Trees of South America
Chile Pine or Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana)
The monkey puzzle is a very striking tree which is native to central Chile. The tree has horizontal branches and occurs naturally in sub-tropical regions of South America and the islands of Oceania. The Chile pines are valued for their excellent quality wood which is used for building. The rather large seeds can be served as food. The Monkey puzzle is an evergreen tree growing to 40 m (132 feet) tall and 2 m (7 feet) trunk diameter. Because of the species’ great age it is sometimes described as a living fossil. This tree is the national tree of Chile.
The leaves are thick, tough and scale-like, triangular, 3-4 cm long (1.5 inches), 1-3 cm (0.7 inches) broad at the razor-sharp edges and tip. The cones disintegrate at maturity to release the 3-4 cm long nut-like seeds, which are then dispersed by jays and squirrels. Its native habitat is the lower slopes of the Chilean and Argentinean south-central Andes, typically above 1000 m (0.6 miles), in regions with heavy snowfall in winter.
The floss silk tree (Ceiba speciosa, formerly Chorisia speciosa)
The floss silk is a species of deciduous tree native to the tropical and subtropical forests of South America. It has a host of local common names, such as palo borracho (in Spanish literally “drunken tree”). It belongs to the same family as the baobab and the kapok. The natural habitat of the floss silk tree is the north-east of Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil. It is resistant to drought and moderate cold. It grows fast in spurts when water is abundant, and sometimes reaches more than 25 m (82 feet) in height. Its trunk is bottle shaped, generally bulging in its lower third, measuring up to 2 m (6.5 feet) in girth. It is studded with thick conical prickles which serve to store water for dry times. In younger trees, the trunk is green due to its high chlorophyll content, which makes it capable of performing photosynthesis when leaves are absent and with age it turns to grey.
The branches tend to be horizontal and are also covered with prickles. The flowers are creamy-whitish in the center and pink towards the tips of their five petals. They measure 10-15 cm (4 – 6 inches) in diameter and their shape is not unlike hibiscus flowers. Their nectar is known to attract insects such as monarch butterflies, which perform pollination.
Flamboyant (Delonix regia)
The flamboyant is a species of flowering plant from the Fabaceae family, noted for its fern-like leaves and flamboyant display of flowers. It is often grown as an ornamental tree. In addition to its ornamental value, it is also a useful shade tree in tropical conditions as it usually grows to a modest height typically around 5 m (16 feet), though it can reach as high as 12 m (40 feet). It spreads widely, and its dense foliage provides full shade. In areas with a marked dry season it sheds its leaves during drought, but in other areas it is virtually evergreen. The tree’s vivid red/vermilion/orange/yellow flowers and bright green foliage make it an exceptionally striking sight.
Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis)
The rubber tree is a tree belonging to the family Euphorbiaceae and the most economically important member of the genus Hevea. It is of economic importance because its sap-like extract (known as latex) can be collected and is the primary source of natural rubber. The tree can reach a height of over 30m (98.4 feet). The white or yellow latex occurs in latex vessels in the bark. Once the trees are 5-6 years old the harvest can begin: incisions are made perpendicular to the latex vessels, just deep enough to tap the vessels without harming the tree’s growth and the sap is collected in small buckets. This process is known as rubber tapping. Older trees yield more latex, but they stop producing after 26-30 years. The Pará rubber tree initially grew only in the Amazon Rainforest but can now be found through out Brazil.
Logwood – (Haematoxylum campechianum)
Logwood is a tree in the legume family that has been and to a degree remains of great economic importance. It grows throughout Central America and even led to the founding of the modern nation of Belize, which grew from British logging camps of the 17th century. The tree’s scientific name means “bloodwood” (haima being Greek for blood and xulon for wood). In fact, the name “logwood” is also used for many other species, such as the Spiny logwood and White logwood, though they are not true logwoods but really belong to the genus Xylosma.
Logwood was used for a long time as a natural source of dye, and still remains an important source of haematoxylin which is used in histology for staining. The bark and leaves are also used in various medical preparations. In its time, Logwood was considered a versatile dye, and was widely used on textiles as well as for paper. The dye’s colour depends on the mordant used as well as the PH. It is reddish in acidic environments but bluish in alkaline ones.
