The Brazilian Rain Tree
The Brazilian Rain Tree
By Andrew Street
One of our most popular trees, in the garden, is also among the most endangered. The Brazilian Rain Tree is found only in a small section of borderline rainforest/beach dune in Rio de Janeiro.
A very limited range and negative human impact classify Chloroleucon tortum as critically endangered. We have three mature specimens in our garden and they are handsome plants. This small tree is also very popular with Bonsai enthusiasts.
Having cared for these trees in the garden, I can understand why they are so alluring to a Bonsai aficionado; overall, the tree is not very large—that’s a plus when you are working within this horticultural art form. Another beneficial aspect is the small compound leaves; they lend very well to smooth shaping and specific styles of bonsai. With an established plant, one of the nicest features is the flaky trunk that will flare out and create really appealing buttresses. It also has the look of being twisted, like a baker might do to a piece of dough.
When in bloom, this tree can blanket the surrounding area with a unique fragrance that many people compliment in the garden. The flowers are little white puff balls that attract all sorts of pollinators from bees to beetles—ants to anoles. Like all legumes, the pollinated flowers make seed pods; on the Brazilian Rain Tree these pods are folded, twisted and seemingly inverted to form an odd spherical shape. Proceed with caution when you approach this tree, as it has the occasional spine that can come out of nowhere to get you!
Because of where this tree is from, our particular climate is ideal for cultivation of this very rare and unique tree. Where the salty air can be a challenging factor to cultivation, here on the beach, it is actually a plus for the Brazilian Rain Tree (Chloroleucon tortum—the Latin name alludes to the white flowers and the twisted, contorted look of the trunks of mature trees).
A Rain Tree, is not a specific species of tree. It is actually more a designation of a group of rainforest trees that mimic the sound of rain. Some do it with the wind blowing through their pods, making a shimmering crackly sound.
Other trees are designated rain trees from the insects that live in and on them that also impersonate the sounds of rain. Ironically, our plants do not make any rain sounds—not from the pods shaking in the wind, nor from instrumental, imitating insects. These trees do not even require a lot of rain to do their best. We are just happy they look their best and aromatize our oasis.