The Amazon rainforests contain majestic canopy trees. Here are some of the most significant members of this arboreal community.
The giant mahogany bears the scientific name Swietenia macrophylla. It can grow more than 40 meters high if no one cuts it down prematurely. It is native not only in Brazil , but in many tropical countries of Central and South America, as well as several Caribbean islands. The flag of Belize features a stylized mahogany tree on a coat of arms.
The giant mahogany belongs to the family Meliaceae, which includes Melia azedarach, the chinaberry. Members of this family grow mostly in the tropics. Cedrela, another genus in this family, may become a source of confusion. It is called a Spanish cedar, but it bears no relationship to the cedars of Lebanon or any other cedar that grows in temperate climates.
Mahogany possesses an attractive reddish wood which has been exploited commercially. It is not native to Asia , but has been introduced for commercial purpose. In herbal medicine, mahogany seeds are used as a remedy for poor blood circulation and other conditions.
Silk Cotton Tree
Ceiba pentandra, the silk cotton tree or kapok tree, rivals the giant mahogany in height. The Ceiba Foundation even claims that they grow up to 60 meters high in the forests of the Amazon. Other sources attribute an even greater height to this majestic tree. However, tree height hard to measure, especially since they keep growing. Besides, exaggerations tend to occur in literature.
Scientists have not always agreed on its taxonomy. Some assign it to the genus Bombax instead of Ceiba. In addition, some taxonomists have placed it in a separate family called Bombacaceae, while others unite it with the marshmallow plant in the family Malvaceae.
Kapok sometimes serves as stuffing for pillows and toys. It comes from the silky fiber attached to the seeds of Ceiba pentandra. The seeds themselves are serviceable for making soaps. The light ceiba wood makes excellent canoes. It is also used for plywood and as pulp to make paper.
To the Mayans of Central America, the Ceiba was Yaxche, a sacred tree that had its roots in Xibalba, the realm of the dead, and grew aloft till it reached the heavens.
Dipteryx odorata also grows to great height in the rainforests of the Amazon. It is popularly called Cumaru or Brazilian teak, not to be confused with Tectona grandis, the true teak tree. Its seeds are called tonka beans, not to be confused with toy trucks of the same name.
Cumaru belongs to the pea family Leguminosae, which has been divided up in recent classification systems. Taxonomists now place Cumaru in one of these branches called Fabaceae.
As the name implies, Cumaru seeds contain an aromatic chemical called coumarin. Because of its appealing fragrance and flavor, cumaru extract seemed to be a suitable substitute for vanilla and a likely candidate for use in perfumes.. However, potential damage to the liver has curtained its use in foods.
Most members of the pea family have pods containing a number of seeds, but the cumaru pod has only one seed. This makes its fruit look superficially like an almond. In fact, another common name for this tree is almendro, which means “almond tree” in Spanish.
Like giant mahogany and the ceiba, cumaru is an excellent timber tree. However, it is better to let them alone, so that they can continue to wave their leafy heads in the Amazonian sky.