Saturday, 27 February 2010

Urban survivor

A park in England is a wide open space for running and playing in the sun, picnicking, or just sitting and relaxing. A park in Brazil has just the same function, but everything is under a canopy of shading trees. The sun is to be escaped, not embraced, and for good reason. A UV index of 6-7 is ¨high risk", "very high risk" is 8-10, and extreme is 11+, this week much of Brazil was scorched yesterday with a UV level of 14!

But which tree to use in parks and pavements? It has to be tall, with a thick all year canopy. Fortunately, there was one already at hand in the mata atlantica, the oitizeiro (Licania tormentosa). Tall (over 20 m), tough, and long lived (100 years or more), the oitizeiro makes one of the best pavement trees. Even better, it is naturally drought tolerant, being found in the northern regions of the Mata, where the soil is dry and sandy. Living in a city street, exposed on all sides to the glare of the sun and your roots covered by concrete, is a draining experience.

The oitizeiro is not one of the prettiest of trees, lacking the brilliant orange flowers of the flamboyant for example, but it has a certain grandeur, and pale new leaves show up ornamentally against the dark foliage.

Traditionally, the leaves of countryside oitizeiros can be used as a medicinal tea, and the seeds are edible and rich in oil. It also has an excellent wood, useful for construction, which frankly is a bit of a liability - many of it's sister Licania species are nearing extinction from forestry. The oitizeiro however is flourishing, it now owns the streets where in past millenia it had to compete with dozens of rivals. Trees can grow tall and stretch out on all sides. From the oitizeiros point of view, it's not such a bad deal.


Anonymous said...

Very well written!

Naturalist on the Rio do Negro said...

Licania tomentosa, NOT tormentosa.
Also, check your use of it's versus its.
The content is very nice!