Santa Fe, Argentina, which is a grassland region with higher rainfall than the interior Argentine deserts, chañar forms impenetrable dense stands that make it difficult to locate cattle (Feldman, 1966).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial – Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Deserts||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page No other plants are reported to be affected by chañar in a direct manner.
Biology and EcologyTop of page Genetics
As noted by Burkart (1949), there are only 3 valid species (and one subspecies, subtropicalis) in the genus Geoffroea. G. decorticans is a diploid with 2n = 20, while G. striata is a hexaploid with 6n = 60. There are no reports of natural or man-made hybrids within these species.
Physiology and Phenology
Chañar (G. decorticans) is the first semiarid tree in its native range to produce fruit in the spring. Its abundant flowers provide a rich source of nectar for honey production. Chañar is facultatively xenogamous and can produce few fruits from selfing. The best fruit production was produced by xenogamous pollination conducted by hand. Successful fruit production depends on pollinator activity (Eynard and Galetto, 2002). G. decorticans is phreatophytic and has deep-penetrating roots which allow it to tap low-lying water tables in order to obtain a permanent water supply.
Chañar is reproduced both by seeds and from sprouts from buds on the roots. Young shoots may occur many metres from the main trunk of a chañar tree due to sprouting from the roots. Chañar roots stored in dry soil for 2 years at room temperature in the office produced shoots after watering (I. Feldman, Asociación Argentina Manejo de Pastizales Naturales, Argentina, personal communication, 2003). Feldman suggests that one of the major problems in the province of Santa Fe with regard to the spread of chañar is frequent disking and ploughing which chops up the roots.
I. Feldman (Asociación Argentina Manejo de Pastizales Naturales, Argentina, personal communication, 2003) comments that cattle eagerly seek out the G. decorticans fruits due to the high sugar content surrounding their seeds. They then masticate the fruits and spit out the large seeds which germinate very rapidly. This same behaviour is also a very common practice among goats, with people watching the goats getting the feeling that this is a highly enjoyable activity by the goats (Demaio et al., 2002).
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-14|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||20||26|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||31||35|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||3||6|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||4||12||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||0||1350||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Bimodal
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Special soil tolerances
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page The only known natural enemy of G. decorticans is the rodent Microcavia australis which gnaws on the stems of chañar. Tree damage is significantly inversely correlated with distance from the burrow. It does not seem likely that this rodent population could be manipulated to control the spread of chañar where it is a serious weed in San Luis or Santa Fe, Argentina.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page The only likely long-distance dispersal of chañar would be by people wishing to develop an arid land fruit crop that is resistant to salinity in a part of the world outside its range in South America. It is likely that this would take place by transporting the seeds and establishing new plantings. The mature trees are moderately attractive and it is also possible that the species could be transported for use as an ornamental.
Pathway VectorsTop of page
|Clothing, footwear and possessions||Sweet pods could be carried by curious travellers.||Yes|
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|Fruits (inc. pods)||seeds|
|True seeds (inc. grain)||fruits|
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|Growing medium accompanying plants|
|Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
Environmental ImpactTop of page There is no consensus on the degree of severity of the weediness or impact of G. decorticans. While weed scientists state that 400,000 ha of pastures have been invaded in the Province of San Luis (Anderson, 1976) and 500,000 ha of pastures in the Province of Santa Fe, Argentina (Aguirre and Knudsen, 1983), other researchers from Santa Fe (Simon et al., 1998) consider chañar a commercial tree species and report on the damage of chañar trees by grazing cattle. Small farmers (few pigs, cattle, fruit trees and cultivated land) near the capital of Santiago del Estero are confused by the question of how bad a weed chañar is. With animal-drawn traction the norm and with constant daily tasks of clearing fence-lines and cutting forage with machetes, collecting firewood, and knowing practically all the plants on their property, they leave chañar near their homes for shade and in the woods for cattle, pig and horse feed, and use hand-tools to remove the plants where they don't want them (P Felker, Universidad Catolica de Santiago del Estero, Argentina, personal communication, 2003).
Impact: BiodiversityTop of page In 1942, the Provincial Government of Santiago del Estero, Argentina, prohibited the cutting of G. decorticans, Prosopis alba and Ziziphus for a period of 5 years due to the over-exploitation of these species (Delhey, 1991). In the dry interior arid regions and deserts of Argentina, chañar is apparently held in high esteem and is an important cultural component. On the other hand, in the higher rainfall, savanna regions, chañar can apparently become a serious threat to cattle grazing operations. Thus for some regions where the species is native and very abundant, it is not considered a weed.
The principal threats to biodiversity in regions such as arid northwestern Argentina are the cutting of all sizes of trees for charcoal for export without regard to sustainability. Grazing animals also eliminate important woody species such as Prosopis alba and Schinopsis balansae. The legume biologist, Emilio Libarri at the Darwinian Institute in Buenos Aires, when asked whether G. decorticans is a weed, stated no but rather that the spread of the species is a secondary succession that occurs after disturbance and that will later be replaced by other climax vegetation.
Social ImpactTop of page The sweet pods of algarrobo (Prosopis alba), mistol (Ziziphus spp.) and chañar (G. decorticans) are a part of the legend and folklore of the region of the Province of Santiago del Estero (Delhey, 1991; P Felker, Universidad Catolica de Santiago del Estero, Argentina, personal communication, 2003). The fruits of G. decorticans have many traditional uses, and the species was involved in the religious beliefs and customs of the prehistoric inhabitants of its native range in South America (see section on 'Uses' for more information).
