Tabaquillo: Characteristics, Taxonomy, Habitat, Uses

The tabaquillo ( Polylepis australis )  is an endemic tree of Argentina that belongs to the Rosaceae family. The main attraction is its bark, which is made up of chestnut-colored lamellae that, although they are attached to the trunk, exfoliate and rise as if they were sheets of a notebook.

This species, with persistent foliage and tortuous crown, grows mainly in the Sierras Grandes, a mountain range located west of the province of Córdoba, in Argentina. It lives in humid areas, with fertile and drained soils that are between 1200 and 3500 meters above sea level.

In addition to being known as tabaquillo, Polylepis australis has numerous names, among which are queñoa, mountain tobacco and queuñoa. The height of the plant is around 3 and 8 meters. Its leaves are pinnate and the small flowers have a greenish hue. The trunk is about 15 to 40 centimeters in diameter.

Because they grow in areas adjacent to rivers and streams, the tabaquillo contributes to the fact that the basins of these bodies of water do not erode.



The leaves have a dark green color. The upper surface is shiny and glabrous, while the underside is opaque. The rib is prominent and the main axis is 3 to 8 centimeters long.

They are odd-pinnate and perennial, being grouped in a spiral shape on the brachiblasts. These are 1 to 3 centimeters long and are covered by reddish-brown pods.

The leaflets of the leaves are oblong and serrated at the edge. They are 15 to 40 millimeters long and 7 to 15 millimeters wide. They are placed alternately on the rachis, which is characterized by being pubescent and hairy at the nodes.


The Polylepis australis has two types of branches. Long, fluffy and ferruginous ones, called macroblasts. From these are born the brachyblasts, which are scaly and have leaves


The bark of this shrub is its most distinctive feature. It is orange-brown in color and consists of very thin epidermal sheets adhered to the trunk, which are continuously exfoliated. In this way, this part of the plant visually has an appearance similar to superimposed sheets of paper.

In addition to this, the bark has the peculiarity of isolating the trunk from the extreme temperatures of the environment. Due to this, it is presumed that the species could be partially resistant to fire.

Inflorescence and flowers

The flowers are sessile, greenish and small in size, with a width between 8 and 10 millimeters. They are grouped in pendular axial clusters. They are hermaphrodites, having the ovary surrounded by a receptacle, which has 3 winged angles. It has 6 to 8 stamens in purple tones.

The calyx has 3 to 4 green and ovate sepals, which are 5 millimeters long and 4 millimeters wide. These are pubescent on the margins and on the inside. The sepals are embedded in an obconical receptacle.


The fruit has an elliptical shape. It is derived from an indehiscent monocarpelar ovary, the seed of which is not attached to the pericardium. The seed presents variations in mass and properties, depending on the species and the characteristics of the geographical region.


Kingdom Plantae.

Subkingdom Viridiplantae.

Infrareign Streptophyta.

Embryophyta superdivision.

Tracheophyta Division.

Subdivision Spermatophyta.

Magnoliopsida class.

Superorder Rosanae.

Order Rosales.

Rosaceae family.

Subfamily Rosoideae.

Sanguisorbeae Tribe,

Subtribe Sanguisorbinae,

Genus Polylepis Ruiz & Pav.

Species Polylepis australis Bitter

Habitat and distribution

The Polylepis australis is endemic to Argentina, where it is located in the provinces of Salta, Jujuy, Tucumán, Córdoba, Catamarca and San Luis. In Yungas it lives to the north, south and center, in the ecological region of the Montane Forest.

In the Sierras Grandes, a mountain range parallel to the Andean mountain range, the tabaquillo is found scattered in very extensive forests, as is the case in the Quebrada del Condorito National Park.

However, in other areas it is restricted to specific areas. Such is the case of the Los Gigantes massif, a mountainous system located in the central-western region of Córdoba.

To the west of the province of Córdoba is the highest peak in the area, the Champaqui hill. There, at more than 2,790 meters above sea level, this species grows and develops.

Dry Chaco ecoregion

It is comprised of the provinces of Chaco, Jujuy, Salta, Formosa, Santiago de Estero, Catamarca, Tucumán, La Rioja, Córdoba, San Luis and San Juan. In this geographical region can be found mountain forests, xerophilous forests and salinas.

The climate is warm, with temperatures ranging from 47 ° C to -16 ° C. Rainfall ranges from 800 to 400 mm. Within this area is the Quebrada del Condorito National Park, a protected area where the tabaquillo lives.

