Monday, April 30, 2007

Power line III

... and the fall of the giant as it crashes to the ground. You can see traces of smoke from the chainsaw coming up from the site. Somewhere down there in that blur of green, there are three CELPA workers who did the cutting of the tree. Off to the right is a very large tapereba fruit tree (Spondias lutea), which barely escaped from getting cut. The large branches hanging over the truck, to the left, are of a gigantic Brazil nut tree (Bertholetia excelsa), which is protected by law. It will will only be pruned. Although many Brazil nut trees get pushed over with the advent of mechanized agriculture, the electric company would never cut one without permission from IBAMA. More often than not the path of the power line is changed from one side to another to avoid having to cut one.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Power line II

This is the old school and chapel area that I mentioned in an earlier post. The power line is being built on this side of the road, I assume, because there are fewer large trees to be cut. Nevertheless, many very nice trees were condemned because of the 15 meter swath required by CELPA for installing the high tension cables. Just off to the right of the CELPA truck, you can see the remains of several trees which were cut a few days ago. These were young trees I planted 4-5 years ago. In the background you can see a gigantic mango tree being cut. I assume that this tree was planted by the school teacher several decades ago. It probably provided lots of school lunches for the kids of that school in those years. The tree has already been chainsawed and it's just beginning to fall. Next picture, the giant on the ground.

Power line

The power line construction on the road to the Bosque continues and I discovered that the network is much more extensive than I'd realized. Lira Maia, newly elected congressman from this State and neighbor at the Bosque, tells me that 500 kilometers of line for this region have been included in the budget. Our part of the project is expected to be inaugurated this year in July or August. A CELPA spokesman told me that President Lula is expected for the inauguration.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Jacarandá do Pará III

You may be surprised to learn that jacarandá do Pará (Pará is our state here in the Amazon) isn't a true jacaranda. In fact it's not a jacaranda at all, the genus is Dalbergia. I often wonder how the tree came to be called as such but I haven't found any information in that regard. My guess is that it's because of the purple blooms, which look very much like the ones on some species of the true jacaranda trees. The genus Dalbergia is in honor of Nils Dalberg, Swedish naturalist and physician, 1736-1820.

Although jacarandá do Pará is more common to the sandy tropical savanna soils around the Tapajós River, I planted a few of them at Bosque Santa Lúcia some six years ago. The largest of trees were located in front of the lot where the old Poço Branco school and chapel used to be. These structures were rebuilt in the village down the road, so I planted a lot of trees in that area. Thinking that I could possibly find some seeds on these trees, I made a visit to the area day before yesterday. Not to my surprise, I discovered that the crews from the power line project had chainsawed them all down, along with many other noble trees I had planted.

Jacarandá do Pará II

In my last posting I showed a sample of jacarandá do Pará wood with some leaves in the background. These were of the tree itself. In this entry I want to show the trunk of the tree to demonstrate that it's not the normal format of most trees being cut for lumber. Mind you, this is a very young tree but as it gets older, it'll keep the figure of a relatively short trunk with branches going off in all directions. If you visit the Santarém sawmill which exports this lumber, you'll see that the logs are of short lengths, most in the neighborhood of 3 meters. Likewise, if you inspect the pallets of jacarandá do Pará ready for shipment at the deep water pier, you see that they are miniature in seize compared to the other lumber shipments, most of which are in 5-6 meters lengths. Another thing you'll notice different about the pallets is that they contain logs, not planks. Just one note in that regard. The Brazilian law doesn't allow uncut logs to be exported, therefore the logs have been sawed vertically into three or four pieces without removing the bark. This exotic wood is worth a fortune, so every ounce counts for those doing the final cuts.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jacarandá do Pará

This wood sample is jacarandá do Pará (Dalbergia spruceana). I'm told that this is one of the most expensive woods leaving the Amazon, around US $3000 a cubic meter by the time it reaches its destiny - in Frankfort, Germany. There is a German based sawmill in Santarém that deals almost exclusively in this trade. I suspect that jacarandá do Pará is being over cut throughout the Amazon but I haven't seen any statistics to prove it. Its cousin, jacarandá da Bahia (Dalbergia nigra) is certainly listed by CITES as an endangered species. Both Dalbergias carry the English names of Brazilian rosewood. Some people refer to jacarandá do Pará as "Amazon rosewood". The sawmill in Santarém exports exclusively to Frankfort, Germany, where it's used in the musical instrument industry. The wood is a favorite for the expensive guitars, veneers for pianos and organs, necks for string instruments and so on. If you do an internet search for Dalbergia spruceana, you'll find many references for guitar backs. Some of those little pieces of wood go for $3000! The attached image is a wood sample given to me by a friend who worked at the German sawmill some years ago. It's an end-piece, which had been cut off from the finer export wood but at least it gives you an idea of the colors.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pau Brasil III (Pernambuco tree)

