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The landscape of the surroundings of Alcantara departs significantly from that of Maranhao Island. Instead of the dense unbroken virgin forests, large fields unfold, in which isolated groves or shrubs are scattered. Elegant palm trees, sometimes armed with strong aculei, and soft piteiras agaves with tall flowering stalks, adorn the gentle slopes and edge the bushes. A number of streams, which communicate as if they were artificial canals, flow through this idyllic region to the sea, whose characteristic coastal mangrove vegetation extends far across the land along the banks. Here and there, these streams widen into large lagoons, whose abundance of fish occupies the activity of the neighboring Indians. It is not unusual to see the clear mirror of the waters surrounded by carpets of thick verdure, similar to those of European meadows, so inviting for

Etching 58 Waving meadows near Alcantara, Maranhao

walks. But only the unwary traveler steps on this green meadow, staggering in pits that spread far beneath his feet. The aruns (Caladium liniferum, Nees et M.), which lift their ivory trunks above the surface, shake off their large sagittal leaves,

Caladium or Philedendrum

and voracious alligators also emerge from the ground, stretching their hideous throats. Horrified, the traveler checks, and then finds himself on a vegetable bridge, slightly locked with the stalks and roots of perennial gramineae, which falter over an abyss of clear sweet water. These unique mimosa meadows are called trembling or rafting.


They probably form with the constant crevice of the plains, due to the pressure of the sea, whose ebb and flow is sensitive, even in the smallest branches of the sea, and further in, by the accumulation and eruption of underground springs. The abundance of springs, streams, rivers and lagoons, which go on from here, towards the equator and throughout the Amazon River, lend to all these areas a characteristic feature. Here, in meadows so profusely watered, the scorching sun of the drought months cannot pale the green of the vegetation; plant sap never ceases to circulate, and flowers and fruits follow each other almost regularly throughout most of the year. The woods grow, in this continuous blooming of the earth, to almost incredible height, and the meadows preserve the lush greenness of their sap. The indigenous denomination of these virgin meadows of the Maranhao is peri (plural perizes), whose correspondence with the beriberi, or savannas of Florida, deserves even the attention of philologists. This terrain extends from Alcantara in the north to the villages of Sao Joao de Cortes and Guimaraes, and surrounds Cuma Bay, which is why the whole district is called Pericuma. Besides the Turiacu River, which forms the border between the provinces of Maranhao and