Phoenix tree

The guaimaro, a highly prized tree bearing nutritious fruit, once abundant throughout South America, is slowly being coaxed back from near extinction in Colombia.

Published: 22nd March 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd March 2018 03:14 AM   |  A+A-

The guaimaro, a highly prized tree bearing nutritious fruit, once abundant throughout South America, is slowly being coaxed back from near extinction in Colombia. The tree has phoenix-like qualities, scientists say, as it readily regrows after a fire

A crop as essential as corn

In Colombia’s northeastern Guajira region, new life is being breathed back into stocks of the beloved tree. Brosimum alicastrum, to give the tree its scientific name, grows from Mexico to Brazil. Depending on the country, it is known variously as ramon, campeche, ojoche, mewu or, in English, as maya nut. It was as essential to pre-Colombian civilization as corn, and still is for a number of indigenous communities. But its qualities have been forgotten by many farmers

Resistant to drought and hurricanes

Biologists have discovered the evergreen tree balances acidic soils, and even secretes the greenhouse gas carbon monoxide into the soil. Unlike most trees when they die, it never releases it into the atmosphere. It can grow to a height of 50 meters (165 feet), and its taproot sinks just as deep into the earth. That makes it very resistant to both drought and hurricanes

Feeding the demand for cocaine

But the lust for hardwoods for housebuilding and furniture-making, as well as deforestation to clear land for cattle breeding and for crops such as oil palms, has taken its toll—not to mention the effect of Colombia’s coca plantations to feed the demand for cocaine

A guaimaro will produce about 180 kilos of fruit a year across a lifespan of some 100 years. The fruit is consumed raw and in juices, soups or mashed like potatoes. It can even be grilled and ground to powder to make infusions, with the look and flavor of chocolate coffee
Indigenous communities use guaimaro sap for medicinal purposes: for asthma in Central America, anaemia in Mexico, or rheumatism in Peru

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