December 21, 2009

Welcome Garden

People and plants in the patio, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Centro Cultural Recoleta in conjunction with the French Embassy and Curator Sonia Berjman put together a beautiful and thorough exhibit on Parks Master Carlos Thays. It ran from the beginning of November through to the beginning of December. I was only able to go twice towards the end of the run, but I am so glad I went.

There were four different sections to the exhibit.

You walked into the first: the Jardín de Bienvendia through heavy plastic strips covering the doorway and were immediately struck by the full patio. Flowering plants covered the sides and climbed up the walls and a large net covered the whole area. This net kept the hundreds of butterflies from escaping. They flitted around, drinking from humming bird feeders, resting on the plants and even mating. As you looked closer you could see that one of the types of plants - milkeweed - was pretty thoroughly chomped. There were BIG fat yellow and black striped monarch caterpillars munching away on the milkweed leaves. I also saw some furry caterpillars which reminded me of the types of critters I saw growing up in Northern California.

This first section slid you into the beauty of the parks of Buenos Aires and led you perfectly into the next exhibit halls. I will write those up soon, in the mean time, enjoy the photos.

Jardín de Bienvenida
Jardín de Bienvenida, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Mating monarchs
Mating monarchs, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

September 22, 2009

¡Feliz Día de Primavera!

Pink Lapacho Tree
Pink Lapacho Tree, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Spring has sprung here and is tormenting its way through with wild weather. We have nice sunny weather and days of rain with temperatures ranging from about 10 to 20 C. We did have a crazy warm spell at the end of August where for a week it was in the high 20s and I think the mercury kissed 30C.

I was alerted to the burst of pink in Palermo when I saw the post on "My Buenos Aires Travel Guide" that a friend pointed out. The Pink Lapacho tree on the corner of Figueroa Alcorta and Mariscal Castilla has blossomed. It still has flowers and I encourage you to go check it out if you can. This specimen was planted by another important landscape artist, Martin Ezcurra. I need to learn more about him. The day I went was one of the crappy rainy days, but the sky makes for a dramatic background and raindrops are always pretty on flower petals. This species of tree is Tabebuia impetiginosa and is native to South America. The bark has medicinal purposes and has long been used as a tea. Like the jacaranda, the flowers arrive before the leaves.

Pink Lapacho flowers
Pink Lapacho flowers, originally uploaded by blmurch.

While in Villa Elisa just over a week ago, I got to see a beautiful explosion of pear blossoms. The tree was humming with honey bees busily collecting the pollen and doing their bit to help those flowers turn into luscious fruits in the late summer. The branches were covered in white flowers. They smelled divine, looked gorgeous and made the bees happy.

The plants have sprung from their dormant state and are bursting out all over. I look forward to seeing what nature has in store for us with all the colors and new life everywhere. This is my favorite time of year here in Buenos Aires. It's not too hot yet and life is living it up.

August 20, 2009

Arbolito in concert

So, this is tangentially linked to trees. La Tribu Radio 88.7 FM is celebrating their 20th anniversary. They are sponsoring many events, one of which is a concert this Friday night in Barrio Pompeya of the band ARBOLITO! I have to go! :D

Concert details:
Friday, August 21st, 11 pm
4 Pesos de propina, Arbolito, Karavana
Salón Sur - Av Sáenz 459
Pompeya, Buenos Aires

Tickets can be bought ahead of time at La Tribu (Lambaré 873) and at all the "Locuras" for 20 pesos. Or you can pick up tickets at the door for 30 pesos.

I also heard recently that there is a band called "Arbol". I'm going to have to do more research!

July 27, 2009


China Berries, originally uploaded by blmurch.

It's definitely winter here in Buenos Aires. A cold snap came through the city last week and there was snow in the Provincia! Early last Friday morning I found myself in Mataderos on the west side of town. There, I finally found someone who could tell me the name in Spanish of these trees: Paraíso. From there I was able to look them up in my book: Biota Rioplatense III: Arboles Rioplatenses (Thank you Leandro!!!). The official scientific name is Melia azedarach. In the winter, no leaves remain, just theses "China Berries". I love the fact that these berries were used as beads for rosaries before plastics came along and supplanted them. They seem like they would have a nice "click" and a nice feel as they run through one's fingers.

May 29, 2009

Otoño is here

San Telmo Morning, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Crisp air and the changing colors of the leaves harbor the approach of winter. Fall / Autumn / Otoño is here and porteños are bundled up in jackets, scarves and sometimes gloves. We've added more blankets to our bed and our normally non lap-cats are all about the snuggles these days. The Plane trees and the Ash trees offer the starkest reminder of the seasons. The Plane trees leaves are slowly turning brown and are a mottled mix of faded green and light brown. The palmate leaves flutter down congesting the sidewalks and streets. The pinnately-compound leaves of the Ash trees along Rivadavia are mostly just turning yellow and dropping to the street below. Every once in a while a strong gust of wind will produce a shower of leaves that I have yet to capture on camera. I usually see these showers as I'm riding the bus which lend an eerie feel to the late night trips. The seed pods of the Ash trees remain behind creating a strange heaviness to the otherwise bare branches. These seed pods are like the helicopter seeds of Sycamore Maple trees, but are single "blades" and spiral down much faster as a result.

