#12 A maritime forest of viviparous trees, near Ubatuva
in the province of Sao Paulo
Latin translation by Ben Hennelly
When I was explaining etching #11, I had occasion to discuss the vegetation that forms the lowermost ring along the surface of the river. The vegetation which I am now preparing to discuss in detail holds the same position relative to the edge of the ocean itself; thus, you could say that, after the Thalassophytes proper, it occupies the bottommost station of Brazil.
And yet, this remarkable form of plant life has a place not only in Brazil, but is spread throughout almost all the shorelines within the bounds of the tropics, and in such a way that it presents the same appearance everywhere, though it does not consist of the same species everywhere. In that lowermost vegetation which lies along the Amazon River, and likewise along all the other major rivers of Brazil, we find a considerable diversity of plants, grasses, shrubs, bushes and trees.
The vegetation we are treating now comprises only a few species: Rhizophora Mangle (1), Avicennia nitida and Avicennia tomentosa, Conocarpus-erecta, Laguncularia racemosa and Bucida Buceras. They are not found in the earth, but put down roots in that thin mud -- white and not unlike smooth pottage -- which is cast onto low-lying shores by the ocean's waves and, because of the large mass of decaying organisms it carries with it, emits unpleasant odors. And so, rooted in this mud, they cover the ground with a dense belt of foliage that remains full and green through all the seasons of the year. Where no place is allowed for such a layer of muck on sandy shores covered with rocks and stones, this form of vegetation does not appear. For this reason, whoever approaches by ship can, from the presence of the vegetation, more or less form a conjecture as to the nature and character of the shores covered by it.
Whenever we catch sight, from a distance, of these maritime forests, which we might call Manglares or Manguesaes in the languages of the Spaniards and the Portuguese, they all generally match one another in that we find trees fifteen to forty-five feet tall, which seem to rise from the very waves of the ocean, and which so crowd and interconnect their branches and shoots -- densely covered with shiny, leathery leaves -- that you cannot find space a foot wide where the foliage is interrupted enough so that the ground of the shore lies visible behind it. Where the ground stretches into a deep plain, the forested belt of this kind altogether cuts off a farther view, and the European approaching tropical shores, for perhaps the first time, will observe nothing except the extreme licentiousness and the fullness of the greenery, but not at all that variety and loveliness of forms usually expected. In those places where the simple vegetation of the mangrove woods predominates, palms are not found, nor other magnificent plant forms (2).
Etching commentary #12