I dare say that you've never heard of pau-brasil (Caesalpinia echinata) unless, by chance, you play the violin, the viola, the cello or the bass. As reported in a recent post, the tree (from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest) became the major source of red dye-wood for the world for more than 300 years. What I didn't say was that toward the end of this economic rage, in the early 1800s, a master bowmaker in France, Francois Xavier Tourte, discovered that the wood was the best material he'd ever used for fabricating bows. A story I read in a Smithsonian Institution magazine from a few years ago reported that Tourte was an avid fisherman and it was on one of his weekend outings near Paris that he discovered a piece of pau-brasil, from which he made the bow. There's nothing strange about the fact that he came by a piece of wood from South America on the outskirts of Paris. The Smithsonian Institution article states that there was a stockpile of pau-brasil logs in Paris at that time of more than 200 acres! Regardless, pau-brasil became the standard for bows and continues to be to this day. The European bow-makers must have really stocked up on the wood because the tree has been on the verge of extinction for many decades. In recent years the bow-makers have formed an association among themselves to contract with groups in the State of Bahia to plant pau-brasil trees with the objective of renewing their supply. I understand that the tree must be at least 35 years old in order to provide the high quality heartwood needed to make bows.

The attached image is a pau-brasil wood sample from my collection at Bosque Santa Lucia. The tree isn't from the Amazon but I came by a few planks of the wood at a German sawmill some years ago. They were defective pieces leftover from precut lumber for exportation and they would've been burned, if I hadn't picked them up. Out of a half-dozen planks, I only have two samples left. The lumber was kept in a backyard shed for many years, collecting dust and pollution from the street. Once I noticed that the wood was "bleeding" from the rain. It was about this time that I remembered the historical significance of pau-brasil. I wish I'd been more careful about protecting the planks from the elements. The sample has lost much of its color but .... it's a piece of pau-brasil.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hiciscus III

I already showed some images of hibiscus flowers found at the Bosque, including a gigantic one on the pinkish side. I mentioned having planted the bright red variety but that it was growing slowly because of shade from a neighboring tree. I couldn't believe it today when I saw saw it in bloom. One single bloom the size of a saucer plate! What's amazing is that the plant is no more than 14 inches high. Imagine when it grows up!


Just to the left of the entrance to Bosque Santa Lucia there are many kalanchoe plants (the genus is also Kalanchoe). So many, it would appear they were planted there. Given that they are concentrated mostly in this area, which would have been the yard of an old house long ago torn down, it's possible that the original had indeed been planted there. There are many different varieties of kalanchoe in the world but evidently only this one here in South America, which is Kalanchoe pinnatum. The local names in Portuguese are pirarucu (the name of the large scaled fish of the Amazon) and folha grossa (thick leaf). The medicinal properties of the plant are rather remarkable. For more details go to

Colors of Ingá II

In the first Colors of Ingá post I pointed out ingá as one of the trees possessing a bag of tricks to deceive uninvited guests wanting to have a free lunch. One adroit maneuver is that of producing new leaves in a different color, opposed to the standard green of plants and trees. In this image you see leaves which are much more mature than those illustrated in the previous post. They are larger and already beginning to turn green. The second maneuver described was that of recruiting the enemy for protection by offering a better lunch, that of nectar. In this image you can see an ant dining and wining at the extra-floral nectary. It's that point where the three leaves come together. In the case of this young tree, there was an ant having lunch at each nectary.

Monday, April 23, 2007


The alamanda plant (Alamanda cathartica) produces some of the most beautiful flowers around. They are the large yellow trumpet-shaped flowers coming off vines, which can climb up to the heavens, if you give them the chance. At the Bosque I keep my one and only alamanda plant secured to a ipe fence-post and I prune it quite often. Here in the city, I remember seeing one vine that climbed up into a relatively high jambeiro tree (Eugenia malaccensis). The combination of the yellow flowers from the alamanda vine and the bright purple colors of the jambeiro made for quite a beautiful marriage. Alamanda is native to the state of Espirito Santo, here in Brazil. As a bit of self-induced security, it is poisonous.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Pau Brasil II

As reported in the previous blog post, the older of the two pau-brasil trees (Caesalpinia echinata) at Bosque Santa Lucia was planted in 2000. It's bloomed at least three times (as shown in the attached image) but it's never produced fruit, which is a bean-shaped pod covered with thorns. It's really exciting to see the tree in bloom because of the rich yellow color with blotches of red. Swarms of insects visit the flowers and in two or three days the show is over. The blooms disappear as quickly as they came. I find it very mysterious but every bloom is broken off at the stem, as though cut by insects. Could it be that this comes about because it's an immature tree? I find it hard to believe that they are cut by insects but ... By the way, pau-brasil was designated the national tree of Brazil, by law-6.607 on December o7, 1978.

