August 5, 2013 in nature, plants

A few weeks ago, two of my friends and I visited South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes, here in California.  We weren’t able to see the entire plant collection since the site covers almost 90 acres and we had arrived in the afternoon.  For me, the most memorable plants were two young ombú trees.  I had never seen this type of plant, but luckily there was a label at the base of one of the trees.  The sculptural, human looking, trunks, they caught my eye.  At home, I did an internet search to find out more about ombúes.

From what I could find, ombúes are native plants from the South American plains.  In the wild, because resources aren’t abundant, ombúes don’t cluster together with their own kind.  They are resistant to drought, heat, and certain insects.  Parts of the plant are toxic.  The fruit, if you eat it, will make you toss your cookies.  The ones that I saw in Palos Verdes must have been young; they were about two feet in diameter.  On the web, I saw photos of multi-trunked ombúes that enclose about eight to ten feet of space.  Although they look like trees, they aren’t.  Some of the articles that I read consider ombúes weeds, herbs, or shrubs.  Although they aren’t technically trees, they can live for centuries.

Besides this factual information, I found two interesting stories about ombú forests that were planted many many years ago.  In Argentina, there is an ombú forest in Victoria.  In 1749, the Spanish rulers sent troops to occupy this area.  During a battle, the Spanish killed all the natives who still lived there.  Legend has it that for every native killed, an ombú was planted on Mount Matanza (translation:  slaughter, butchery).  Ombu Woodland, Victoria  In Uruguay, there is an ombú forest near the coast of Laguna de Castillo, near Rocha.  Some of the trees are more than 500 years old.  There is a myth that those who visit this forest will suddenly remember events from early childhood.  Ombu forest, Uruguay

In certain ways, southern live oaks and century plants are similar to ombú trees.  Like the ombú, these plants have interesting forms and biologies.  They share stories related to their longevity.  Some of their stories are legends or myths because their beginnings or histories have been forgotten, the truth has been stretched over the years, or a mix of both.  Whatever the reasons may be, we feel that it’s important to continue telling their stories.  It’s a way to keep history, memories, and the plants alive.  These plants, they are witnesses and survivors, whose sense of time and place is beyond our human understanding.



ombu 1



ombu 2

Ombú trees, South Coast Botanic Garden, Palos Verdes, California




ombu oak 1

 Evergreen Plantation, Edgard, Louisiana



ombu oak 2

 Audubon Park, New Orleans, Louisiana




ombu century

 Stalks and flowers of century plants, Bolsa Chica Wetlands, Huntington Beach, California