The typical tropic climate was the predominant one around the planet 80 million years ago and Brazil's vegetation already existed in its exuberant form. However, this continuous environmental condition suffered alterations due to geological cataclysms and periods of intense cold, that is, the glacial periods, causing topographic and climatic changes on earth's biosphere. The vegetation which was adapted to a warm and humid climate, due to the intense freezing of the poles, went on to occupy just a narrow strip of Earth, the tropical region situated between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Factors like the presence of light, heat and humidity throughout the year made it possible for Brazil to possess unique ecosystems such as the Amazon Rain Forest and the Atlantic Rain Forest and also other vegetal formations that were kept intact until the arrival of the Portuguese, comprising an area of about 5.2 million square kilometers occupied, up to that time only by the native population.
In 1500, on the arrival of Cabral , Pero Vaz Caminha described: "the jungle is so much, so big, so dense and with such variety of foliage that no one could have imagined". Faced with such exuberance the Portuguese discovered the existence of a wealth that for them was thought as endless: Brazil wood. The natives already made use of this tree for the making of bows, arrows and for painting, using an intense red dye extracted from the core. The technique was taught to the Portuguese by the natives themselves, who were also used by the Portuguese to cut down, clean and transport the trees to the seashore, where the ships that would go to Europe would be loaded. The economical cycle began in 1503 and for about 30 years this was the only thing extracted by the Portuguese. It is thought that in this period over 300 tons of wood were explored every year, with this number always increasing on the following years.
With the exploitation, the land of brazil wood became very important and in a short while Pindorama (tupi name that meant Palm Trees Land) started being called Island of Vera Cruz, Land of Santa Cruz, Land of Brazil and finally just Brazil.
The cargoes of wood were sent to Portugal and from there to Antwerp, Belgium, and from there to the main consumers : England, Germany and the city of Florence, today in Italy. The exploitation was then a monopoly of the Portuguese, and even after the Capitanias were implemented (The territory of Brazil was first divided into these "capitanias" which were given to a few Portuguese Nobles to explore) their owners could neither explore the wood nor stop the Crown Representatives from doing it. This monopoly, however, was short lived because France, England, Holland and Spain started extracting the wood helped by the natives, in exchange for gewgaws. This continuous exploitation process in this period was propably the most intense and devastating withdrawal that Brazil's History has ever known. This practice was not limited only to brazil wood and other essences were eliminated from the inland of the Atlantic Rain Forest.
This smuggling can be reassured by Paul Gaffarel: "cotton and spices were only mentioned on the cargoes as curiosities, but the same cannot be said about the precious woods, especially the ones used for dying, that made up the essential part of our ships' cargoes". The intense activities of these smugglers forced Portugal to institute the Capitanias, with the objective of defending and povoating the territory. The European tales of Jean de Lery shows how much the tree impressed the travelers at that time: "I must start by the description of one of the most notable and admired trees among us because of a dye taht can be extracted from it, the brazil wood, which gives the name to this region. This tree, called arabutan by the native people, resembles our oak if you look at the branches and some are so wide that three men are not able to embrace the trunk".
The end of this economical cycle, in the XIXth century was determined by the nearly inexistance of this species in Brazil's jungles and by the Discovery of na artificial correspondent dye. But for about 375 years the red dye which colored the nobiluity clothing and was used for writing was extracted from the jungles in Brazil; and besides being used as dye, the wood was also used for house and ship building. The Brazil wood economical cycle concentrated itsel on the Atlantic Rain Forest, its original area. From this activity the only thing left was a devastated jungle and the land used for sugar cane. From the beginning of the exploitation up to today, only about 3% of the Atlantic Rain Forest was left. This way, the colonizers created a model of devastation which was profoundaly fixe don the following social and economical systems.
Due to the intense devastation of the seashore's jungles in search of brazil wood, from 1500 to 1875, in 1542 the first royal law was elaborated establishing norms for the cutting and punishment for the waste of wood. This was the first measure, taken by the Portuguese Crown, to defent the forests of Brazil. This interest was not directly linked to a preoccupation for the threat of natural unbalance, instead, it was done to try to prevent the taking of such great wealth without the Crown's supervision. These norms, however, were never respected.