Pau Brasil (Caesalpinia echinata)

April 22 is a good date to post a blog about a very special tree here in Brazil. Pau-brasil, alias Pernambuco tree, is the tree from which the country gets its name. It's native of the Mata Atlântica, not the Amazon. Readers may know that this forest used to be about the same size as the Amazon but over the last 500 years it's been reduced to less than 5% of its original area. To a certain extent the cutting of the pau-brasil trees contributed to the destruction of the Mata Atlântica. It's estimated that around 75 million of these trees were cut for exportation to Europe, where the wood was used in making red dye for the fabric industry. By the time synthetic dyes were introduced in the late 1800s, the tree was all but extinct. I have two pau-brasil trees planted at the Bosque. The older one seen in the image was given to me by Mr. Barrosa at SUDAM in July of 2000. It was part of a shipment of seedlings the federal government sent to all schools in Brazil to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil by the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Cabral. The date of Cabral´s arrival in Bahia was April 22, 1500. The second pau-brasil at Bosque Santa Lucia was donated by Sr. Dagaberto in October of 2001.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


This is a very popular plant around Santarém and the region. Strange as it may seem, I've never heard of a local name for it. The genus is Ixora, it's an exotic and there are a number of different species. The most common here is the red blooming, as depicted in the attached image. I assume this one to be Ixora coccinea. There are a number of English common names, for example, Flame of the Woods, Jungle Flame and so on. I have both the red and yellow varieties at the Bosque but not many of them. Some gardeners do a mix of the two plants, the result being a show of red and yellow together. In this case, it appears that the flowers are coming from the same plant. Now that I know that butterflies and hummingbirds like the flowers, I plan on planting more.

Hiciscus II

This is the hibiscus I mentioned in the earlier post as producing gigantic flashy flowers. Unlike the other varieties, it produces them a few at a time; so far only one at a time. But it's a new plant, so with time it'll show off more of itself. I've planted another giant variety of hibiscus but shade from a neighboring tree has kept it from growing properly. It's the bright red species.


Hibiscus (Hiciscus is also the name of the genus) is a blooming fool. It never stops blooming, as long as you give it water and nutrients. It also likes sun and an occasional pruning. The plant next to the reception center at the Bosque (attached image) has produced an indefinite number of these large trumpet-shaped flowers over the last five years and who knows how many butterflies and hummingbirds have supped their nectar over this span of time. There are around 200 species of hibiscus around the tropics. At the Bosque, we have only three, this pink variety, one with a bright red bloom and one plant that produces gigantic flowers. According to the literature I've read, hibiscus has been cultivated so long, nobody knows its origin.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Orchid (Cataetum galeritum)

This orchid came from the Tapajós National Forest about five years ago. At that time I was active in the Santarém Orchid Society and there were occasions when our club members were given permission by IBAMA to collect orchid specimens from the leftover debris of trees, those which had been earmarked for the "select cut" program. This is a multinational project, in part financed by the U.S. Forestry Service, to demonstrate how to harvest trees without destroying the forest. Our rescue teams were normally made up of 8-10 club members. We would spend 3-4 hours combing the cut areas for the orchids and then meet as a group to classify and divide them up for our collections. I had joined the club for the purpose of learning something about orchids but I have to admit that my attendance at club meetings was sporadic and I never learned much about the complexity of classifying these plants. Since I didn't have a an orchid house at the Bosque, I chose to place them in the trees, which I thought was their natural setting. More recently I decided to move the survivors (around a dozen individuals) to vases on the front porch of the reception center. It's much easier to look after them in this environment. The biggest problem with having them in the trees was that of dust from the dirt road during the dry season. I'm not sure how anything survives this situation. Bernadette Serique from the Orchid Society gave me the name of this orchid for the second time. It's Catasetum galeritum. Thanks again Bernadette!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tento seeds

Santarém is a great place to buy arts and crafts, most of which are fabricated from natural resources of the region. Seeds are almost always used in making jewelry of one kind or another, like necklaces and bracelets. The most popular are the tento seeds, which come from trees in the genus Ormosia. There are several different species, each producing a different colored seed. Perhaps the most popular is the tento vermelho shown in the image. I picked these seeds up from the ground at the Bosque just this week. They came from a rather scraggly tree very close to the reception center. I'm not sure if these are newly formed seeds or not because the tree has a way of holding onto the pods and seeds for long periods of time. Two species of Ormosia have been identified at the Bosque but there may be more. About three years ago I came by seeds from Tento Carolina. One seedling survived and it's now reaching a height of approximately 5 meters. I look forward to seeing it produce seed.

