The Return of the Guaimaro Tree

The Return of the Guaimaro Tree

Since 2011, Envol Vert, a French organization devoted to protecting biodiversity and forests throughout the world, has been working with Columbian farmers and villagers to resuscitate 20 tree species, most notably the endangered guaimaro tree.

The guaimaro (Brosmium alicastrum) is an evergreen that can grow anywhere from Mexico to Brazil and has consequently picked up a lot of names: Campeche, ramon, mewu, and ojoche. English-speakers call it the Maya nut. Throughout its range, the guaimaro has been able to adapt to different climates, altitudes, and soil conditions.

The tree is drought-tolerant and can live for around 100 years. During that time, it can grow to be 50 meters or 165 feet tall. It has taproots that sink deep into the earth so it can withstand hurricanes and even fires. According to scientists, the guaimaro will regrow after a fire.

The guaimaro’s fruit is an orange nut packed with nutrients. According to the director of Envol Vert, Daisy Tarrier, the guaimaro nut contains “as much protein as milk, four times more potassium than bananas, as much iron as spinach, four times more magnesium than kidney beans.”

Historically, the guaimaro nut was once a staple of the pre-Columbian diet and was essential and ubiquitous as corn. Deforestation, however, took its toll. Guaimaro trees were cut for use in building houses and making furniture and to clear land for crops and cattle ranching. As the number of trees dwindled, the indigenous peoples began to forget about them and their many uses.

Envol Vert has been working with 200 families to plant 30,000 trees, 6,000 of which are guaimaros. They have also held cooking workshops to teach people how to use the nuts. Guaimaro nuts are extremely versatile. They can be eaten raw, mashed like potatoes, or made into a soup or juice. Guaimaro nuts can also be grilled and then ground into a powder that tastes like chocolate coffee.

The tall trees provide shade, and goats and cattle can eat the leaves and fruit. Some indigenous cultures have used the sap as medicines. People in Peru, for example, use the sap to treat rheumatism.

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