The prevailing winds through this southern region are westerly, being moist below the 52nd parallel, and dry between it and the 40th parallel. In the north and on the pampas the north wind is hot and depressing, while the south wind is cool and refreshing. The north wind usually terminates with a thunderstorm or with a pampero, a cold south-west wind from the Andes which blows with great violence, causes a fall in temperature of 15° to 20°, and is most frequent from June to November—the southern winter and spring. In the Andean region, a dry, hot wind from the north or north-west, called the Zonda, blows with great intensity, especially in September-October, and causes much discomfort and suffering. It is followed by a cold south wind which often lowers the temperature 25°. The climate of the pampas is temperate and healthy, and is admirably suited to agricultural and pastoral pursuits. Its greatest defect is the cold southerly and westerly storms, which cause great losses in cattle and sheep. The Patagonian coast-line and mountainous region are also healthy, having a dry and bracing climate. In the north, however, the hot lowlands are malarial and unsuited to north European settlement, while the dry, elevated plateaus are celebrated for their healthiness, those of Catamarca having an excellent reputation as a sanatorium for sufferers from pulmonary and bronchial diseases.
Flora.—The flora of Argentina should be studied according to natural zones corresponding to the physical divisions of the country—the rich tropical and sub-tropical regions of the north, the treeless pampas of the centre, the desert steppes of the south, and the arid plateaus of the north-west. The vegetation of each region has its distinctive character, modified here and there by elevation, irrigation from mountain streams, and by the saline character of the soil. In the extreme south, where an Arctic vegetation is found, the pastures are rich, and the forests, largely of the Antarctic beech (Fagus antarctica), are vigorous wherever the rainfall is heavy. The greater part of Patagonia is comparatively barren and has no arboreal growth, except in the well-watered valleys of the Andean foothills. The water-courses and depressions of the shingly steppts afford pasturage sufficient for the guanaco, and in places support a thorny vegetation of low growth and starved appearance. The Antarctic beech and Winter’s bark (Drimys Winteri) are found at intervals along the Andes to the northern limits of this zone. The pampas, which cover so large a part of the republic, have no native trees whatever, and no woods except the scrubby growth of the delta islands of the Paraná, and a fringe of low thorn-bushes along the Atlantic coast south to Mar Chiquita and south of the Tandil sierra, which, strictly speaking, does not belong to this region. The great plains are covered with edible grasses, divided into two classes, pasto duro (hard grass) and pasto blando, or tierno (soft grass)—the former tall, coarse, nutritious and suitable for horses and cattle, and the latter tender grasses and herbs, including clovers, suitable for sheep and cattle. The so-called “pampas-grass” (Gynerium argenteum) is not found at all on the dry lands, but in the wet grounds of the south and south-west. The pasto duro is largely composed of the genera Stipa and Melica. In the dry, saline regions of the west and north-west, where the rainfall is slight, there are large thickets of low-growing, thorny bushes, poor in foliage. The predominating species is the chañar (Gurliaca decorticans), which produces an edible berry, and occurs from the Rio Negro to the northern limits of the republic. Huge cacti are also characteristic of this region. On the lower slopes of the Andes are found oak, beech, cedar, Winter’s bark, pine (Araucaria imbricata), laurel and calden (Prosopis algarobilla). The provinces of Santa Fé, Córdoba and Santiago del Estero are only partially wooded; large areas of plains are intermingled with scrubby forests of algarrobo (Prosopis), quebracho-blanco (Aspido-sperma quebracho), tala (Celtis tala, Sellowiana, acuminata), acacias and other genera. In Tucumán and eastern Salta the same division into forests and open plains exists, but the former are of denser growth and contain walnut, cedar, laurel, tipa (Machaerium fertile) and quebracho-colorado (Loxopterygium Lorentzii). The territories of the Gran Chaco, however, are covered with a characteristic tropical vegetation, in which the palm predominates, but intermingled south of the Bermejo with heavy growths of algarrobo, quebracho-colorado, urunday (Astronium fraxinifolium), lapacho (Tecoma curialis) and palosanto (Guayacum officinalis), all esteemed for hardness and fineness of grain. Other palms abound, such as the pindó (Cocos australis), mbocaya (Cocos sclerocarpa) and the yatai (Cocos yatai), but the predominating species north of the Bermejo is the caranday or Brazilian wax-palm (Copernicia cerifera), which has varied uses. The forest habit in this region is close association of species, and there are “palmares,” “algarrobales,” “chañarales,” &c,, and among these open pasture lands, giving to a distant landscape a park-like appearance. In the “mesopotamia” region the flora is similar to that of the southern Chaco, but in the Misiones it approximates more to that of the neighbouring Brazilian highlands. Among the marvellous changes wrought in Argentina by the advent of European civilization, is the creation of a new flora by the introduction of useful trees and plants from every part of the world. Indian corn, quinoa, mandioca, possibly the potato, cotton and various fruits, including the strawberry, were already known to the aborigines, but with the conqueror came wheat, barley, oats, flax, many kinds of vegetables, apples, peaches, apricots, pears, grapes, figs, oranges and lemons, together with alfalfa and new grasses for the plains. The Australian eucalyptus is now grown in many places, and there are groves of the paradise or paraiso tree (Melia azedarach) on the formerly treeless pampa. The cereals of Europe are a source of increasing wealth to the nation, and alfalfa promises new prosperity for pastoral industries.
