A whisper from the woods

Pau Brazil, an endangered species from Brazil

Dec 11, 2023

In today’s article, Imam Maiyaki wanted to tell us about an endangered species original to Brazil – the Paubrasilia echinata.

In recent years, the concept of biodiversity loss has made its way to the public sphere. The loss of biological diversity is associated with five main drivers – habitat destruction, overexploitation, climate change, invasive species, and pollution.

We will see in the following article that the case with Pau Brazil is linked to overexploitation.

If you wish to learn more about biodiversity and its importance, read this article from our education section.

For now, let’s learn more about Pau Brazil.

Paubrasilia echinata is a species of flowering plant in the legume family (the same family of our known and loved beans, peas and lentils), that is endemic to the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.

It is commonly known as pernambuco wood or brazilwood and it is considered a national symbol in Brazil.

This plant has dense, orange-red heartwood and it is the premier wood used for making bows for stringed instruments. From this species, a historically important red dye called brazilin is also extracted. For centuries, the great music of violins, violas, and cellos has relied on wood from this majestic tree found only in Brazil. It is the only material from which a bow maker can create a top-quality stringed instrument bow, prized for its flexibility, resonance, and beauty. Before the creation of synthetic dyes in the 1800’s, Europeans used to import Pau Brasil trees for a pigment in its wood that made exceptional fiery-red dye.

 

Excessive Harvesting

The number of brazilwood trees rapidly decreased in the 18th century, due to unsustainable stock management and excessive harvesting. As a result, the economic activity relying on the availability of hardwood species collapsed.

Today, brazilwood trees occupy a significantly reduced area, when compared to their original range, being listed as an endangered species on both the IUCN Red List and the list of endangered species of Brazil.

 

Restoration Efforts

Restoring this species has proven challenging because it develops best only when planted amongst secondary forest vegetation.

Many saplings have been distributed and sold in recent decades, but these were generally planted outside the species’ natural range, unfortunately leading to somewhat poor results.

The good news is, that bowmakers in Europe and North America have acknowledged the importance of the species and are now at the forefront of promoting Pau Brasil conservation and reforestation. The International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative (IPCI), comprised of bowmakers who rely on Pernambuco for their livelihoods, is working to reestablish the species.

 

This is the largest Pau Brazil tree in the country, found in Itamaraju by a local.
The tree is 600 years old and has a diameter of 7.13 meters. | Image from pradoonline.com

 

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