Desfontainia spinosa, aka Chilean holly or taique

Desfontainia spinosa, in the Wild

I came across this beauty a few weeks ago on a hike through the Sendero Bosque Encantado, or Enchanted Forest Trail, in Queulat National Park on the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia. It reminded me of candy corn but I decided against eating it. That was probably a good idea, although the leaves are apparently used by some shaman to help diagnose certain diseases.

Also known as Chilean holly, Desfontainia spinosa is a native of rainforests and mountain slopes in the Andes. In Chile, locals call it taique and in Colombia it’s borrachero where shaman administer it medicinally. According to the website Entheology.com (which I know nothing about so cannot and will not vouch for):

Colombian shamans of the Kamsa’ tribe take a tea of the leaves to diagnose disease or “to dream”. Some medicine men (Curanderos) assert that they “go crazy” under its influence. The southern Chileans also use the leaves to make a yellow dye for coloring fabrics (Schultes 1977 cited in Ratsch 1998, 219).

The plant was discovered to be an entheogen by Richard Evans Schultes when he was traveling in Colombia, but little research has been done on it since that time. It is possible that the Chiloe deity, El Trauco, a forest spirit, is a representation of the plant spirit of D. spinosa, which is sometimes called Trau-trau.  However, individuals with knowledge of the plant seem very reluctant to speak of it with outsiders (Ratsch 1998, 219-220).

More about traditional and medicinal uses and preparation here.

That's not candy corn. Desfontainia spinosa, aka Chilean holly or taique
That’s not candy corn. Desfontainia spinosa, aka Chilean holly or taique
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