The velocity of the current being 6.3 feet in a second, we had to struggle against the turbulent waves of the Raudal. We went on shore, and M. Bonpland discovered within a few steps of the beach a majestic almendron, or Bertholletia excelsa. The Indians assured us, that the existence of this valuable plant of the banks of the Cassiquiare was unknown at San Francisco Solano, Vasiva, and Esmeralda.
It does not resemble the Mammee, the star-apple, and several other trees of the Tropics, of which the branches, as in the laurels of the temperate zone, rise straight toward the sky. The branches of the Bertholletia are open, very long, almost entirely bare toward the base, and loaded at their summits with tufts of very close foliage.
The Sapucaya is not less abundant, probably, than the Bertholletia, but its nuts in falling are scattered about and eaten by wild animals; whilst the full, whole capsules of Brazil-nuts are collected by the natives. What attracted us chiefly were the colossal trees.
For three months we had been living on nothing but poor chocolate and rice cooked in water, always without butter, and often without salt, when we procured a large quantity of the fresh fruits of the Bertholletia. It was along in June, and the natives had just gathered them."
We found in the village a few juvia-trees which furnish the triangular nuts called in Europe the almonds of the Amazon, or Brazil-nuts. We have made it known by the name of Bertholletia excelsa. The trees attain after eight years' growth the height of thirty feet.
Every one is acquainted with the hard-shelled, triangular fruit called the Brazil nut, but there are, perhaps, but few who know anything about the tree that produces it, or its mode of growth. The Brazil nut tree belongs to a genus of Lecythidaceæ of which there is only one species, Bertholletia excelsa. This tree is a native of Guiana, Venezuela, and Brazil.
That of South America Alexis had carefully observed and studied in their long journey across that continent. He had noted the grand tropical trees the palms and pothos plants the mimosas and musaceae the magnificent forms of the lombax and bertholletia the curious cecropias and fig-trees the giant cedrelas and the gum-yielding siphonias.
They did not think that the tree we saw, which was more than sixty feet high, had been sown by some passing traveller. Experiments made at San Carlos have shown how rare it is to succeed in causing the bertholletia to germinate, on account of its ligneous pericarp, and the oil contained in its nut which so readily becomes rancid.
Very few however, know anything of the tree which bears them, or how they are attached to the branches from which they are suspended. As it is a matter of such general interest to both old and young, I shall take the liberty of devoting a few moments to a brief description of this gigantic tree, which the botanist has named 'The Bertholletia Excelsa.
When we arrived at Esmeralda, the greater part of the Indians were returning from an excursion which they had made to the east, beyond the Rio Padamo, to gather juvias, or the fruit of the bertholletia, and the liana which yields the curare. Their return was celebrated by a festival, which is called in the mission la fiesta de las juvias, and which resembles our harvest-homes and vintage-feasts.