Fauna.—The Argentine fauna, like its flora, has been greatly influenced by the character and position of the pampas. Whatever it may have been in remote geological periods, it is now extremely limited both in size and numbers. Of the indigenous fauna, the tapir of the north and the guanaco of the west and south are the largest of the animals. The pampas were almost destitute of animal life before the horses and cattle of the Spanish invaders were there turned out to graze, and the puma and jaguar never came there until the herds of European cattle attracted them. The timid viscacha (Lagostomus trichodactylus), living in colonies, often with the burrowing owl, and digging deep under ground like the American prairie dog, was almost the only quadruped to be seen upon these immense open plains. The fox, of which several species exist, probably never ventured far into the plain, for it afforded him no shelter. Immense flocks of gulls were probably attracted to it then as now by its insect life, and its lagoons and streams teemed with aquatic birds. The occupation of this region by Europeans, and the introduction of horses, asses, cattle, sheep, goats and swine, have completely changed its aspect and character. On the Patagonian steppes there are comparatively few species of animals. Among them are the puma (Felis concolor), a smaller variety of the jaguar (Felis onça), the wolf, the fox, the Patagonian hare (Dolichotis patagonica) and two species of wild cat. The huge glyptodon once inhabited this region, which now possesses the smallest armadillo known, the “quir-quincho” or Dasypus minutus. The guanaco (Auchenia), which ranges from Tierra del Fuego to the Bolivian highlands, finds comparative safety in these uninhabitable solitudes, and is still numerous. The “ñandú” or American ostrich (Rhea americana), inhabiting the pampas and open plains of the Chaco, has in Patagonia a smaller counterpart (Rhea Darwinii), which is never seen north of the Rio Negro. On the arid plateaus of the north-west, the guanaco and vicuña are still to be found, though less frequently, together with a smaller species of viscacha (Lagidium cuvieri). The greatest development of the Argentine fauna, however, is in the warm, wooded regions of the north and north-east, where many animals are of the same species as those in the neighbouring territories of Brazil. Several species of monkeys inhabit the forests from the Paraná to the Bolivian frontier. Pumas, jaguars and one or two species of wild cat are numerous, as also the Argentine wolf and two of three species of fox. The coatí, marten, skunk and otter (Lutra paranensis) are widely distributed. Three species of deer are common. In the Chaco the tapir or anta (Tapir americanus) still finds a safe retreat, and the peccary (Dycotyles torquatus) ranges from Córdoba north to the Bolivian frontier. The capybara (Hydrochoerus capybara) is also numerous in this region. Of birds the number of species greatly exceeds that of the mammals, including the rhea of the pampas and condor of the Andes, and the tiny, brilliant-hued humming-birds of the tropical North. Vultures and hawks are well represented, but perhaps the most numerous of all are the parrots, of which there are six or seven species. The reptilians are represented in the Paraná by the jacaré (Alligator sclerops), and on land by the “iguana” (Teius teguexim, Podinema teguixin), and some species of lizard. Serpents are numerous, but only two are described as poisonous, the cascavel (rattlesnake) and the “vibora de la cruz” (Trigonocephalus alternatus).
- Interesting details of the Argentine fauna may be found in Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle; W. H. Hudson’s Idle Days in Patagonia, and Naturalist in the La Plata; G. Pelleschi’s Eight Months on the Gran Chaco; R. Napp’s Argentine Republic; and de Moussy’s Confédération argentine.