Species Profile: Neneo
By Andrew Gage (Macalester College ’15)
Mulinum spinosum (common name Neneo) is a dominant cushion shrub of the Patagonian steppe that is characterized by its vibrant lime green color, spherical growth, and sharp trisect leaves. I was moved to do a species profile for this shrub, despite finding relatively little information on it, due to its hyper abundance in the Valle Chacabuco. Though this plant is far from friendly (it has been the source of splinters for several students on the trip thus far and more than once for myself), Neneo has captivated me since my arrival in Valle Chacabuco both for its abundance and captivating shape. Whether you are 1 meter or 1 kilometer away from this species, identification is easy because of its brilliant color and unique shape.
Another aspect of this plant that grasped my attention was its classification within the Apiaceae family. Often members of this family are characterized by an umbel inflorescence with small white flowers, such as Queen Ann’s Lace, whereas Neneo has an extremely unique yellow and red inflorescence that I couldn’t even begin to explain in text. That being said, there are some 3,700 species within the Apiaceae family so there is a great deal of polymorphism inherent in such a large family. There are several species within the Mulinum genus but I was only able to acquire information on Mulinum spinosum. Neneo is endemic to the Patagonian Steppe, and extends as far north as region 3 in Chile and south to Torres del Paine.
In my research on Neneo, I’ve discovered that it is an extremely hardy species. Both drought and fire tolerance allow Neneo to endure the harsh Patagonian Steppe climate. Furthermore, Neneo establishes quickly in formerly grazed areas, which is partially why it grows in hyper abundance in Valle Chacubuco, formerly a sheep estancia. The specie’s one weakness is extreme shade intolerance, which is clearly visible upon examining any tree line in the valley. Some fun facts about Neneo are its medicinal value for curing warts and use as an anti-rheumatic, clearly demonstrating its importance both medicinally and ecologically.