The Blue Macaw Syndrome

Last week we saw an official report by BirdLife International stating the extinction of the blue macaw in its original habitat. Although the bird is still alive in captivity, this was an announced tragedy.

When I was a kid in Brazil, the blue macaw was already endangered, and everyone knew about it. It was in Brazilian comic books, TV shows, news, over and over. That was 25+ years ago.

Back then the Amazon rainforest was the main worry, but overall nobody cared. Political scandals always had the upper hand when it came to the news in Brazil, and there was no shortage of those. spixsmacaw.jpg

Amidst the noise, in the shadows, corporate interest took advantage of the chaos. Anyone who worried about the environment was simply labelled “ecochato”, or “eco-lame” and put aside. More “vocal” individuals were silenced, sometimes by being publicly discredited, more often by plain and simple assassination.

Things got so out of hand that the Amazon rainforest became a global hot topic,  and international pressure demanded its protection. Outside of its territory, however, much deforestation happened since then, widespread, uncontrolled. It merely trickled down to the neighbouring Cerrado and Pantanal.

The extinction of the macaw (and three other bird species according to the report) in Brazil says a lot about the importance of the environment for Brazilian politics and the state of public misinformation there. Currently, 40% of the Brazilian Congress has ties with the agribusiness industry responsible for deforestation. Much of the Brazilian economy revolves around the agribusiness, so why would anyone lift a finger for the environment?

There are efforts on their way to re-introduce the macaw in specific spots of its original habitat. It’s a great thing on its own, but it doesn’t solve any of the habitat loss, nor does it include the other extinct species. It’s merely trying to keep a poster child for biodiversity in place, and who knows for how long considering the current state of affairs regarding climate change.

The way I see it, it’s sweeping a global problem under the rug. We have to blow the whistle on deforestation and bring attention to the macaw extinction as a symptom of a much larger disease called greed.

Shand Santos is the founder of Baru Baron

Ayahuasca and Baru

Hey everyone! We all know the baru tree is a very old species. But did you know shamanic ayahuasca ceremonies have been using the tree for thousands of years?

That’s right. Many indigenous groups in Bolivia consider the baru tree a “teacher” or “master” plant . They use its many parts as medicine, and add the baru bark in their brewing of ayahuasca for guidance. Baru thus plays an important role in their shamanic mythology.

Ayahuasca-ceremonies-Bolivia

An Ese’Ejja shaman and his daughter.

Even though baru is a savanna tree, it exists in Cerrado patches bordering the Amazon rainforest. This means the tree can be found in many places within walking distance to its Amazonian Dipteryx relatives, which are also considered “teacher” plants.

There the baru tree is known by names such as almendrillo, and as shihuahuaco and mawi by the Ese’Ejja people, for example. The Ese’Ejja are one of the tribes that take ayahuasca whenever an important decision has to be made by the group, and even the children drink it.

For those unfamiliar with it, ayahuasca or yagé is a brew made with a combination of a specific Amazonian vine and a leafy plant called chacruna. Shamanic ceremonies use the brew as a gateway to the spiritual world, and can have other plants added to the mix depending on the required guidance.

Ayahuasca has recently surfaced in the Western world as a potential treatment for chemical addiction and PTSD. Currently, several academic institutions research its therapeutic uses around the world.

Resources

Traditional knowledge hiding in plain sight – twenty-first century ethnobotany of the Chácobo in Beni, Bolivia

Cultura (cosmovision) y salud entre los Ese’Ejja

Ethnobotany of the Ese Eja: Plants, Change and Health in an Amazonian Society

Etnobotánica Cuantitativa de la Comunidad Nativa Infierno, Madre de Dios – Perú

Inventario de Recursos Curativos en Centros de Expendio Formales e Informales: Puerto Maldonado

The Origin of Baru’s Scientific Name

Hi everyone! Today we’re going to talk about the full scientific name of the baru tree: Dipteryx alata Vogel.

Scientific names tell a lot about the context of any given species’ discovery. They may look boring, but more often than not hide a lot of interesting facts about a species.

Dipterxy: this means “two wings” in latin (dis+pteryx) and it refers to the two upper lobes of the calyx of the flower, which look like two wings! It is expected in botanic taxonomy for the name to start with the genus the species belongs to. Dipteryx is a particularly small and primitive genus of Legume trees, with the most well-known species being Dipteryx odorata, also known as Tonka beans. All the flowers in this genus have particularly large “wings”!

Baru flower. Can you see the wings?

Alata: it means “winged”. It sounds redundant, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the shape of its flower. In fact, baru was first observed as an “airborne” species, in the sense that larger bats and birds carry the fruits around to eat them. This is a neat evolutionary trick to spread the seeds that many plants pull off. They evolved in synergy with certain flying animals, and bear attractive fruits to them, being dispersed over large areas. Other trees with this strategy are the almendro tree (another close relative of baru) and all sorts of berries.

Fruits can also be carried away exclusively by land animals, sometimes with the seeds activated and dispersed through ingestion. Other plants evolved aerodynamic pods or seeds that can be carried away by any strong wind.

Most often than not, trees evolve with multiple ways of spreading their seeds as far as possible. For example, flying animals carry baru fruits away. Then, rodents further disperse the dropped, partially eaten fruits.

Vogel: this is the original botanical discoverer, Julius Rudolph Theodor Vogel, a German botanist from Berlin. Vogel studied and described in depth a number of species brought from Brazil during the early 19th century, mainly Legumes. Curiously, around the same time, another German scientist named Vogel, from Munich and called August, discovered coumarin from the tonka bean.

So there you have it: the flower with wings, dispersed by animals with wings, described by a guy named Vogel. Ta-dah!

PS: Furthermore, a reader pointed out that Vogel means “bird” in German. Wings everywhere!

RESOURCES

A New Universal Etymological and Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language: Embracing All the Terms Used in Art, Science and Literature, Volume 1
By John Craig (F.G.S. of Glasgow.)

Morcegos passam a noite plantando no Cerrado. March 13, 2017.

Niger Flora; Or, An Enumeration of the Plants of Western Tropical Africa, Collected by the Late Dr. Theodore Vogel, Botanist to the Voyage of the Expedition Sent by Her Britannic Majesty to the River Niger in 1841, Under the Command of Capt. H. D. Trotter, R.N., &c: Including Spicilegia Gorgonea, by P. B. Webb, Esq., and Flora Nigritiana by Dr. J. D. Hooker … and George Bentham, Esq. with a Sketch of the Life of Dr. Vogel
edited by Sir William Jackson Hooker

Baru Milk

An incredibly easy recipe to do at home. You can use the leftover baru meal in oatmeal and smoothies, or dry it in a low oven for baked goods!

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