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Etching 10 Catinga from Martius's Flora Brasiliensis 1840. Thanks to Lehigh U., Special Collections ! Color by C. Miranda Chor

#10 A forest leafless because of the heat, which they call Caatinga, in the southern desert of the province of Bahia

Latin translation by Ben Hennelly

Not at all unjustly do they contend that the great excellence of the tropical sky is that the vegetation which flourishes under it is never lulled or blunted by that winter sleep, as generally happens throughout the greatest part of Europe, but rather with no delay or interval it pushes forward its sap without rest; for this reason not only is the earth carpeted with a pleasing and constant covering of greenery, but also flowers and fruit succeed one another without stop; indeed they oftentimes even come forth at one and the same time. And even if this can be observed generally within the bounds of the tropics in a number of places, nonetheless it is conspicuous only where the rain is frequent and mixed by some law alternately with the dryness of the air, or where a great abundance of snow falls, or where the earth is watered by a numerous richness of lakes and rivers, and not enveloped by air that is too dry. For Theophratus wrote correctly in Natural History of Plants VIII: "The mixture of the air and the general conditions throughout the year contribute very greatly to growth and nourishment. For when rains and mild weather and winters all come at their appropriate times, then all plants prosper and bear much fruit, even if they are in salty and thinly soiled places." For this reason we must think that water, of which Pindar has said, "water is the greatest thing", is the benefactor which most greatly aids and fosters the growth of plants.

It is known that water, which like heat contains within itself an amazing incitement to life, is equally endowed with carbonic and ammoniac acid among those things that especially nourish plants and further their prospering. In many parts of tropical Brazil there is generally a plentiful abundance of water; and it is not surprising that we see that land adorned with vegetation so opulent, so even, and so unbroken. But where the necessary quantity of moisture is lacking even those plants languish which are exposed to the tropical sun. That vegetation does not there rise to the strength and height of first-rank forest; it does not attain the sappy fullness of the fields which in other parts fill the regions with sweetness, but rather the plants are much smaller and drier and do not bear a continual greeness of foliage. Instead of forests of the first rank, in the arid regions that lack moisture there are either lesser forests, deprived of their leaves during the dry season of the year, or a particular sort of dense shrubs, from which only here and there a tree rises up. Desert and sandy areas take the place of the meadows; these are so far from being wrapped with a close blanket of grasses and shooting plants that only in scattered places do they bear single clumps of grass or isolated bushes or meagre shrubs of plants generally furnished with small leaves.

For this reason it can be maintained that in the dry, unwatered regions an altogether different and peculiar form of vegetation is conspicuous, which matches the great diversity of the first rank forests, but differs much from their make-up with regard both to overall appearance and to the nature of the plants which they hold. The woods of this sort, while they are deprived of the covering of their foliage, offer the outlines of each and every tree, and even from afar a bird sitting among their branches can be spotted. Through the dry months, since they are without leaves, they lack shade and from between the branches the sun burns the traveller who is looking in vain for shady cool. For this reason the people of the Tupinambazes tribe call those woods by the name of Caa-tinga, that is, "the sun-lit forests", which word has been corrupted by the Brazilians, and is spoken and written, Catinga.

Etching commentary #10