For hundreds of thousands of years, the distinctive candelabra shapes of Araucaria trees (Araucaria angustifolia) have defined landscapes at the southern edge of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. Humans have never known a world without these majestic evergreens. But my new research, conducted with colleagues in Brazil and Reading, suggests that their extinction could be just a generation or two away.
At a glance you might mistake Brazil’s Araucaria for its sister species, the monkey puzzle tree found in Chile and Argentina. But the two have inhabited South America as separate species for aeons, after diverging some 28m years ago. If you compressed those 28m years into 24 hours, North and South America wouldn’t become one land mass until 9.30pm. Humans wouldn’t appear until 11.45pm. These are truly ancient plants.
Araucaria trees have been revered for as long as humans have lived in southern Brazil’s highlands. Their starchy, nutrient-rich nuts (known as pinhão) underpinned the diets of indigenous groups before European arrival, especially in times of scarcity. MORE
Header image: An Araucaria juts out of Brazil’s misty Atlantic Forest. Credit: Douglas Scortegagna/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA.