Did you know that there are bushes the size of large trees? In the Pampas grasslands in South America there is a "tree" called the Ombu. It is the only tree-like plant that lives on the Pampas because it does not need a lot of water to survive.
The Ombu can be found in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. It does not need much water considering there is only 10-30 inches of rainfall a year in its natural habitat. That amount of water is not enough to support a lot of trees and even the Ombu plants are widely spaced because of the limited availability of water. Droughts can occur in the grasslands, so the plants that grow there often develop unique characteristics.
The Ombu is a large evergreen with an umbrella like canopy. It can have a girth of 40 to 50 feet and its height can reach 40 to 60 feet. It grows rapidly. Its wood is soft and spongy, soft enough to be cut with a regular knife. The Ombu often has multiple trunks and is the only tree-like species for miles. Its sap is poisonous, therefore the bush is not browsed by cattle. It is also immune to locusts and other pests. The bush is covered with dark, glossy, green leaves. It has greenish-white flowers that grow in long clusters. These clusters droop from the weight of the crimson, ripe berries that develop from these flowers.
The Ombu's massive, fire resistant trunks contain water storage tissue, an excellent adaptation for intense grassland fires which are common in this region. The "trees" have enlarged bases in which they store water. This plant is plentiful in the pampas regions. It grows naturally in these areas.
The Ombu is also known as the "Lighthouses" of the pampas, since the "tree" provides shade for gauchos (South American cowboys) and other people that are traveling through the grasslands. Sometimes the leaves are used locally for a hot drink.
The Ombu grows plentiful in the wild. It grows naturally in the Pampas grasslands. It is also planted in places like Southern California as a shade tree.
by Seth S. 2002
"The Columbia Electronics Encyclopedia Sixth Edition", http://www.encyclopedia.com/articlesnew/, (Nov 7, 2001).
"Economic Plant Photographs (#24)" http://www.waynesword.palomar.edy/ecoph24.htm, (Nov7, 2001).
"Portrait of a Tree", http://www.artemercosur.com.uv/rank/ombu/, (Nov7, 2001).