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Invasive in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Highly mobile locally
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts tourism
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Produces spines, thorns or burrs
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
UsesTop of page The use of the fruits of chañar for both human and livestock feed is heavily engrained in the oral and written culture of the Indians and later settlers of semiarid northwestern Argentina (Delhey, 1991). Chañar was intimately involved in a positive way with many religious beliefs and customs of the prehistoric inhabitants of South America (Delhey, 1991). These indigenous people macerated and then boiled the fruits to make a product similar to molasses known as arrope, used with cheese and pastries. The bark of chañar, when mixed with honey or sugar, was used medicinally for coughs and colds (Delhey, 1991) and an infusion of the leaves was used as an emollient and to control asthma. A dye was extracted from the bark and used to dye wool and cloth. Farmers leave chañar in their woodlands to provide feed for their animals. The flowers produce an excellent honey (Demaio et al., 2002).
In the virtually rainless Atacama desert of Chile, the fruits are collected, stored in 220-litre barrels (see Pictures) and ground to make a type of milkshake in local restaurants (P Felker, Universidad Catolica de Santiago del Estero, Argentina, personal communication, 2003).
There are several reports on the human nutritional quality of the fruits of chañar (Becker, 1983; Maestri et al., 2001; Maestri et al., 2002). The layer surrounding the seeds (pericarp) contains 5% protein, 1% fat, 17% fibre, 2% ash, 23% hemicellulose and 49% sugar (predominantly sucrose). The large seeds contain 29% protein, 49% fat, 8% sugar, and 11% hemicellulose. The unsaturated fatty acids linoleic and oleic acid are the predominant fatty acids. The FAO chemical score of the protein is 65 with lysine, methionine and cysteine being the most limiting amino acids.
Rats fed a complete diet with the protein portion consisting of milled chañar seeds lost body weight and ate less. The total digestibility of the diet was about 67%, but the nitrogen digestibility was only 1.2%. While the trypsin inhibitor and cyanide content in the seeds was low, the seeds had a high haemagglutinin content which resulted in poor nutritional quality. Thus for humans and other non-ruminants, the uses of the fruits would be for the high sugar portion surrounding the seed and the highly unsaturated fatty acids (after extraction). Since the haemagglutinin would be destroyed by relatively brief heating (as is common with other legume seeds) the nutritional value of the seed protein would probably be greatly increased after heating. For ruminants, which can digest the haemagglutinins, the protein and sugar of both the seed and pericarp would be valuable. The high content of the unsaturated fatty acids, and the large seed size, could make fatty acid production possible if production and harvesting issues could be resolved.
The above-average wood density (0.6) and hardness of chañar would make it acceptable for many furniture and carpentry applications (Tortorelli, 1956). Unfortunately the unavailability of larger diameter and longer logs precludes more widespread utilization. Thus, its use is currently limited to tool handles, small furniture items, firewood and charcoal.
The nitrogen-fixing properties of chañar (Becker, 1983; Aronson et al., 1992) are an advantage on the low fertility soils of arid lands, although little is known about the impact of this nitrogen fixation at the whole tree or ecosystem level. The ability to grow in harsh, very low rainfall, saline habitats such as the Chilean Atacama desert where very few other plants can survive is a significant advantage. Since it currently exists in these areas and does not appear to be a weed in these areas, further plantings and improved genetic selections would seem reasonable.
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
- Fodder/animal feed
- Carved material
- Miscellaneous materials
- Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
Wood ProductsTop of page
Sawn or hewn building timbers
- Carpentry/joinery (exterior/interior)
- For light construction
- Industrial and domestic woodware
- Tool handles
- Wood carvings
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
Chañar does not exist in cultivated fields that are adjacent to dense stands of chañar, suggesting that the cultivation necessary for annual crops is sufficient to eliminate the plant. Chañar constitutes the most serious problem on agricultural fields that have not been cultivated for several years (Feldman, 1966). Thus, incorporation of annual ploughing would be an option to eliminate new chañar invasions.
Chañar is commonly controlled by villagers using axes, shovels and picks to dig out the young saplings. However it is apparent from the lack of chañar in cultivated fields that, once eliminated from agricultural fields, several cultivations per year should be sufficient to keep the fields free of chañar.
Numerous papers have reported chemical control of chañar using trunk injections, applications with backpack sprayers and aerial applications. Bruzzone and Harnan (1976) obtained 100% kill of chañar using dicamba with ground-based equipment. Chañar was found to be highly susceptible to picloram + triclopyr (Rucci and Iglesias, 1996).
No attempts of the use of biological control have been reported, although the rodent Microcavia australis does cause some damage to chañar.
No attempt at integrated control has been reported.
ReferencesTop of page
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Bruzzone JA; Harnan M, 1976. Control of Geoffroea decorticans and Acacia aroma in the semi-arid "chaquena" region with dicamba alone and mixed with phenoxy acid herbicides. Trabajos y Resumenes, III Congreso Asociacion Latinoamericana de Malezas "ALAM" y VIII Reunion Argentina de Malezas y su Control "ASAM", Mar del Plata, Argentina. ASAM, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Vol. 4:56-57.
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