The so-called Chaco Serrano, which extends over the Pampean and Sub-Andean Sierras, has dense palm groves of carandilla, which alternate with high grasslands and tobacco forests.

Puna ecoregion

It is found in the central area of ​​the Andean mountain range, constituting a neotropical biome. It is located in the highest part of the central Andes, covering several territories to the north of Argentina.

The Argentine Altiplano includes the provinces of Salta, Jujuy and Tucumán, ending in Catamarca. Rainfall is scarce, and can vary from 0 to 200 mm, which makes this area the driest in that country.

Yungas Ecoregion

These regions of mountain jungles and Andean forests are located from the north of Peru to the north of Argentina, through Bolivia. The Argentine Yungas are also known as the Tucuman-Oranense Jungle, forming part of the southern Yungas.

The climate is subtropical, with an average temperature of 22 ° C. However, the climatic variation is very marked. In summer the temperature exceeds 50 ° C, while in winter it can reach 10 ° C.


This plant adapts very easily to almost any garden or patio environment. There are many aspects that justify giving it a space within the green areas of houses, squares and any open space. Its flowers are very showy and its foliage is green most of the time.

However, its greatest attraction is in its bark, which appears as brownish exfoliations, making the tobacco plant the ornamental center of the garden.

Sowing methods

By seed

The fruits are harvested between January and February, and they are placed to dry in the dark and at room temperature. They are then sown in a mixture of compost and sand. It is extremely important that the land has good drainage, thus avoiding excess water in it.

The transplantation of the germinated seeds to the ground is carried out when the seedlings have four true leaves.

By stake

The stakes are cut to 1 centimeter in diameter, removing most of the leaves. The time between cutting and sowing should not be more than 12 hours. The stakes should be buried in pots with well-draining, fertilized black soil. Irrigation could be every 2 or 3 days, depending on the weather.

In the location within the garden, sunlight must be considered. This shrub fully develops if the sun’s rays fall on it or, failing that, under some partial shade. If other plants could provide shade, it would be wise to prune them.

For its maximum development, it needs a fertile soil, for which it could be fertilized with some regularity. It should be kept moist and well drained. This plant tolerates soils with neutral or slightly acidic pH.


The tabaquillo forest fulfills several ecological functions. Among them is to control water erosion, increasing the water supply due to the condensation of the mist on its leaves. Another is to protect the river basin, for which it is planted at the headwaters and at the edges of it.

In addition, they provide wood to the locals, which is used as fuel. This perennial shrub is used as a traditional medicine in cases of rheumatism and strokes. Also, the sheet is used as an antimicrobial agent.

In Tucumán and Amaicha del Valle it is used by the native population to make infusions that are taken in the treatment of infections, diabetes and inflammatory processes.

Studies have recently been carried out to verify the diuretic capacity of Polylepis australis . In a research work, Wistar rats were used, to which aqueous extract of the bark and leaves was administered orally.

The results of the research could validate the popular use of the plant as an antihypertensive, as a consequence of its diuretic capacity.


  1. Wikipedia (2018). Polyleois australis. Recovered from
  2. Javier Montalvo, Danilo Minga, Adolfo Verdugo, Josué López, Deisy Guazhambo, Diego Pacheco, David Siddons, Antonio Crespo, Edwin Zárate (2018). Morphological-functional characteristics, arboreal diversity, growth rate and carbon sequestration in species and ecosystems of Polylepis in southern Ecuador. Austral Ecology. Recovered from
  3. Michael Kessler Albrecht-von-Haller (2006). Polylepis forests. Institut für Pflanzenwissenschaften, Abteilung Systematische Botanik, Untere Karspüle. Recovered from
  4. Renison, Daniel, Cingolani, Ana, Schinner, Duilio. (2002). Optimizing restoration of Polylepis australis woodlands: When, where and how to transplant seedlings to the mountains ?. ResearchGate. Recovered from
  5. Renison, D. and AM Cingolani (1998). Experiences in germination and vegetative reproduction applied to reforestation with Polylepis australis (Rosaceae) in the Sierras Grandes de Córdoba, Argentina. AGRISCIENTIA. Recovered from
  6. Adriana Daud Thoene, Natalia Habib Intersimone, Alicia Sánchez Riera (2007). Diuretic activity of aqueous extracts of Polylepisaustralis Bitter (queñoa). Scielo. Recovered from

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