Jacaranda is a genus of 49 species of flowering plants in the family Bignoniaceae; native to tropical and subtropical regions of South and Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean; the genus name is also used as the common name.
This tree is now found in many parts of the world, such as Mexico, South Africa and even Zimbabwe. The blooming of this tree is welcomed as a sign of spring.
The species range from shrubs to large trees and grow from 2 to 30 m (7 – 100 feet) tall. The flowers are produced in conspicuous large panicles, each flower with a five-lobed blue to purple-blue corolla; a few of the species have white flowers. The fruit is an oblong to oval flattened capsule containing numerous slender seeds.
Mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in saline coastal habitats in the tropics and subtropics. The word is used in at least three senses: (1) most broadly to refer to the habitat and entire plant assemblage or mangal, for which the terms mangrove swamp and mangrove forest are also used, (2) to refer to all trees and large shrubs in the mangal, and (3) narrowly to refer to the mangrove family of plants, or even more specifically just to mangrove trees. Mangals are found in depositional coastal environments where fine sediments often with high organic content collect in areas protected from high energy wave action. A mangrove is a plant and mangal is a plant community and habitat where mangroves thrive.
As they are found in tropical and sub-tropical tidal areas, they have a high degree of salinity. Areas where mangals occur include estuaries and marine shorelines. Once established, roots of mangrove plants provide a habitat for oysters and help to impede water flow, thereby enhancing the deposition of sediment in areas where it is already occurring. Usually the fine, anoxic sediments under mangroves act as sinks for a variety of heavy (trace) metals which are scavenged from the overlying seawater by colloidal particles in the sediments. In areas of the world where mangroves have been removed for development purposes, the disturbance of these underlying sediments often creates problems of trace metal contamination of seawater and biota.
Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni)
Mahogany has a generally straight grain and is usually free of voids and pockets. It has a reddish-brown colour which darkens over time, and displays a beautiful reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability and is very durable and slow to rot. These properties make it a favourable wood for boat making, as tradition has shown, as well as for making furniture (such as Chippendale), musical instruments, and other durable objects. Mahogany is a very popular material for drum making, because of its great integrity and capability to produce a very dark, warm tone compared to other more common wood types like maple or birch. The famous Beatles sound of the 60s was made with Ludwig Drums in mahogany shells. Today, several drum manufacturers have rediscovered the features of mahogany shells, resulting in several high end manufacturers offering shells made in this wood.
Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia)
Rosewood is a large genus of small to medium-size trees, shrubs and lianas in the pea family. The genus has a wide distribution, native to the tropical regions of Central and South America, Africa, Madagascar and southern Asia. The size of the genus is disputed, with different authorities citing between 100-600 species. Many species of Dalbergia are important timber trees, valued for their decorative and often fragrant wood, rich in aromatic oils. The most famous of these are the rosewoods, so-named because of the smell. It is threatened by habitat loss, since most of its habitat has been converted to farmland. Due to its endangered status, it is CITES-listed, and illegal to trade.
As with other kinds of rosewood, this timber is very hard and dense. It is used for flooring, and for building furniture and musical instruments. It is also used for turnery such as wooden chess sets, bowls, platters, candlesticks, etc.
Cockspur Coral Tree (Erythrina crista-galli)
Cockspur is a flowering tree and is native to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay. It is widely planted as a street or garden tree in other countries, most notably in California (in the United States). It is known by several common names within South America: ceibo, seíbo and bucaré, to name a few. In English it is often known as the Cockspur Coral Tree.
The tree’s flower is the national flower of Argentina and Uruguay. It is also the official city tree of Los Angeles, California (where it is referred to simply as “the coral tree”).
This species characteristically grows wild in gallery forest ecosystems along water courses, as well as in swamps and wetlands. In urban settings it is often planted in parks for its bright red flowers. The cockspur coral is a small tree, the girth of its trunk measuring 50 cm. Normally it grows 5–8 meters (16 – 26 feet) tall, although some, such as in the Argentine provinces of Salta, Jujuy and Tucumán, can grow up to 10 m (32 feet). The flowers are rich in nectar and get visited by insects, which pollinate them. They are also popular with Hummingbirds.