Family : Leguminosae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
This plant is native to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, where it grows in the humid forests at low altitudes.
The genus is honoured to the Irish botanist Patrick Browne (1720-1790); the name of the species is the one utilized by the natives of Colombia.
Common names: árbol de la cruz, arizá, palo de cruz (Spanish).
The Brownea ariza Benth. (1845) is a medium-sized tree, 9-12 m tall; with a greyish trunk of 30-40 cm of diameter and with long and hanging branches which tend to touch the soil.
The leaves are alternate, paripinnate, up to about 60 cm long, of dark green colour, formed by 6-12 pairs of oblong-lanceolate leaflets with sharp apex; the young leaves are grouped, hanging, flabby, of an initially pink colour.
The inflorescences, hanging at the extremities of the branches, are panicle or heads, enclosed by bracts, of 12-18 cm of diameter, of a colour going from the orange to the intense red with several protruding stamina. The fruit is a flat, 20-30 cm long and about 8 cm broad, pod, dehiscent (which opens spontaneously when ripe). It reproduces by air layering, but most frequently by seed, kept in water for 24 hours in order to facilitate the germination, before planting it in a sandy substratum kept humid at the temperature of 22-24 °C; the flowering begins, under the best cultivation conditions, by around the fourth year of age.
Much similar species to the Brownea grandiceps from which it differs for some particulars and for the minor size of the inflorescence and for this reason less cultivated for ornamental purposes; it may be cultivated in the tropical and the marginally tropical climate zones, where it can resist to exceptional, but for a very short time, temperatures close to the 0 °C.
The exigencies of cultivation are the same as the Brownea grandiceps. The adult plants grow up well in full sun, but for the young ones a slight shade is preferable. The substratum must be permeable, rich of humus and constantly kept humid during the vegetative period, allowing the superficial layer of the soil to dry up during the vegetative rest. Where the cultivation in open air is not possible, it may be cultivated in large containers, in vast luminous greenhouses, utilizing a soil rich of humus with addition of sand per a 30%, at temperatures over the 12 °C in winter; the watering must be abundant and regular in summer, moderate in winter.
The wood, very hard and resistant to the attacks of the termites, is utilized in the buildings and in the handicrafts. Parts of the plant are variously utilized in the traditional medicine, in particular the bark which contains a powerful haemostatic.
Synonyms: Brownea princeps Linden (1855); Hermesias ariza Kuntze (1891).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza