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October 05, 2020 - New York Times

The Grandmother Trees

The Grandmother Trees
World's Largest Samauma Tree (India)File Image: (c) Photabulous!

The samaúma tree is one of the largest and tallest of the forest. Its canopy flourishes in the sky and its roots embrace everything around them. Local people call it the “grandmother tree,” and ethnographic researchers have found that Indigenous peoples used to bury their dead in urns among those roots. They also used the tree to communicate with others in the forest: When you hit the roots, the noise reverberates through the trunk like a drum.

The first time I saw a huge samaúma, also called a kapok, was in the Tapajós National Forest in northern Brazil. I was amazed, both by the tree’s grandeur and by its presence there, growing in nutrient-poor soil many miles from the Amazon River. The tree usually grows in floodplains, where it is nourished by the minerals washed down from the Andes.

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