March 31, 2009

Tipa Trees

I first noticed these crazy beautiful trees upon our arrival in Buenos Aires in November 2006. As we would walk underneath them we would get dripped on. It took me a while to figure out that it was these trees. I still don't know why they "spit" in the spring. It's a bit disconcerting when you first encounter it. The drops feel like water and not like sap, so either it's from the leaves or flowers or the sap that it is leaking is highly viscous. They only pretty much "leak" in the spring and early summer. I wonder if it has anything to do with their flowers.

The Tipa trees Tipuana tipu are native to Argentina, but not so much to Buenos Aires. In English they are called "Rosewood Trees". Sr. Carlos Thays planned the planting of trees throughout the city and mostly used native Argentine trees for the job. Tipa trees line many of the broad avenues where they grow full and broad - Av Bullrich, Av Las Heras, Av Alem and Paseo Colon for example. However, when they line narrower streets, like Honduras and others in Palermo, they tower and meet in the middle. You can imagine yourself inside a cathedral with high vaults and arches as the light streams through small openings, much like the stained glass.

These trees also remind me of the respiratory system in the lungs. The branches twist and turn as they grow as most trees do. However, they turn when they don't "have" to, at forks and so the branches are not straight at all. The dark brown trunks spread out and up and diminish as the branches, well, branch off. The dark wood contrasts intensely with the light green leaves, especially when they are backlit. The similarity to the respiratory system doesn't end just in appearance. If you think about it, trees are the lungs of the earth - inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. It is awfully nice of nature to make such beautiful "organs" of this body we call Earth. It's a shame that Sr. Thays never got to see his work as we see it now. He got the immediate joy of seeing his parks and gardens sculpted in place, but the trees that line the streets of Buenos Aires were small and nowhere full grown when he died in 1934. His legacy lives on in full glory. I'm glad he had such forethought.

Further reading in English and Spanish:

Tipa in Palermo (by blmurch)
Tipa in Palermo, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Greens (by blmurch)
Greens, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Congreso and the Tipas (by blmurch)
Congreso and the Tipas, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Snowfall of Tipa Flowers (by blmurch)
Snowfall of Tipa Flowers, originally uploaded by blmurch.

March 24, 2009

Julio Carlos Thays

Julio Carlos Thays was born in Paris, France on August 20, 1849. He studied landscape architecture under Édouard André. At the age of 40, in 1889, he was brought to Argentina at the request of Miguel Crisol to design Sarmiento Park in the city of Córdoba (second largest city in Argentina about 600 kms to the north-west of Buenos Aries). As happens with most travelers who come to Argentina, he fell in love with the country. He became a permanent resident and lived the rest of his life - until 1934 - in Argentina. He was given the position of the Director of Parks and Walkways of Buenos Aires and designed many of the parks and plazas around town. He also was responsible for bringing two of my favorite native trees of northern Argentina to Buenos Aires, the Jacaranda and Tipa trees. They line the streets and avenues, providing fresh air, shade, beauty and grace to the busy streets. I have a sneaking suspicion that he was also responsible for the introduction of the Plane trees, but I have no proof. I first saw them when I lived in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France and was happy to see them here.

Mr. Thays was responsible for the majority of the greenery you see here around town and has made a lasting impact. I know I'm not the only one who is enamored of the trees here in Buenos Aires. He remodeled many of the parks - Bosque de Palermo, Centenario, Lezama, Patricios, Barrancas de Belgrano and the plazas - Constitución, Congreso, and Mayo. His largest work was the creation of the National Park of Iguazu Falls. He worked on many others throughout southern Latin America, in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. I learned in my Spanish class that the Plaza del Congreso was built at the same time as the Avenida de Mayo which connects the Casa Rosada and Cabildo with the Congress and required the tearing down of whole city blocks of buildings to make way for the open space in front of the Congress Building.

The Botanical Garden is Mr. Thays's crowning glory and bears his name: Jardin Botanico Carlos Thays. He planted the historic Palo Borracho tree that greets visitors at the Plaza Italia entrance on September 7, 1898. This tree has since been filled in with cement to stop the spread of disease and preserve the trunk. It seems to have worked. I visited the garden in March with my in-laws when they came for a visit. It is a must for visitors and locals alike. The trees and other plants are beautiful, the signs are informative, the benches are mostly shady, the sculptures provide culture and knowledge and the cats create a wonderful ambiance. You can almost forget you are in the middle of a large metropolis, but not quite. We sat on a bench and shared a mate and drank in not only the bitter herb, but also the gorgeous first day of autumn.

Historic Palo Borracho Tree, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Jardin Botanico de Carlos Thays, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Further reading in English and Spanish:

March 6, 2009

Holding on to summer colors

The days of summer wane here in Buenos Aires. I am happy to report that the summer rains have come back. Enough, hopefully that the drought here might come to an end. Some of the Plane trees are starting to change color from green to light brown. The few bright bursts of color that do remain belong to the Jacarandas, Ceibos and Palo Borrachos. The pink blossoms of the Palo Borrachos hang limply and fall, covering the ground with their long pink petals. The occasional Jacaranda tree sports scattered purple bunches of flowers. The trees have gone from purple with a hint of green, to mostly green with a hint of purple. It appears that the bunches of flowers that are holding on are the at the ends of branches. Baby seed pods are starting to grow. The Ibirá Pitá and Tipa trees are green giants now with their dark and long brown trunks. Their yellow flowers have all fallen off. It doesn't seem that summer can almost be over, but the trees tell a different story.