Travel Tales of Argentina
Carlos Thays was a botanic genius. Little do many know, the design and installation of a majority of Argentina’s public landscapes can be accredited to this French landscape architect, originally named Jules Charles Thays at birth (August 20, 1849 – January 31, 1934). He was responsible for 69 squares and public boulevards in Buenos Aires, 16 in the provinces, and the planting of over 150,000 plants and trees in the capital city alone. He was the Buenos Aires Parks Director from 1891 until 1913 and also created the city’s botanical garden, which became a global center for South American flora and fauna studies.
Interestingly, he was originally hired to only design the Parque Sarmiento in the city of Cordoba in 1891. After finishing the project he planned on returning to Paris. The then mayor of Buenos Aires Francisco Bollini was so impressed with his work that he offered him the position of Parks Director of Buenos Aires. Thays, claiming to be a man of principals, would only accept the challenge on the condition that a competition be held with the winner to be given the post. In his report for the competition entitled “the future action report,” Thays described his motivation for turning the city into the botanical treasure it is today:
Man, above all the working man, needs distraction and is there perhaps anything more healthy, more noble, more true, when he knows how to appreciate it, than the contemplation of trees, beautiful flowers, when they are arranged with taste? The spirit then rests, the pains are at least momentarily forgotten, and the aspect of beauty, of the pure, produces an immediate effect over the heart. Man immediately returns to work, then to his family, below the empire of the most favorable dispositions that he would not have had without these moments of lovely contemplation.
Here are some of the most common flora and fauna that can be found throughout the Argentina landscape.
The Ceibo– The Ceibo was declared the national flower of the Republic of Argentina on Dec. 23 1942. It grows in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and can reach a height of 10 meters (32 ft.). The flower itself resembles the crest of a chicken and has five bright, rouge red petals. The bark from the plant is extremely light and is often used to replace cork. It is also said that the bark contains high levels of alkaloids, which have been used since the dawn of man for medicinal and “far out” recreational purposes.
Tipuana tree – In my opinion La Tipa is the quintessential Argentine tree; while it’s charming and beautiful, it’s also complex, melancholic and misunderstood. To the eye, it’s large and abundant with beautiful yellow flowers and there are more than 9,000 in the city of Buenos Aires. But to the heart, La Tipa is said to be very melancholic and “weeps” in the spring, “el llanto de las tipas”. When in bloom, cool drips of liquid gently fall from the leaves of this tree. I remember once seeing a young boy in Plaza San Martín lifting his arms in the air and asking his father if the tree was really crying. The father quickly replied that the tree was sad because his friend the winter had gone away. Little did the young boy’s family know, these tears of sorrow that fall from the tree are not water, but are in fact the feces of an insect called “la chicharrita de la espuma” or Cephisus siccifolius. These little bugs eat the sap from the leaves of La Tipa in spring and whatever’s not absorbed comes out door number two. But don’t worry the liquid isn’t toxic and the effect is quite…engrossing.
Jacaranda tree – The Jacaranda tree, without a doubt, is one of the most recognizable pieces of the Argentina landscape. The purple leaves are absolutely stunning when the trees bloom in the spring, especially because Jacarandas line many of the main avenues of Buenos Aires. Not only is this tree beautiful, but it is also extremely useful in our fight against climate change. The tree is one of the largest consumers of carbon dioxide and each tree can process 1,832 kg per year. If you grew up in Argentina you probably know the popular children’s’ song by Palito Ortega and Maria Elena Walsh “Canción del jacaranda”.
Palo borracho – “The drunken stick.” This tree is indigenous to the north of Argentina and gets its name from its appearance: the trunk appears to have a bulging bottle of booze and sometimes a mini keg inside of it. Although the tree adorns white, pink and red flowers, watch out for sharp protruding cones from the bark. Legend has it that the tree was actually once a woman, who after devoting her love to a soldier that died in battle, became a tree in the woods and the blood of her deceased lover spread through the flowers that were once her fingers. Cheers!
Palm trees– You might notice a few palm trees, particularly in Plaza de Mayo. Although there are no beaches in Buenos Aires, the first mayor of the city, Torcuato de Alvear, had a soft spot for these trees and thought it would be a good idea to plant them around many of the plazas.
The Ombútree – The Ombú tree is the perfect tree for public parks. They’re both horizontally and vertically massive with a girth of 12 to 15 meters and can attain a height of up to 18 meters (60 ft.). The umbrella like shape is perfect for hot sunny days.
For more interesting facts about the Argentina landscape, check out our blog. Or contact Say Hueque today to start planning your trip to Argentina to see these things for yourself!
Written by Brian Athey
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