The Legacy of a Rosewood Tree

July 09, 2012

June 26, 2012

I met our three new forest crew members right after breakfast and gave them a quick overview of latitude and longitude and how a GPS device uses signals from multiple satellites to fix a precise position on the globe. We piled into Oscar’s boat and motored for an hour up the Yaguasyacu River past the village of Ancon Colonia to a small opening on the right bank. When Oscar’s family came here from the Rio Algodon around 1945, they brought several rosewood tree seedlings with them which they planted in their new front yard. One of the baby trees survived and provided years of pleasant aroma around their home. When Oscar’s family moved to the larger village of Brillo Nuevo so their kids could attend its school, it was understood that he retained rights to this tree at the old site. When Robin van Loon from Camino Verde discussed the possible rosewood reforestation project with people during his visit to Brillo Nuevo last November, it stimulated Oscar’s interest in his family’s old tree. He collected half a dozen seedlings growing near it and planted them in one his fields – perhaps starting another generation of this wonderful tree for the next generation of his family.

Oscar's rosewood tree

Oscar’s rosewood tree. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Our mission today was to collect some leaves from the sixty-five year old tree and two other aromatic trees for our first leaf distillation trials. We reached this legacy rosewood after a twenty-minute from through the forest. It had a big chunk missing from its base that someone from Colonia had apparently hacked out to make a piece of furniture, but it had healed well enough.

Juan Nepire climbing with pato de loro

Juan Nepire climbing with pato de loro. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Juan donned the climbing harness and fitted one of the claw-like set of climbing spikes to each of his feet. He made steady progress up a foot wide tree near the rosewood since its trunk was too large near the ground to climb directly with these “pato de loro” (parrots’s feet) spikes. When Juan was barely visible in the lower canopy, he hoisted up the pruning head with four aluminum tube sections on a rope that Dennis and Teobaldo had assembled on the ground. Unfortunately when he extended the long pole straight toward the nearest rosewood branch, it bent downward and then buckled under the weight.

Pointing to rosewood branch above

Pointing to rosewood branch above. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

In the second attempt, the guys laid a long wooden pole into the crux of the rosewood’s first major branch. Juan scurried up there, but he still couldn’t use the spikes to climb any higher. A third attempt to climb another nearby tree also failed. We stood around for a while wondering if we had been stumped, when Dennis noticed that a big rosewood branch barely visible above a dense chambira palm was well within range of the only other climbable tree within five meters.

Yully Rojas weighing rosewood leaves

Yully Rojas weighing rosewood leaves. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Teobaldo took his turn with the tree spikes, and we were in business. He snipped off seven branches, and the guys stuffed just over five kilos of leaves and little branches into a big produce bag. The cut branches had a wonderful scent. With Teobaldo back on the ground and the gear repacked, each of the guys dug up one rosewood seedling with their machete and wrapped its earthy root ball with leaves and chord from a handy vine.

Yully and Teobaldo sniffing rosewood branches

Yully Rojas and Teobaldo Vasquez sniffing rosewood branches. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

We hiked back to the boat with our prizes and motored almost all the way back to Brillo Nuevo with frequent sights of bright blue morpho butterflies darting across the river. We got out at a little opening in the forest and began hiking again. This was a more serious trek for me. I kept up well as Dennis ducked under and over fallen trunks across the path in front of me, but I temporarily fell behind almost all of the seven times we crossed a stream. The guys walked across narrow and/or slippery log bridges laid across these points without breaking stride. I took every step with care and sometimes grasped a nearby pole stuck into the bottom to reduce my risk of falling into the rocky stream with my camera gear.

bee on fuzzy leaf

Bee on fuzzy leaf. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

About an hour later we reached the Chiricles stream survey plot with our first target copal tree. This was a relatively easy tree for Juan to climb, but he could only harvest about three kilos of leaves from his most accessible perch. We hiked onto the next plot which had another copal tree and canela (cinnamon) moena tree within three meters of each other. While it was well known that fragrant oil could be extracted from rosewood (it was in fact almost wiped out when whole trees were harvested to make this product), there are many other aromatic species in its (Lauraceae) family as well. We wanted to distill leaves from some of these in the Ampiyacu area to see if they and well as select copal tree leaves could also yield a marketable fragrant oil.

Campbell having lunch in the forest

Campbell having lunch in the forest. Photo by Yully Rojas/CACE

Before getting back to work, we had a lunch of tuna fish with crackers and fariña eaten from instant organic leaf bowls. Juan ascended a tree from which he thought he’d be able to harvest leaves from both a nearby copal and neighboring canela moena tree. He was thwarted this time, not by lack of access, but because he encountered a large active large wasp nest twenty meters up the trunk he was climbing.
Teobaldo and Juan bagging canela moena leaves

Teobaldo and Juan bagging canela moena leaves. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Dennis made his first attempt to climb with the harness and the “pato de loro.” He struggled to get his knees into the right position and couldn’t quite get the spurs to pinch securely into the trunk. Mastering this skill clearly took time, but I wondered if Dennis just might not be one of the better Bora climbers. This absurd notion was dispelled when he shed the spikes, wrapped his arms and legs around the trunk and free-climbed 40 feet up in about 30 seconds. Teobaldo made it up a trunk near the canela moena with equal facility so just as the toucans starting whistling in their late afternoon serenade, we headed back to the river with two bags full of leaves ready to distill the next day.

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