Mimosa, the humble plant

After leaving the woods we walk back to the reception center via the small dirt road passing through the Bosque. The sides of road are covered with many invasive plants, including mimosa pudica, the famed "humble plant". Although native of Brazil, mimosa pudica has found its way into most of tropical America, so many people recognize it. The temptation of touching it is too great for most visitors and guides. At the slightest touch, the leaves instantly fold up like magic. They return to an open position a few minutes later but close down naturally at night. What's funny and frustrating is confuse other similar looking plants for this one. Absolutely nothing happens when you touch them!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Inajá, in memoriam

"The price we pay for progress" is a rather trite expression but now it has more meaning. The palm you see in the image was chained-sawed down today because it stood in the way of progress. As I reported in an earlier blog, our community of Poço Branco and some other villages on the road have been included in the federal government's Rural Electrification program. Believe me, this is a time of joy and jubilation for the people of this region. I think in particular of a local teacher, Dona Inêz, who has carried the banner of "lights for the rural people of Brazil" for as long as I can remember. Since 1981, to be exact. She has sat on the doorsteps of every mayor and governor in office almost every week since I've known her. The years have past and she's now retired - from teaching - but not from her relentless pursuit of electricity. Thanks to President Lula and his bold "lights for every rural home" program, she'll cross the finish line in the next few weeks. I'm rather excited about getting electricity myself because it'll provide some options we've never had before, like an electric fan and even a well for pumping water. Face it, I'm tired of hauling water to keep my plants alive over the long dry summers. At the same time, I accept the fact that some sacrifices have to be made. Trees and electric power lines don't get a long very well. The CELPA regulation for putting up a power line is that there be 10 meters of clearing in order to prevent trees from falling over on it. My poor inajá palm (Attalea maripa) was right at the edge of road and would have been almost under the future power line. I took this picture only two days ago. I must have had a premonition that its days were numbered. This morning I heard the roar of a chainsaw close to the reception center and I figured that some clearing was about to take place. My neighbor's hired hand was kind enough to come over to tell me what was happening. I was pleased to learn that my mahogany trees were to be spared, mainly because they were too small to pose a threat to progress. As they get older I can prune them back so they won't get chainsawed too. On the way out of the Bosque I was saddened to see my inaja palm flat on the ground.


I always tell visitors at the Bosque that this may be the best plant to demonstrate biodiversity. Miconia is the genus and there are more than one-thousand species found throughout the tropics! Evidently some countries in Central America are trying to eradicate the plant because it's considered an uncontrollable weed. The local name for it here at the Bosque is tinteiro. Only two varieties have been classified, tinteiro branco and tinteiro vermelho. Personally, I like having lots of these trees around because they are quite beautiful and they produce fruit the birds like. I took this picture today but I couldn't find any with fruit. Another opportunity.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Imbaúba (Cecropia) II

Once I needed to cut down a cecropia tree in order to widen the entrance to the Bosque for buses. I discovered the hard way that cecropia trees harbor mean biting ants - and a lot of them. The trees are, as a matter of fact, classified as an "ant plants" because of the symbiotic relationship between them and ants. A rental contract provides housing for the ants inside the hollow trunks of the tree and the latter gets protection from countless security guards. Nobody wants to mess with the cecropia tree, unless you are a sloth. I can't prove it but everyone tells me that the leaves of the tree are the favorite food for this slow moving animal. When I cut the tree that day, I was fast to get away from it because the ants were biting me all over. As for the sloth, it could care less because it's protected by a very thick coat of hair.

Imbaúba (Cecropia)

It's amazing what pops up out of the ground once the rains get underway. In just a few square meters there may be dozens of different kinds of trees and plants looking for their place on this earth. They are all so new, so fresh, and so green - they bring new life to our eyes and souls. The young tree in the middle of the image is imbaúba from the genus Cecropia. The common name in the English language is also cecropia, or the trumpet-tree. There are many, many different species and a good representation of them are to be found in both primary and secondary forests, and even more on the Amazon floodplain. The cecropia is classified as a pioneer tree because it is one of the first trees to take up residency in an area that has been disturbed, either by nature or by man. Over time they make way for longer-living trees and plants.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Colors of Ingá

A visiting botanist at the Bosque once told me that plants have a way of tricking their predators. One way of deceiving an insect looking for a juicy tender meal of new leaves is to camouflage them in different colors. Grasshoppers, ants and other consumers of forest salads are evidently tuned into green, not other colors. The ingá plant in the image is a good example of trickery. In the background you can see its older mature leaves, all green. The new leaves in the foreground are brightly colored, thus giving them a chance of survival until they toughen up.

Another way some plants increase their chances of survival is to form contracts with potential enemies. What could be better than a delicious new leaf? Honey, of course. Enter extra-floral nectaries. In the case of the ingá plant, they are located at the conjunction of leaves. The nectar attract certain ants, which get a good easy meal and in return, they protect the plant from the leaf-eaters. A symbiotic relationship, the biologists call it.

There are many different species of ingá. The genus is also called Inga, without the accent mark.


