Can We Save the Candelabra Tree?


AT ONE time southern Brazil was covered with pine trees. Their resemblance to a branched candlestick earned one species the name “candelabra tree.” It is also known as the Paraná pine and the Brazilian pine.

The cones that hang from the candelabra tree are bigger than grapefruits, some weighing ten pounds [5 kg]. One cone may contain up to 150 seeds, called pinhões in Portuguese. When the cone is ripe, it bursts open with a loud crack, and the seeds spill out.

Humans, birds, and animals eat the seeds, which smell and taste like chestnuts. At one time pinhões—a good source of protein and calcium—formed the staple diet of some indigenous tribes in southern Brazil. The seeds are still used today. For example, in Brazil’s Santa Catarina State, they are found in regional dishes, such as paçoca de pinhão (crushed pinhões).

The sun began to set on the candelabra tree when 18th-century European settlers saw its potential for wood. Soon, candelabra trees were being chopped down to build houses or were simply cleared away to make room for cornfields and vineyards. Over time, more trees were cut down than were planted. Now, only a few scattered patches of forest are left. Consequently, the value of the candelabra tree has risen sharply. “Pine is no longer wood,” remarked a man who has been processing candelabra timber for 50 years. “It is gold.”

Researchers say that if it were not for the azure jay, the candelabra would be extinct. This restless bird feeds on the seeds of the candelabra tree, storing some in moss and dead tree ferns. A number of these seeds later germinate. In a sense, then, the azure jay is a busy planter of candelabra trees! Sadly, though, the number of azure jays is declining because of the destruction of the pine forests.

Some logging companies have now begun to conserve small tracts of forest and also to replant the candelabra in parts of southern Brazil. Perhaps this means that the sun will continue to rise on the candelabra tree.

[Pictures on page 11]

Each cone contains up to 150 “pinhões”

[Credit Line]

Tree and cones: Marcos Castelani