Central and South America

Araucaria bidwillii - Bunya-Bunya pine

Araucaria angustifolia - Para pine, Brazilian pine, Candelabra tree

Arecaceae, Jubaea chilensis

I came across this solitary Jubaea chilensis planted in a town near where I live. In the autumn it produces massive quantities of seed. The Jubaea chilensis palm has one of the most monumental trunks of any plant in this family. The thickest well - documented trunk was 66 inches in diameter. Of the more than 2,600 known species of palms. J. chilensis is the second most massive, exceeded only by the floodplain or river bottom variety of Borassus aethiopium. The round seeds resemble miniature coconuts, with an edible coco meat and liquid in the center.

I am currently trying to germinate 150 seeds collected 9 months ago.

A plant from Chile kills and eats sheep...

Puya chilensis, a temperate climate evergreen perennial and close relative to the comparatively tame pineapple, catches, kills and feeds off of relatively large mammals, including sheep.

P. chilensis doesn’t consume and digest plants by way of conventional carnivorous plant methods, but nonetheless, it will snag and trap a sheep in its masses of thorns, holding the animal until it dies of starvation, and then it will proceed to feed off nutrients supplied by the decomposing carcass.

The young leaf shoots of P. chilensis can be eaten by people. Baskets and such are made from strong fibers obtained from the leaves and stems of the plant.

Here is a short recent article on Puya chilensis, apparently a 10ft specimen has just bloomed for the first time at RHS Garden Wisely, in England. Cara Smith, a Horticulturist at Wisley had this to say about the rare occurrence:  “I’m really pleased that we’ve finally coaxed our Puya chilensis into flower. We keep it well fed with liquid fertilizer as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic. It’s growing in the arid section of our glasshouse with its deadly spines well out of reach of both children and sheep alike.”

So, needless to say, Puya chilensis is a great contender for privacy screening / security planting along boarders shared with pesky neighbors.

Here are some photo I have posted previously of a very close relative to Puya chilensis, Puya berteroniana, spectacular in its own regard for its massive aquamarine/blue and orange flower spikes.

Fouquieriaceae, Fouquieria diguetii, Palo Adan, Adam's Tree

This is a somewhat unique, tree-like shrub, with a short trunk and numerous branches growing upright. When in bloom this species has a spectacular reddish-pink bloom, very bright and in stark contrast to the desertscape. Reportedly the bark is stripped and cooked and used to wash cuts.

Palo Adan, leafing out

Palo Adan, leafing out

Palo Adan, leaf

Palo Adan, leaf

Palo Adan

Palo Adan

Palo Adan, bark detail

Palo Adan, bark detail

Crataegus mexicana - Mexican hawthorn

Crategeus mexicana fruit

I encountered this Mexican hawthorn tree at the Gold Ridge Experimental Farm in Sebastopol, CA - Luther Burbank’s former laboratory. Although much of the acreage has long been converted to housing development and only a small tract of the former farm remains, there are some interesting trees surviving. One area I return to whenever I visit is the small group of Cratageus species in the back where a few species, including C. mexicana, are still thriving.

Compared to the Chinese Hawthorn, C. pinnatifida, the Mexican hawthorn tastes much better out of hand and has an interesting aroma, reminiscent of some obscure tropical fruit or synthetic bubblegum.

The fruit of Crategeus mexicana is eaten in Mexico cooked, raw, or canned. It resembles a crabapple, but it has three or sometimes more brown hard stones in the center. It is a main ingredient used in ponche, the traditional Mexican hot fruit punch that is served at Christmas time and on New Year's Eve. On Dia de los Muertos tejocote fruit as well as candy prepared from them are used as offerings to the dead, and rosaries made of the fruit are part of altar decorations. A mixture of tejocote paste, sugar, and chili powder produces a popular Mexican candy called rielitos, because it resembles a tiny train rail.

In some parts of Mexico, tejecote is taken for treating flu and cough, and also to prevent several cardiovascular diseases.

Due to its high pectin content, the fruit is industrially processed to extract pectin for the food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, textile and metal industries.

Other uses include food for livestock (for which the leaves and fruits are used) and traditional medicinal uses; a Mexican hawthorn root infusion is used as a diuretic and as a remedy for diarrhea and fruit-based preparations are a remedy for coughing and several heart conditions.

The Mexican hawthorn tree's wood is hard and compact, it is good for making tool handles as well as for firewood.

Bursera microphylla - Torote, Torote Colorado, Elephant tree

bursera-microphylla-in-arroyo.jpg

Pouteria sapota - mamey sapote

Originating in Central America, Mamey has become common in the throughout Caribbean, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. It is widely cultivated in the American tropics, sold in produce markets and, to a lesser extent, supermarkets. Historical records indicate that the Mamey served as the principal source of food for Cortez and his soldiers during their march to Honduras in 1524. The fruit was a very important food source for the Mayan and Aztec civilizations.

Depending on weather it is grown from seed or grafted, and depending on the variety, the Mamey tree can take on a variety of forms. Larger seedling varieties can grow up to 30 m tall, grafted trees can be managed at a relatively low height. The fruit is large, 10 – 20 cm long, either round or oblong with a thick, rough peel. The bright reddish pulp surrounds a large shiny seed. The photos below show an exceptionally large fruit, the largest I have ever seen.

Good Mamey varieties can be very sweet and aromatic, eaten fresh, or used in fruit drinks and ice creams. In Central America the large seed kernel is traditionally toasted and ground with cacao to make a hot beverage. Medicinal properties are attributed to both the fruit and the seed. The fruit is rich in carbohydrates, vitamin A and C, calcium and phosphorous.

Justicia pectoralis - Tilo, piri piri (South America), Chapantye (Cuba)

Justicia pectoralis is a low growing, branching sprawling shrub, can grow up to 3 ft. It has small lanceolate leaves and violet flowers, similar in appearance to those of snapdragons.

In areas of the Central American Caribbean coast it is considered to have aphrodisiac properties. The entire plant is dried in the sun and made into a powder before being used. Notably, the powder is effective only when it is taken via the nasal membranes, (as snuff), or smoked (in conjunction with Cannabis sativa). In South America one variety, Justicia pectoralis var. stenophylla, is used to produce psychedelic experiences or used as an additive in ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi). The plant contains psychedelically active tryptamines. A “tilo tea” is commonly seen sold in supermarkets, it has anti-inflammatory and relaxant effects.

Justicia pectoralis leaf.jpg