Swedish friend and colleague, Haken Franden, asked me to identify the plant I used in the botanical listing for native plants. It's ginger from the genus Costus but I don't know the species yet. I'm told that this type of ginger used be be in the genus Zingiber, just in case you're using older reference literature. The only local name I know is João Mole, which translates into "Soft Johnnie", or "Soft John". Hum, wonder what that means? The root (rhizome) of ginger is used around the world as a spice and medicine. To my knowledge, this one isn't a true ginger used for our popular ginger ale or ginger cookies. On my tour of the Bosque trails, I point out the yellow vertical slits on the bracts. They are what the botanists call "extra-floral nectaries". They produce small quantities of sweet nectar, which is consumed by certain species of ants. In return for the meal, they protect the ginger plant from leaf-cutting insects.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tarantula spider II

As reported in the previous blog entry, some tarantula spiders build their nests underground. The image to the left shows the entrance to a nest with its elaborate placement of leaves to camouflage the hole from wandering prey. Sometimes web material is also woven around the entrance hole. The spider hunts from a very comfortable position of half in, half out. We see many of these holes on the trails of the Bosque and quite often we get a fast glimpse of the tarantula as it ducks out of sight. If we have time to wait it out, we can see the spider come back to it's hunting position. I have never dug up a spider from this kind of nest, but I have uncovered many of them while digging around old logs and buried pieces of lumber. It's amazing how large they can get. I have also seen many of them with very large egg sacks.

Tarantula spider

Some tarantula spiders live up high in the rooftops of houses and in trees. Others live underground. The attached image is of an immature one that was living under the roof tiles of the front porch at the reception center of the Bosque. Needless to say, it got a lot of attention and everyone got pictures. I think I'm accurate in saying that all rural homes have tarantulas up in the ceilings, some the seize of a dinner plates. They aren't aggressive to mankind, unless put in an awkward situation. The most common confrontation with other members of the household is at night when they involuntarily fall into someone's hammock or bed. I remember this happened to a friend, who was sleeping in the old roundhouse at the Bosque. Luckily, he woke up with the fall of the tarantula and was able to get it out of his hammock right away. My photographer friend, Alfonso, wasn't so lucky. I'm not sure how our hairy friend got into the bed but Alfonso rolled over on it in his sleep and got a nasty bit, plus jabs from all those poisonous hairs. The unromantic interlude between the two required several visits to a doctor. I wanted to ask Alfonso if he reacted to the episode by doing the tarantella dance, but didn't have the courage.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Powder-puff (Calliandra)

In this world of biodiversity, one of the little pleasures in life is discovering the name of a tree or plant. In an earlier post I made mention of an orchid, Psygmorchis pusilla, that had made its home on a plant called pavão, which in the Portuguese language means "peacock". Claúdio Serique, who classified the orchid in short order, couldn't come up with a name for host plant. I was confused because I saw more of these flowering shrubs in the wild along the highway but the leaves were different. Today I did some browsing on the internet to discover that the genus of the plant is Calliandra and that there are more than 200 different species. The common name in English is powder-puff and there are a lot of different colors and formats. The one in the image may be C. surinamensis, but I' not sure. The original cutting of this plant was given to me by Hélcio Amaral, friend and local historian.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Termites III

Termites never eat a live tree but they will obviously eat its dead branches, or even dead bark, as in the case of the Brazil nut tree. My personal observation is that most of our trees in the Amazon have little bark, thus it's not very common to see termite infestation of the side of trees. The Brazil nut is certainly an exception to the rule. I'm sure that these termites are of a different species than the ones shown in the previous two entries. The nesting material shown in the image seems to be made up of a heavy clay, as opposed to the light decomposed leaves and fecal materials of the others. And it becomes extremely hard when dried out. It takes a smart blow of a machete to break into the nest. It's also interesting to note that the termite infestations are to be found only on one side of the Brazil nut tree, the protected side. The easterly trade winds are prevalent in this region, thus the termites (smart little devils) make their home on the western side of the tree.

Termites II

Termites are quite pleased to decompose anything that is made of wood, regardless of where it's found. It could be a dead branch up in a tree, it could be litter on the forest floor, or even your house, if you give them a chance. The mounds in the image are the result of termites invading some tree trunks left over from clearing of an area close to the Bosque reception center. The little devils have been eating away at the wood for the last five years and only two weeks ago did one of the mounds fall over. The old tree trunk is still standing, so I assume the nest became too heavy for the support, or water may have infiltrated the nest. They can become quite heavy in this case and it's common for them to fall. Termite nests are made up of a paste of decomposed wood, leaves and fecal material and tend to be waterproof. Other critters can take advantage of this ready-made home, for example, snakes, spiders and even birds. There was a black-tailed trogan nesting inside the far mound at the time this picture was taken. There are times when I break open a small patch of the nest to show visitors the heavy population of termites. The next day I can be assured that the area will be completely repaired ... and life goes on.


