Feb 23
Photo of pau brasil fruits

Pau brasil (Caesalpinia echinata)

Species: Pau brasil (Caesalpinia echinata)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The pau brasil is the national tree of Brazil, and is famous for giving the country its name.

The pau brasil holds an important place in the history and culture of Brazil. This rare tree reaches heights of up to 15 metres and has dark brown bark which flakes off in large patches to reveal a blood-red wood beneath. Its flowers are yellow and strongly perfumed, while its fruits are large, woody, oval-shaped pods. The branches, leaves and fruit of the pau brasil are covered in small thorns.

The pau brasil is found only in the diverse but highly threatened Atlantic forest of eastern Brazil. In the past, the pau brasil was an extremely important source of red dye, and by the time synthetic dyes became widespread in the 19th century this species’ population had been all but destroyed. The timber of this famous tree has been in demand for construction and for the manufacture of high quality violin bows, while its bark may have medicinal properties.

International trade in the pau brasil should be carefully controlled under its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Protected areas have been set up to preserve pau brasil populations, and there is a reintroduction programme in Linareas Reserve. Further conservation measures include education programmes and studies into the pau brasil’s distribution and conservation requirements. In future, this historic tree may act as a ‘flagship’ species for the conservation of the highly endangered Atlantic forest ecosystem.

Find out more about the Atlantic forest of Brazil.

Find out more about the pau brasil at Global Trees Campaign.

See more images of the pau brasil on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Feb 18

Trees are some of the most important organisms on the planet, creating great habitats for wildlife and also providing humans with vital products such as timber, food and medicines. Trees even help to combat climate change, pollution and flooding, and have been shown to have positive effects on human health and wellbeing.

It’s often the animal world that gets all the attention, so we thought it was time to give plants a bit more love by celebrating ten of ARKive’s top trees from around the world. Meet some of the oldest, largest, rarest, weirdest and most magnificent species on Earth…

Ancient mountain dweller

Photo of bristlecone pine trunk

The bristlecone pine is one of the world’s longest-lived organisms, with one individual, known as ‘Methuselah’, estimated to be nearly 5,000 years old. This hardy species inhabits harsh mountainous environments in California, Nevada and Utah, and has an extremely slow growth rate. Typically quite gnarled and stunted in appearance, the bristlecone pine is named for the prickles on the surface of its dark purple female cones.

Impressive giant

Photo of giant sequoia (The General Grant Tree)

Although not the world’s tallest tree, in terms of sheer volume the giant sequoia is one of the largest living organisms on the planet. Reaching up to 95 metres in height and 11 metres in diameter, with bark up to 60 centimetres thick, this giant tree can live for over 3,000 years. Found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, the giant sequoia is resistant to fire, and regular wildfires help to remove competing plants as well as allowing this species’ cones to open.

Towering triumph

Photo of coast redwoods growing in a circle

Closely related to the giant sequoia, the coast redwood is the tallest tree on Earth, growing to a staggering 115 metres in height, with a trunk up to 9 metres in diameter. This towering giant is confined to foggy coastal areas in southwest Oregon and northwest California, USA. Unfortunately, the coast redwood has been highly prized for its timber and an estimated 95% of the original redwood forest has been cut down.

Sustainable nut producer

Photo of open Brazil-nut fruit

Native to South America, the brazil-nut tree is one of the most economically important plants in the Amazon. Its famous seeds grow inside a large, round fruit, arranged like the segments of an orange, and are harvested for food and oil. The brazil-nut tree depends on agoutis to gnaw through its tough fruit and release the seeds, and on certain bee species to pollinate its flowers. The bees in turn depend on a certain type of orchid to survive. The brazil-nut tree can therefore only produce seeds in undisturbed forest, making it a model for generating a sustainable income from tropical forests.

Lonely palm

Photo of loneliest palm, Curepipe Botanic Garden, Mauritius

The loneliest palm is one of the rarest plants in the world, with only one wild individual remaining. This lonely tree grows in the Curepipe Botanical Garden in Mauritius, where it has survived for over 50 years. Although it flowers and fruits regularly, the fruits of this individual are sterile as the male flowers open before the female flowers, preventing pollination. Attempts have been made to clone this rare palm, but the clones have so far failed to survive.

Living fossil

Photo of Wollemi pine leaves

The Wollemi pine has been called a ‘living fossil’, as it represents the only remaining member of an ancient group of plants. Previously believed to be extinct, the Wollemi pine was rediscovered in Australia in 1994, where it is known from just two sites in Wollemi National Park, New South Wales. This prehistoric species is one of the world’s rarest plants, but is now being grown in cultivation and planted in gardens and parks around the world, helping to support its conservation.

Imposing icon

Photo of an avenue of Grandidier's baobab trees

Found in southwest Madagascar, Grandidier’s baobab is the largest and most famous of the island’s baobab trees. Sometimes known as the ‘upside-down tree’, it is an imposing species with a massive cylindrical trunk, which is used to store water. Its spectacular white flowers are said to smell of sour watermelon, and are pollinated by nocturnal mammals. Sadly, this iconic tree is under threat from the conversion of its forest habitat into open agricultural land.

