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Across Unknown South America by Landor

The seringueira Siphonia elastica


It

will be remembered that only four men remained with me. Not one of them had ever been in a canoe before--except to be ferried across a river, perhaps--not one had the slightest idea of navigation, and it followed, of course, that not one had ever used a paddle or steered a canoe.

As the river had never been surveyed, it was my intention to make an accurate map of its entire course as far as its junction with the Tres Barras, several thousand kils. away, from which point I imagined the river must be slightly better known. Therefore, as I should be busy all day long with the prismatic compass and watch, constantly taking notes of the direction of the stream and the distances covered (checked almost daily by astronomical observations) I should not be able to take an active part in the navigation.

The canoe was undermanned. Imagine her length--42 ft.--with only two men to paddle. A third man was stationed on her bow to punt when possible and be on the look-out for rocks; while Alcides, whom I had promoted to the rank of quartermaster, was in charge of the steering. I had taken the precaution to make a number of extra paddles. We carried a large quantity of fishing-lines with hooks of all sizes, and cartridges of dynamite.

The river was most placid and beautiful, and the water wonderfully clear. Unlike rivers elsewhere, the Arinos did not show a branch or a twig floating on its

waters, not a leaf on its mirror-like surface. That did not mean that branches of trees--sometimes even whole trees--did not fall into the river, but, as I have stated already, the specific gravity of woods in that part of Brazil was so heavy that none floated. Hence the ever-clean surface of all the streams.

We were then in a region of truly beautiful forest, with _figueira_ (_Ficus_ of various kinds), trees of immense size, and numerous large _cambara_. The bark of the latter--reddish in colour--when stewed in boiling water, gave a refreshing decoction not unlike tea and quite good to drink.

Most interesting of all the trees was, however, the seringueira (_Siphonia elastica_), which was extraordinarily plentiful in belts or zones along the courses of rivers in that region. As is well known, the seringueira, which grows wild in the forest there, is one of the most valuable lactiferous plants in the world. Its latex, properly coagulated, forms the best quality of rubber known.

[Illustration: Rubber Tree showing Incisions and the Collar and Tin Cup for the Collection of the Latex.]

[Illustration: Coagulating Rubber into a Ball.]

There are, of course, many latex-giving plants of the _Euphorbiae_, _Artocarpae_ and _Lobeliae_ families, but no other are perhaps such abundant givers of latex as the Brazilian seringueira (of the _Euphorbiae_ family), a tree plentiful not only in Matto Grosso on all the head-waters and courses of the rivers flowing into the Amazon, but also abundant in the Provinces of Para and the Amazon. In less quantities the seringueira is also to be found in Ceara, Rio Grande do Norte and Maranhao.

The seringueira prevailed chiefly near the water, in swampy places, or in places inundated when the river was high. Never was the tree to be found at a distance away from water.

The height of the seringueira varies from 25 ft. to 50 ft. Its diameter is seldom more than 35 in. Its leaf is composed of three elongated leaflets, smooth-edged and complete in themselves. The seed is smooth-skinned, and of a reddish tone. The fruit consists of a well-rounded wooden capsule enclosing three cells which contain white oily almonds not disagreeable to eat. From the almonds an oil of a light red colour, not unlike the colour of old port wine, can be extracted. That oil can be substituted for linseed oil, and has the further advantage of not desiccating so quickly. Mixed with copal and turpentine it gives a handsome varnish. It can be used advantageously in the manufacture of printing-ink and soap. So that every part of the seringueira can be put to some use or other.


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