In Recoleta, I came across some trees I'd never seen before - American Sweetgum - or Liquidambar in Latin Castellano (and Liquidambar styraciflua in Latin), which has the most amazing seed pods. They are called "monkey balls" and are spiky and look very intimidating, however they weren't that hard. (click here to see the above photo in large where you can make out the brown seed pods.) The leaves of these trees were a brilliant red and orange and yellow and I was immediately drawn to them as I was lamenting the lack of fall brilliance in Buenos Aires. Yellow is nice, but the beautiful burst of red and orange make for a wonderful change and really make it feel like fall is here and winter is approaching.

Fall in Recoleta, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Leaves turning, originally uploaded by blmurch.

May 5, 2009

Palo Borracho / El Toborochi

In my research about the trees of Argentina, I have come across some legends and I thought I would share one of them now. This is from Bolivia and is about the Palo Borracho or - El Toborochi - as it's known there. I've translated this as best I could from here. I'm pretty sure that the words in parentheses are Guarani. If anyone knows of more, please let me know! I love reading these stories.

A long time ago, when gods lived on earth as people, the dark spirits (Aña) abused the early Guarani people, killing the men and stealing their women.

In a small village lived a beautiful young woman named Araverá "Sparkle in the sky", the daughter of the grand chief Ururutï "White Condor". She recently married the hummingbird god, Colibrí, (Chinu tumpa), and hoped to soon have a son, who would grow up to be the best Shaman (Paye) of the area, capable of destroying all of the evil spirits.

The Añas got wind of her plans and schemed to kill her, without any consideration for Araverá. They mounted their fire-breathing winged horses and pointed them to her small town; but Araverá, saw what danger she was in and escaped, flying to the ultimate ends of the universe in her tiny flying chair that her husband Colibrí gave her.

The Añas pursued her everywhere, the the depths of the waters, under the earth, and higher than the stars. When her tiny flying chair finally couldn't support the weight of her and her growing baby anymore, they descended to earth and hid inside a Toborochi (Samou), and the Añas passed them by and never found them. There inside, Araverá bore her son. The boy grew and took revenge upon the evil of the Añas, but his mother remained in the trunk of the Samou, as she does to this day. Sometimes, when she does go outside, she becomes the tree's beautiful flower, so that the hummingbirds can come and enjoy her nectar.

Palo Borracho Flowers, originally uploaded by blmurch.

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.

January 25, 2009

Ibirá Pitá on Lavalle

Ibirá Pitá on Lavalle, originally uploaded by blmurch.

There are some beautiful trees here that I have only recently noticed and think of as Yellow Jacarandas. I have seen them line 9 de Julio and I ran into them as I turned the corner onto Lavalle from Callao this past week. Their leaves are feather-like, as are the purple Jacarandas, but they are much taller, their flowers are yellow and are currently in bloom.

As I didn't know what they were, I looked in the database of trees that is maintained by the city of Buenos Aires. You can look trees up by the address of the street, or by the characteristics of the tree. This service is not something I would expect here, but am so very glad it exists. It has its quirks and bugs, but what doesn't? I knew that the trees were at Lavalle and Callao; I was able to find out that that is the 1800 block of Lavalle. Then I plugged that address into the database and it gave me a list of various trees on that block of Lavalle. I clicked through and finally found the tree. They are called Ibirá Pitá, and the official name is Peltophorum dubium. According to wikipedia, in Uruguay they are called arbol de Artigas and in Brazil they are called Cana fístula.

These trees are similar to the Tipa trees in that they are tall, shady and have yellow flowers, but the branches, leaves and flowers are all very different. Like the Jacarandas and the Palo Borrachos and the Tipas, the Ibirá Pitás are native to Argentina. They can also be found in Paraguay, Brazil and Urugay. Specifically in Argentina, they are from the northern provinces of Tucumán, Salta and Jujuy. These provinces' biomes range from high desert to humid jungle. The trees grow on the riverbanks to get much-needed water. Had I not seen them in bloom, I would have thought them to be the purple Jacarandas that are all over the city. Now, I know better.

January 18, 2009

Shady Summer

Walking in the park, originally uploaded by blmurch.

Buenos Aires is a walker's delight. The city is mostly flat, the public transportation is better than average and you can easily stroll from one plaza to the next. However, the trees are the best part. They are not just plentiful and beautiful, they also are really handy in the summer, providing much needed shade. Summers here are hot and humid. People walk slowly and wear very little. There is very little "striding" and much more "ambling". Also, in the heat of the day, people tend to walk on the shady side of the street to beat some of the summer heat. The Plane and Tipa trees arch over the streets and avenues, reminiscent of high cathedral ceilings. The branches, leaves and the thick trunks of the trees play with the light and shadows on the ground, not quite like stained glass windows, but close. As the sun falls to the west in the late afternoons, the temperatures drop ever so slightly and the shadows lengthen providing much needed respite from the heat and the sun's glare.