At the beginning of a tour at the Bosque someone inevitably asks about the big black termite nests found up in most trees. "No, the termites aren't eating the trees; they're getting away from their predators." But then they pay the price of being so far from the source of their food, which is the litter on the ground. In order to stay hidden from birds and other predators, they must construct tunnels from the nests right down to the ground. This can be a considerable distance and I'm sure represents a lot of work and materials. The nesting material is much like waterproof cardboard, made up of decomposed leaves and feces. The nest you see in the attached image is a bit exaggerated because it is larger than most and it is placed in a rather small tree, not far off the ground. Nevertheless, it has been there for at least five years and shows no sign of falling anytime soon. Sightseeing couldn't be better. It's only 4-5 meters from the entrance to the Bosque.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Bosque Santa Lúcia isn't a botanical garden but I like treat it as if it were one. Can you imagine your guide at the Botanical Gardens of Rio de Janeiro whacking away at the trees with a machete as he shows you around the place? But in the forest environment it is quite common for everyone to remove pieces of bark for the purpose of identifying trees and at times gashing the tree for latex and resins. I know some woodsmen who whack away at trees just for the hell of it. The tree in the image is amapá-doce, which immediately bleeds a latex the consistency of milk when slashed with a knife. Tour guides know the value of showing their clients things like this, a show-and-tell approach, which is always better than the bla bla bla show. I suppose this is valid in a forest the size of the Tapajós National Forest, where I took the picture. Sr. Francisco, our guide, was at the other end of the knife and he knows what pleases visitors. Nevertheless, I ask the woodsmen and English speaking guides coming to the Bosque not to cut the water-vines, amapá-doce trees, palms and other flora because our area is relatively small, much like an over-seized botanical garden. Not only does it look bad for the next visitors but exaggerated cuts are harmful for the trees. By the way, the latex of amapá-doce (Brosimum perinarioides) is considered to be both nutritional and medicinal by the scientific community conducting research in this area. Some local people report that they mix the "milk" with farinha (meal of the manioc root) and sugar for treatment of respiratory ailments, like tuberculosis. As one might suspect, the Territory of Amapá, later to become the State of Amapá, got its name from the tree.


There are two routes to get to Bosque Santa Lúcia, one via the Curuá-una Highway (a state highway) and the other via the federal highway, BR-163, better known as the Santarém-Cuiabá Highway. The distance is about the same from Santarém, around 18 kilometers, but I prefer to use BR-163. It's paved out the first 100 kilometers and the wear and tear on my vehicle is much less. Leaving the tropical savanna of Santarém, elevation around 36 meters, we climb the hill to the planalto, which is 158 meters above sea level. Just at the top of the hill is Piquiátuba, home of the 8th BEC, the Army Corps of Engineers. At the entrance to the military headquarters is the highway sign you see in the image. I've always made it a point to make a stop next to the sign so that our visitors can take pictures and ponder on the great distances from the Amazon to other points in Brazil.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Aloe vera (Babosa)

Aloe is the genus and vera the species. This is another one of these medicinal plants found everywhere here but not native of Brazil. As I best remember, it's originally from Africa. In Portuguese, it's better known as "babosa", which refers to slobber or foam at the mouth. I call it a "live-tube-of-medicine" because when a cut leaf is squeezed, the gel or semi-liquid material comes out just like from the opening of a metal or plastic tube. It has to be the freshest tube of medicine on the market! The plant is used for many different ailments but it is better known for treatment of inflammations and burns, including sunburn. Whenever I look at the plant, I always remember a Swedish guide, Hakan Franden (spelled without all the Swedish diacritical marks), who brings 6-8 Tema groups to Santarem and the Bosque every year. As he finishes up his rather methodical tour of the Bosque, he asks for a knife to cut off one of the big fat leaves. On the bus, he removes all his jungle clothes. Then he proceeds to treat his legs and feet with the gel and passes the "tube" on to his clients. I'm willing to bet that he never has problems with mosquito and chigger bites!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Lemon grass

Visitors to Bosque Santa Lucia normally don't pay much attention to a big clump of grass just a few meters from the reception center but they are always pleasantly surprised when I break off a blade of the plant for them to smell. Without fail, everyone recognizes the smell as that of lemon grass. Only the nomenclature changes according to the nationality of the visitor. The locals refer to it as "capim santo", which translates into "saint's grass". The next most common name is "lemon grass". Then comes "citronella grass". Citronella is also the distilled oil of the plant and makes for an excellent insect repellent. There are several species of lemon grass. This one was given to me by Frei Leao and Eunice Sena, friends who enjoy life on the edge of the Tapajos River.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Camilo Vianna

I like to refer to SOPREN (Sociedade de Preservação dos Recursos Naturais e Culturais da Amazônia) as an example of Brazilians in action. SOPREN was founded in 1968 under the leadership of Camilo Vianna, professor of medicine and vice-president of the Federal University of Pará in Belém. Camilo Vianna is the Johnny Appleseed of the Amazon, but his mission is much more than that of planting trees. It is to combat hunger. “There is no need in talking about preservation of the Amazon if the population is hungry. Hunger does not listen to reasoning. It creates violence, to both mankind and the environment,” proclaims Vianna in his great number of lectures and speeches made throughout Brazil and abroad. “We can't stop to cry over what we've done wrong in the past,” he continues. “We have to jump in right now to battle hunger. Hunger is the key issue to the question of saving the environment.” While SOPREN has been active on many fronts, Vianna takes special pleasure in planting trees. Through a network of nurseries and organizational affiliates, SOPREN has distributed an untold number of seedlings, and in the process, has tucked in an environmental-education program that is changing the mentality of school children and adults alike. Camilo Vianna practices what he preaches. He does not miss an opportunity to spread his gospel, the propagation of trees. When people see Camilo Vianna, they think of trees. They may remember him also as an outstanding professor of medicine, but they think trees.

