One of my favourite trees is the Parana Pine, Araucaria angustifolia, This tree, also known commonly as the candelabra tree or Brazilian pine, grows in an area extending from southern Brazil into Paraguay and northern Argentina. Although referred to as pine tree it, as a member of the Araucariaceae family, is in fact not a pine (Pinaceae family) though both families are of the order Pinales so are distant cousins.
I love the stateliness and splendour of the tree. It is tall and solid with gracefully spread branches that gives rise to one if its common names - the candelabra tree - its long branches are generally bowed and support, at the end, what appears to be a ball of leaves. This gives rise to simple caricatures of the tree as emblems or simple decorations.
The trees are critically endangered having been cleared in many areas to turn land over to other uses, while the harvesting of its pine nuts has reduced natural replacement as opportunities to germinate have been significantly reduced.
It is quite common to see bromeliads, mosses and lichens growing on the tree, while ovenbirds (Horneros) use the branches as the foundation on which to construct their mud/clay nests.
Many towns in the south of Brazil (i.e. the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Parana) have these trees growing singly or in small groups within parks and gardens of urban areas, in addition to having small araucaria forests in rural areas. There is a town called Araucaria near the Parana capital of Curitiba.
During the cold autumn months one can find roadside stalls with small fragrant, smokey wooden fires topped by steaming aluminium pots, selling whole cones, sacks of unripe nuts and boiled nuts ready to eat. The term "cone" is perhaps a misnomer since Araucaria angustifolia cones are large and ball-shape about the size of a football.
Pine nuts are not to everyones taste but in this part of the world many towns have small fairs to celebrate the nut harvest - served freshly boiled, opened either by a firm bite the proficiency of doing so being gained in practice, or by using a specially moulded squeezer, and accompanied by hot, sweet mulled wine made of the region's grapes.
While I enjoy the nuts I prefer the tree as a symbol of ancient forest. Sad if we should see them disappear from this planet of ours. They have survived certainly since the Jurassic period when they were probably a source of food for long-necked dinosaurs. The trees are now limited in range and hence their future looks unfortunately bleak.