In 1605 a new law establishes the yearly quota of 600 tons to be cut. This law's objective was only to limit the offer of wood in Europe, therefore keeping the prices high. During the Empire Period, many other prohibitions were created without any results, among them the Law of October of 1827, where power was delegated to the Peace Judges of the Provinces that enabled them to inspect the cutting of wood and to stop the use of it in house building. On this date the popular term "law wood' starts being used. Other criminal laws establishing heavy sentences to anyone doing illegal extraction of wood appeared but none was successful. Even the Law 601 edited by D. Peter II, forbidding the exploitation of wood in newly discovered land, with the inspection being done by the cities themselves was completely ignored because the clearing of the forests was justified by the need of the land for agriculture. From this moment on, the vast monoculture of coffee was installed to feed the export market. Princess Izabel, in 1872, authorized the first private company specialized in timber cutting to stop the uncontrollable deforestation. But, in 1875, she allowed any cutting of timber in private land. In 1920, the then President Epitácio Pessoa, worried about the preservation and restoration of the forests said: "From all the cultured countries that have jungles and rich forests, Brazil is perhaps the only one that does not possess a forest code". In 1921 a forest service was created and regulated in 1925. But it was worthless because this service was had no backing from the 1891 constitution, which mentioned nothing about jungles and trees. Because of this, brazil wood continued to be exploited and the jungles continued without any legal protection. In 1934 a Forest Code was made into law by the decree number 23.793 in defense of forests and private wood.
The first concrete result of this Code was the creation of the first unit of conservation in Brazil, the National Park of Itatiaia. Even with the existence of a Forest Code, this did not guarantee the total protection of the Brazil wood trees that still remained on the strip between Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Norte. It was necessary the nearly extinction for brazil wood to be officially recognized in the official history.
In 1961, the President Jânio Quadros aproved a Project declaring brazil wood as the national symbol tree of Brazil and the yellow ipê flower as the symbol flower.
In 1972 a new law number 6607 of 7/12/78 declares the brazil wood as the National Tree and institutes the 3rd of May as the Brazil Wood Day.
The Brazil Wood Tree
In 1789 the French Naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744 - 1829) studied and described the species scientifically, that is, named it so all scientists would know it by just one name: Caesalpinia echinata, being the terms Caesalpinia an homage to the doctor and botanist Andreas Caesalpinus that lived between 1519 to 1603 and echinata because the tree has thorns on the trunk and branches. These thorns are similar to those commonly found in roses. Brazil wood has got a grayish brown cover on the trunk, or brownish pink once the cover is removed, and the core is red, like hot coal. It can reach up to 30 meters (some with 40 meters have been recorded in literature) and about 1,5 meter around.
The flowering occurs at the end of September until mid-October. Between the months of November to January the maturation of fruits happens.
Brazil wood belongs to the same gender as that of the sibipiruna (Caesalpinia peltophoroides) and Iron wood (Caesalpinia ferrea), trees which are commonly plante don Brazil's sidewalks and are also natiuve to the Atlantic Rain Forest. The basic difference among these species is the lack of thorns in the sibipiruna and iron wood. The Brazil wood is also popularly known by the names of: ibirapitanga, orabutã, brasileto, ibirapiranga, ibirapita, ibirapitã, muirapiranga, rose wood and pernambuco wood. Native to the Atlantic rain Forest, it occurs naturally from the state of Rio Grande do Norte to the state of Rio de Janeiro, on a wide strip of about 3000 km. Once the tree became scarce along the coast, the Indians would cover distances of up to 120 km to get it. It is a tree that lives typically in a dense primary forest. It is rarely found on secondary formations and nowadays, through scientific research, few examples of trees born in the wild can be found on the states of Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, Bahia, Alagoas, Pernambuco and Rio Grande do Norte.
Brazil wood and the violins
In 1775, in Paris, Tourte designed the first violin arch with the Brazil wood, known as "Pernambouc", because it was in Pernambuco that the exploration of this wood started. The project was considered as a model when it came to extension and curvature. The brazil wood was considered the ideal wood for this because of its weight and width , but also because of the abundance of it in Europe at that time. The wood wastage was huge because for the production of a single violin arch the most flexible part of the log was used which reduced the use to only 15% of it. It is still used for the production of violins but this practice is not stimulated because trees need to be about 30 years old to be used for it.
The extinction of Brazil wood
Brazil wood was considered extinct when in 1928 the agronomy student João Vasconcelos Sobrinho and the botanic professor Bento Pickel noticed the presence of a tree in a place called São Bento Sugar Plantation, today the headquarter of the Tapacurá Ecological Station of the Federal Rural University of Pernambuco (UFRP). Nowadays the species is as threatened as others from the Atlantic Rain Forest that, even though is one of the ecosystems with greater diversity, is one of the most threatened ecosystems of the planet.
Due to the efforts of people like Professor Roldão Siqueira Fontes and the support of UFRP, in 1972 it was launched a National Campaign in defense of Brazil wood which made the production of new plants skyrocket.