Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cecropia trees

Cecropia trees are so abundant people often ask if they are planted commercially. The one in the attached image found its way to my neighbor's home in the city. It's on stage right next to my bedroom window, which makes for a nice foreground view with the meeting of the Amazon and Tapajós Rivers in the background. Called embaiuba locally and “trumpet tree” in English, they are easily recognized because they remind people of a birch tree, at least from a distance. They are tall thin white-barked trees with high crowns, adorned with a “hand-spread” of large leaves. More than one hundred species exist in the tropics, but I find the ones on the floodplain unique in that the undersides of the leaves shine silver/white when hit by sunlight. Many an overturned cecropia leaf has been mistaken from afar for a “white bird”. Cecropia are pioneer trees, which means they are among the first to pop up after an area has met the right soil and sunlight conditions. In the case of high forest, the change might have come about due to the falling of a large tree, lightening burns, or logging. On the floodplain, whole islands of cecropia are formed after fast moving currents raze other vegetation. Aside from being a pioneer, it is also classified as an “ant-plant”, meaning that it harbors untold numbers of tiny, but vicious, Azteca ants in its hollow trunks and stems. All you need to do is to bump into the tree to bring them out in defense of their home. You will seldom ever find a vine making its way up into the crown of the cecropia tree. The ants keep them pruned back. Birds enjoy cecropia seeds (long finger-like fruit, called catkins) and the sloth has a way of ignoring the ants as he munches away at the tender leaves. Excerpt from my book, Santarém - Riverboat Town, A Gringo's Own Account of Tourism on the Brazilian Amazon and Tapajós Rivers.

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