We had the pleasure of receiving Camilo Vianna out at Bosque Santa Lúcia in the 1980s, as I best remember it. He did not have a lot of time because I had kidnapped him from a medical conference at the Tropical Hotel (now Amazon Park Hotel), but we did walk the main trail of the Bosque. I will never forget his comment to my wife later in the day. O Bosque tem muitas preciosidades”, he said. I took it to mean that the Bosque has a lot of precious trees. On another occasion, Áurea and I invited him out to dinner and he talked about… hunger and trees. As I opened my billfold to pay the waiter, a gentleman from a neighboring table (José Fernando dos Santos, a retired auditor from the Receita Federal, now deceased) quickly jumped up, grabbed the bill from my hand and made a short, but eloquent speech honoring the ecological attributes of Dr. Vianna. In the middle of this unexpected event, our honored guest got up from the table and disappeared. He was back a few minutes later with two big plastic bags of pitomas (Toulicia spp.), a wild fruit from this region. During the course of the speech in his honor he had seen the vendor passing by the restaurant and he left to get the fruit. Later he told me that he had an excellent germination rate from the seeds, which he planted at one of SOPREN’s nurseries outside of Belém.

Graphic: Arthur Daniel Alexander

Comigo ninguém pode

Dieffenbachia picta is a potted plant that you will undoubtedly find in every home and store in Santarém. They're traditionally placed at the entrance to the premise, thereby playing the role of warden to bad spirits, the evil eye and negative energies. At the Bosque, we have a few of these plants in vases and others in the ground. They do well in either situation. The name, comigo ninguem pode, means "with me, nobody can". I'm not sure what that refers to but I do know that the plant is poisonous. If ingested, it'll paralyze the throat muscles and it's capable of killing cats, dogs and children. It seems to be a rather strange plant to have around the household under these circumstances but here it is right next to the front door.
Image: Jeremy Campbell

Sunday, April 08, 2007


I'm always happy to see tatajuba (Bagassa guianensis) fruits falling on the forest trails because it means we'll be seeing more of the big blue morpho butterflies. The rotting fruit is one of their favorite foods. Add an element of sun and you'll see a show. The seeds of the tatajuba fruit are quite small, as you can see to the right of the screen, right next to the third fruit. I'll post images of the tree and the wood later. There are some ship builders in Europe today who are substituting Asian teak with Brazilian tatajuba.

Friday, April 06, 2007


Sebastião dos Santos used to work with me on a regular basis at Bosque Santa Lúcia but he is now captain of a riverboat owned by Santarém Tur here in Santarém. Nevertheless, he is quite aware of my interests in palms and plants in general, so I'm never surprised when he shows up with an assortment of seeds and plants. In November of 2005, he brought me the timbó plant shown in the image. It was only a cutting from a vine at that time. It eventually leafed out and grew into the beautiful thing you see. Only last week I placed it in the ground next to a very high tree stump, where hopefully it will grow into its normal vine form. The chances are that readers of this blog have seen timbó in documentaries made in the Amazon. The scenario is one of Indians beating the heck out of backwaters of a river or a creek with smashed vines or the roots of the same. Fifteen or twenty minutes later dying fish appear on the surface of the water. Yep, that vine was timbó and it is quite capable of killing more than fish. Sebastião told me that when he arrived from upriver Tapajós, he left the cutting at his aunt's home, planning on picking it up another day. Then he discovered that his aunt's ducks were dying of some unknown cause. I'm not sure his aunt made the association between the timbó and the dying ducks but Sebastião was quick to get the plant out of her yard.

I'm still looking for the scientific name for timbó. Henry Bates in his classic, The Naturalist on the River Amazon, described the use of timbó in the Indian villages he visited on the Tapajós River in 1852. The scientific name he used was Paullinia pinnata. More interesting than the Latin name of the plant is the fact that Sebastião took the cutting from one of the same areas visited by Bates back then. I'm sure he never heard of Henry Bates but he sure knew of timbó.

Another Psychotria

I'm not sure if the P. viridis, described as chacrona in an earlier post, can be found at Bosque Santa Lucia. I do know that we have other species of Psychotria, as the one depicted in the image. They are quite prominent during the rainy season but disappear during the dry season of the year. The common name in Portuguese is "mata-gado", which translates into "kill-the-cattle". Evidently, the leaves are quite poisonous and ranchers make it a point to eradicate the plant from their pasture lands.

