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Etching 13 Parasites from Martius's Flora Brasiliensis 1840. Thanks to Lehigh U., Special Collections ! Color by C. Miranda Chor

#13 Fleeting parasites, bane of great trees, in the province of Rio de Janeiro

Latin translation by Ben Hennelly

In describing Brazil's plant life, we have already often had occasion to speak about parasites -- that is, if we follow the common way of talking, about those plants which grow upon other plants. But in this etching #13, we have tried to display several remarkable plants of this kind right up under, as it were, our kind reader's eyes, and with such great skill that one might be able to judge clearly and distinctly concerning their forms. You see here the shore of what they call Ilha do governador, which, situated in the bay of Rio de Janeiro, excels in its varied, thriving plant growth; in an earlier time, for this reason, the hunt-loving royal family used to foster wild animals there. To the back, you will see the shore wrapped in thick forest -- from which several trunks of Euterpe edulis, that slender palm, rise up -- as well as in tall grasses. In front, to the left and in the middle, you see two trunks of Fici shooting up straight, covered with many parasites, while another tree is entirely veiled by an immense multitude of these plants and, oppressed by their weight, slopes obliquely to such a degree that it traverses the entire length of the illustration. 

This tree has already ceased thriving, its leaves have fallen away, its wood has already begun to rot. Nonetheless, it is thickly covered with parasites Philodendron undulatum, unknown photographer. Thanks to casaejardim.globo.com.brof different kinds, which find in it, as if in fertile soil, greater nutriment for growth. To the left side of this tree adheres a large plant of Philodendron undulatum, which, sending many roots up into the air, both has found several holds on the trunk itself and rests quite firmly on the soil. The vines that descend from the upper branches of the tree and have insinuated themselves into the earth, have over a long stretch produced neither leaves nor flowers. Although the genera to which these belong escape me, they should likely be assigned to the Menispermeae or Asclepiadeae. When you wound those two vines, or "lianas", which twisted together form a cord more than a thumb thick, they emit a thick, pungent, milky juice, such as Asclepiadeae quite often do. The bark of these lianas is fairly thick, corky, full of cracks, and whitish. A small Aracea, whose seed seems to have been brought here by a bird, has sprouted on this contorted liana and is stretching out its spear-shaped leaves. Next to the tree, from the rich humus that surrounds it below, grows the noteworthy fern, Diplazium Riedelianum.

The tree itself, which here, like a small botanical garden, is covered everywhere with epiphytes, supports a large clump of Philodendron cannaefolium on the arm of a root torn from the earth. The lowest part of this arm, which extends obliquely upwards, itself attests to the tenacious vitality for which tropical vegetation stands out. For desirous, as it were, of insinuating itself into the earth, it sent out an aerial root that, descending straight down and gradually gaining the soil, firmly fixed itself there; this sort of thing is observed rather infrequently, and here, as the tree was already ailing, clearly demonstrates the rapid rate of growth.A little higher, near the base of the trunk itself, a clump of Anthurium crassinervium spreads, whose leaves you would admire no less for their size (they are often, it is easy to see, five or six feet long), than for a leathery thickness and succulent greenness. Next to this most noble Aracea you will see another smaller one, Syngonium auritum (Caladium Vent.), which, with its copious foliage and the close-set windings of its stalk, binds and envelops the trunk in such a way that space is left for only one OrchideaCattleya guttata.

Cattleya guttata from Capt. George Cook's  Botanical Cabinet 1817. Thanks to  Lehigh U., Special Collections !

Cattleya guttata


Etching commentary #13