Forests are functioning, living natural places which take years to mature. Their trees, especially the hardwoods ones take a long time to bear fruits. And, these fruits act as an important binding force in the inter-connectivity of the forest. If there were no fruits, trees would be unable to reproduce or multiply. When we destroy them, we destroy life in the forest. If we cut down trees indiscriminately, then we stop them bearing the fruits which contribute to the longevity of the forest.
How do forest fruits contribute to the life of the rain-forest? One answer is to look closely at how they are used. Most obvious would be, by local people as well as by birds and animals.
Moraro consists of high and low forests. Forest-fruit trees help to sustain animals, as well as people.
Kokorite (Attalea maripa)
Kokorite (Attalea maripa) — one of the many forest-fruits preserved in Moraro.
The Inga Family
Inga trees can be found growing among other trees in different parts of the forest. One specie grows so huge and tall in the high forest that the wood is used by local people to make canoes. On the other hand, other species growing in secondary forests are so many that it can be tricky to identify them. One smaller variety of Inga traditionally is left to grow around houses where they seem to prefer. In forest communities they become communal fruit trees. Inga trees can live with leaf cutter ants and even if stripped of all its leaves, will eventually grow new ones.
Fruits are so desirable that people often compete with animals and birds, to get their share. One certainty is the value of the fruits. They are eaten by people, animals such as monkeys - the sakawinki (Saimiri sciureus) and white face (Cebus capucinus), acouri ( Dasyprocta leporina) and birds like the toucan (Ramphastos Sulfuratus) that have the beak type to get at the inner goodness. Some insects wait until the fruit pod splits open to get at the ripe, inner sweetness.
Though the fruits are sweet tasting, that sweetness vary according to the variety. One has the distinct sweetness of sugarcane juice. The fruit of the Inga is called Whitie by most people, but is also called the Ice-cream fruit by some because of its appearance.
Bees are attracted to the blossoms. When in bloom, the tree is normally covered in flowers. The Inga family is nitrogen fixing and so brings much needed nutrients to the forest soil.
The importance of Inga trees to the forest is obvious. This special family is an important food source that enables the local population including threatened species to survive. Trees provide habitat as well as shade and recyclable material.
In Moraro, identifying the varieties, according to their leaves and fruits, is difficult. Findings are - the leaves and fruits have very subtle differences. However, because we are more interested in having the trees around and saving the different varieties, we are just happy to let them grow.
Varieties Identified so far
This tree can grow very tall but starts to flower early. The blossoms are white and the fruit is long. When fully ripe, the fruit gets to be around eight to ten inches long and tastes like sugarcane. Like other Inga fruits, the ripe Inga thibaudiana appears fully swollen with the inner seed almost bursting out of its white, cotton-like coat.
This specie grows mostly in secondary forests and is common in areas where people live, so are left to grow around houses where they seem to prefer. In forest communities they become communal fruit trees and is valued mostly for the fruit which is popular with local people. The fruit is not as long as some other Inga fruits. The pod is smooth and when ripe becomes lime green.
The cotton like coated seeds is sweet and one indication that the fruit is ripe is when the pod is well swollen. If opened, the sometimes dark brown seed can be seen, trying to split through the coat. Unlike the typical white flower of other Inga species, the flower of Inga pilosula is yellow. When in full bloom, the tree is very attractive and like other Ingas, a flowering tree attracts lots of bees.
Another Inga delight is the Golden Inga. It is one of the most common ones in Moraro. Its fruit is brown, but is referred to as gold.
Hubuji (anacardium giganteum)
In Moraro there is a giant cashew (anacardium giganteum) tree know locally as hubuji. The Green Wing macaw feeds on the fruit.
Not only Green Wings love the fruit, but people do so as well. It is very juicy and makes a refreshing juice.
The Green Wing macaw is special to the area and if they are to remain, their habitat which includes the giant cashew (anacardium giganteum) must be protected.
Awarra or Wara (Astrocaryum vulgare)
Awarra or Wara (Astrocaryum vulgare) is an Amazonian palm. People and other forest dwellers eat the fruit. It has a high vitamin A content. Amazonian people make use of the leaf fibre as well. The fibre is very durable and can be plaited to make hats, rope, mats and other utility items. Children play with the hard and durable seed as marbles.
Kururu (Astrocaryum aculeatum)
Kururu is also called tucuma. The fruits are delicious and are collected locally. Like the awarra seeds, the seeds can also be made into rings to be worn.
Ité (Ita) Palm (Mauritia flexuosa)
The Ité (Ita)(Mauritia flexuosa) palm bears edible fruits and even though favoured for its fruit, other parts provide for other needs that are just as important.
The palm is widely used by many indigenous peoples including lowland Warrau, Lokono and Carib peoples.
Found in so many parts of the Amazon, the Ita palm is so wide spread that it is called by different names in different places. It is called Ité or Ita in the Guyanas, Aguaje in Peru and Bolivia, Buriti in Brazil and Moriche in Colombia and Venezuela. It has so many uses that it is often called the ‘tree of life’ by some.
Ité oil which is obtained from the fruit is a very rich source of beta-carotene (more than carrots). The oil protects the skin from the damaging effects of the sun and promotes scar tissues. It is an excellent skin moisturiser and helps to promote youthful skin.
The fruit is a good source of essential fatty acids which protects against degenerative diseases. It strengthens the immune system.
The palm frequently grows in swamp-lands bordering highland. Harvesting its straw is a technique that has to be learnt by much practising. Ité straw lends itself to stitching and so makes beautiful coiled straw baskets.
Traditional swampland native people would allow the Ité palm to grow by their canoe landing place to shelter the canoes from the sun and to protect the soil from erosion, as well as to preserve the area for plants that encourage fish and shrimp.
Leaves - fibre for twine and crafts such as baskets, mosquito brushes, clothing, brooms, thatching, mobile shelters.
Fruits - eating, beverage, flour, skin moisturiser.
Stem - stoppers for bottles or gourds, walling material, fishing floaters.
Trunk - hatching bed for tukuma grub, soft logs.
Uses to birds and animals
This palm is very important to many animal species. Many, fish and mammals like the golden agouti (Dasyorocta leporina) or acouri depend on the fruit. Several bird species, such as parrots (Psittacidae), the Green Wing macaw (Ara chloroptera) and other macaws use it for nesting. Bunyah (crested oropendola)) use the leaves to build their nests.