Mariri (Banisteriopsis caapi) vine

I have no personal experience in concocting or drinking the tea described on the previous post for chacrona (I have seen the spelling as "chacruna") but I understand that the brew, which some people refer to as ayahuaska, is a combination of the chacrona leaves, plus the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. The common name of the vine is mariri. I guess either one separately produces hallucinogenic effects but the traditional ayahuaska drink calls for both plants. The Banisteriopsis vines in the attached image were given to me by Pierre, my Swiss friend, the source of the chacrona plant described earlier in this blog. There were several cuttings, all of which have all taken root. In the next few days I'll be putting them in the ground close to trees, where they can climb and grow to be big vines.


Chacrona, of the genus Psychotria, is an hallucinogenic plant traditionally used by some of the indigenous populations for making ceremonial tea. In recent times it has also been adopted by non-Indian religious groups, which also use the plant for ceremonial tea. I understand that chacrona is classified as a hard-drug by Brazilian law but an exception to the rule is made for these specified religious groups. In this region we have two of these groups, one in Alter do Chao and another here in Santarem, called UDV. My Swiss friend, Pierre Schwartz, gave me this plant three years ago when it no more than five inches high. Although it requires a lot of water during the dry season, it seems to be doing well in this semi-shaded spot. I'm not totally certain but I think this plant is Psychotria viridis.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Arruda (Rue)

Arruda, Ruta graveolens, is such a common plant around here, I really thought it was from the Amazon. Recently I discovered that it's originally from Europe and that the use of it can be traced backed to biblical days. It packs a lot of history as a medicine, an herb, protection against the evil eye, bad luck and all the maladies ever encountered by mankind. Jeremy Campbell, anthropologist and researcher, tells me that has has noticed rue among the scents of incense available in the United States. My wife, Áurea, reports that a tea is made of the plant here in Santarém for abortion purposes. Whenever I have more time, I'll do some research to try to discover how it got to Brazil. My guess is that it came with the African slaves, but I don't know for sure. At Bosque Santa Lúcia I only have one arruda plant, the one pictured in the image. I remember very well that I bought it from friends who plant and sell medicinal plants in the Conquista neighborhood of Santarém, just off the road on the way to the airport. I always enjoy the very pronounced, unique smell of arruda. I can't compare it to anything. Maybe just a faint resemblance of dried sagebrush of the western United States.

Bauhinia, the vine

An interesting form of Bauhinia guianensis is the vine it forms as it grows into maturity. The local name for the vine is escada-de-jabuti, which translates into "tortoise's ladder", I guess referring to the step-like configurations of the vine. From observation of the younger plants, like the one posted previously, I would guess that it takes many years to reach the size of the one in the attached image. There are some even much larger! I'm told that a tea made from the vine is an excellent medicine for diarrhea. It took me a long time to associate the younger plant with the older vine, since the latter shows no vestiges of the leaves.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


The common name of this plant is pata do boi (bull's foot) or pata da vaca (cow's foot). The genus is Bauhinia and I'm almost sure that the species in the image is guianensis. They are quite plentiful in the region and there are several different varieties to be seen at the Bosque, some with leaves the size of my thumbnail and others the seize of my hand. It is a medicinal plant, used throughout Brazil for treatment of diabetes and high cholesterol. I'm not sure if one species is considered to be better than another for this purpose. I enjoy chewing on the leaves of the one with the very small leaves.


The heliconias always attract a lot of attention among visitors at the Bosque, especially the H. rostrata, shown in the attached image. They are at their best during the rainy season, which is this time of the year. At the peak of the dry season, around November, I haul a lot of water just to keep the plants alive. There are some other varieties of heliconias to be found in the forest but not in large numbers. On the other hand, they pop up like weeds in the cleared areas, for example, around the entrance to the Bosque.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Wild passion fruit, inside

Here's another image of that P. glandulosa with a better view of the leaves and the fruit cut open. The inside looks much like the commercial variety of passion fruit and tastes almost the same. The wild passion fruits are used by some people for medicinal and exotic purposes but they are much smaller than P. edulis and evidently not available in large quantities. Many farmers grow P. edulis as a cash crop here in the Amazon, given that the Brazilians adore passion fruit juice and sweets flavored with the fruit. The most common way of preparing these delicious drinks and foods is to scoop out the contents, pulp and seeds, and then run the material through a blender. Add water and sugar and there you have the juice. Aside from a great drink or dessert, the consumer gets a free sedative for that afternoon nap.

More passion fruit

The subject of Passifloraceae seems to be of interest to some readers of this blog, so I'll take advantage of this situation to place some more images I have on my computer here at home. At the same time I make it clear that I'm not a professional on the topic, only an interested person wanting to learn more from the experts. Most visitors to Bosque Santa Lucia are quite happy to get a picture of a passion fruit flower without knowing any botanical details of genus or species. Only recently have I discovered that there are several varieties wild passion fruit at the Bosque, some of which have no similarity to the ones posted on this blog. Maybe with the help of my expert readers, I'll learn more. The attached image is a wild passion fruit I photographed last year. I'm almost sure that it is the same species as the bright red flower I posted in December, 2006. It has been identified as P. glandulosa.