Genus of the Week
Week of December 14-20
This page has been created for people who want to learn more about plants, especially in the
context of their taxonomy (Latin names, etc.). This is by no means an exhaustive list of
all available Web resources for a particular genus.
If you like this page, you should also visit the Land of the Glandular Trichomes
, a microscopic look at plants in the Lamiaceae family.
This week's genus:
Number of Species: probably just one
The genus Bertholletia is economically important in South America: its one
species, B. excelsa, is the source of the Brazil Nut. This genus' large, tropical rainforest
trees produce fruits which each contain more than a dozen nuts. This past weekend, Dr. Enrique
Ortiz, from the Smithsonian Institution, spoke at a Conservation Biology conference at UMass
Boston about the harvesting of Brazil Nuts in Bolivia and Peru as a way to protect the
rainforest as well as ensure the livelihood of its peoples. According to Dr. Ortiz, the nuts
can be successfully harvested from trees growing in the wild, making plantations unnecessary.
The nuts of these large, tough-shelled fruits provide sustenance for animals such as macaws and
agoutis. Fallen fruits can also become homes on the forest floor for the initial
stages of life of insect and frog species (when fallen fruit with a hole in the shell fills
Here are a few links to images and descriptions of different Bertholletia species:
- The CRONATURALS, a line of tropical oils produced as a result of a partnership between the
American company Croda Inc. and Conservation International (a non-profit organization), features
Cronatural Brazil Nut Oil. What makes
this oil special is that it is derived from Brazil Nuts sustainably harvested from the Madre de
Dios forest region of Peru.
- B. excelsa is not only a source of food (nuts), it can also be used as a source of
wood. Check out the Woods of the World
website to see the grain of this wood, and find out all about the uses of this species as timber
while you're there. (Information about conservation of this species is also included.)
- People with food allergies to cashews
and pistachios have also been found to be sensitive to the Brazil Nut. LabSpec, a South African
company, has set up a page detailing allergies to seeds and nuts, with a good close-up image
of shelled Brazil Nuts.
- From the Maria-Brazil website comes an interesting recipe for
Brazil Nut Salami. No, it's not a real salami! :-)
- The Brazil Nut has been shown to contain high amounts of Selenium, which may have the ability
to prevent tumors. Check out the Wealth of the
Rainforest website from the Raintree Group, to see abstracts and references to journal
articles concerning this and other components of the nut.
- Heywood, V.H., ed. Flowering Plants of the World. New York, Oxford University Press: 1993.
- Ortiz, Enrique. NGOs and the Conservation of Biodiversity: Issues and Challenges.
Conference at University of Massachusetts, Boston: Dec. 12-13, 1997.
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