Here be dragons!

Photo of dragon's blood trees in flower

One of the most distinctive plants on the island of Socotra, the evocatively named dragon’s blood tree has a truly bizarre appearance, with an upturned, densely packed crown which has the shape of an upside-down umbrella. Morning mists condense on the waxy leaves and are channelled down the trunk to the roots, while the dense crown shades the ground below and reduces evaporation. This strange tree is named for its dark red resin, known as ‘dragon’s blood’, which has been a highly prized substance since ancient times.

Medicinal marvel

Photo of maidenhair tree fruit and leaves

Renowned worldwide for its medicinal properties, the maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba) is the sole survivor of an ancient group of trees dating back to before the time of the dinosaurs. This unique species has been used in traditional medicines for hundreds of years, and is still popular in herbal remedies today. Although the maidenhair tree is widely planted around the world, its wild populations appear to be confined to Mount Xitianmu in Zhejiang, China. However, it is unclear whether these individuals are truly wild or are descendents from temple gardens

From little acorns…

Photo of ancient sessile oak tree covered with ferns and lichens

Oak trees are surrounded by much folklore and are well-loved symbols of strength. Native to most of Europe and parts of Asia, the sessile oak is so-named because its acorns are not supported on stalks. Like other oaks, the sessile oak supports an amazing variety of wildlife and is a habitat in its own right. The open canopy of this species allows light to reach the ground, favouring the growth of a range of ground plants, while its acorns provide food for many animal species.


These are just some of the world’s weird and wonderful trees – you can discover more and view photos of tree species from around the world on ARKive.

You can also find out more about tree conservation at Fauna & Flora International’s Global Trees Campaign and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Do you have a favourite tree, or one that means something special to you? Let us know!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Nov 24

The UK’s largest annual tree celebration, National Tree Week 2012 runs from today until 2nd December and serves to highlight the importance of trees to human wellbeing and the environment.

Run by The Tree Council, National Tree Week involves hundreds of tree-planting events around the UK and is a great opportunity for communities to do something positive for their local area.

Every tree matters

Although planting a single tree may seem like a small step, The Tree Council believes that every tree matters. As well as helping to combat pollution, flooding and climate change, trees provide great habitats for wildlife and have also been shown to have positive effects on human health.

To celebrate National Tree Week here at ARKive, we thought we would share a few of our favourite UK tree species, and find out what makes them special…

The mighty oak

Photo of pedunculate oak tree in leaf

The commonest tree in broadleaved woodlands of southern and central UK, the English or pedunculate oak has a special place in the country’s heart, being a much-loved symbol of strength and duration. A fully grown oak can produce around 50,000 acorns in a good year, and can live for hundreds of years. The widest oak tree in the UK would need about nine adults, stretching fingertip to fingertip, to reach around its trunk!

Ash under threat

Photo of ash leaf opening

The ash is one of the tallest native UK trees, and is one of the last trees to produce leaves in spring. Despite being the third commonest tree species in the UK, the ash is currently threatened by a serious disease known as ‘ash dieback’. There are fears this disease could wipe out as much as 90% of the UK’s 80 million ash trees.

Beech is best

Photo of a beech wood in autumn

The beech is a magnificent large tree with surprisingly little folklore surrounding it. Its timber has a variety of uses, and its nuts were used in the past as an important source of food for pigs and cattle. Beech woodlands often have a dense canopy that shades out other plants, and the leaves of the beech tree take some time to rot, meaning the woodland floor is often carpeted in a deep layer of leaf litter.

Quintessential conkers

Photo of fallen horse chestnuts in autumn

Despite not being native to the UK, the horse chestnut is a quintessential sight in the nation’s village greens and city parks. This species is best known for its seeds, known as ‘conkers’, which are famous as part of a popular children’s game. The horse chestnut is thought to get its name from the horseshoe-shaped leaf scars that are left on the twigs after the leaves have fallen.

Magical elder

Photo of elder flowers

The elder was once regarded as one of the most magically powerful of all plants. Although its heartwood is very hard, its branches are weak and filled with pith. The elder’s name is thought to come from the Anglo-Saxon ‘aeld’, meaning ‘fire’, as the pith could be used as tinder or the hollow stems could be used as bellows. Elder berries are poisonous eaten raw, but can be made into jellies, jams and wines, while elder flowers are used to make elderflower cordial and champagne.

Hardy pine

Photo of Scots pine forest with silver birch, autumn colours

One of only three native conifers in the UK, the Scots pine is an evergreen tree that is also found across northern Europe and Asia. This hardy species originally formed extensive forests across most of the UK, but a warming climate some 5,000 years ago favoured deciduous trees and pushed the range of the Scots pine northwards. The Scots pine has strong timber that is used in constriction and joinery, while its resin is used to make turpentine.

Find out more about the UK’s trees at the Woodland Trust Tree Guide.

View more photos of trees from around the world on ARKive.

Do you have a favourite tree? Have you taken part in any tree-planting events? Wherever you live, we would love to hear about the trees near you!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author


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