What kind of plant is this? In Spanish it’s called llareta, and it’s a member of the Apiaceae family, which makes it a cousin to parsley, carrots and fennel. But being a desert plant, high up in Chile’s extraordinarily dry Atacama, it grows very, very slowly — a little over a centimeter a year.
In fact, some of them are older than the Giant Sequoias of California, older than towering coast redwoods. In Chile, many of them go back 3,000 years — well before the Golden Age of Greece.
They look like green gift-wrapping. One imagines that they are mold-like, wrapping themselves around boulders. But that’s wrong. The truth is much weirder. That hard surface is actually a dense collection of tens of thousands of flowering buds at the ends of long stems, so densely packed, they create a compact surface. The plant is very, very dry, and makes for great kindling.
llareta is such good fuel that, even though it’s very ancient, people regularly use it to start campfires and even, back in the day, to run locomotives.