Brazilian Fire Tree
Schizolobium parahyba, commonly known as the Brazilian fire tree or guapuruvu, is a fast growing, leguminous, deciduous tree that is native to Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. It has a grey, straight trunk, and can be found to grow up to 30-35 m in forests (Orwa et al, 2009). Young trees produce pinnate leaves that can have lengths of up to 2 m, while the leaves of older trees only grow to lengths of 30-50 cm (Arkive, n.d.). This tree is also used as an ornamental plant because of its tall stature and its showy yellow flowers.
It is also known as the “false tree-fern” because young trees have unbranched trunks, where all the leaves grow on the tops of the trunk, thus resembling a tree fern (Orwa et al, 2009). The tree produces hermaphroditic flowers during the dry season when the tree loses its leaves and fruit that contain a brown, flat, pod-shaped seed (Orwa et al, 2009). Located on well-drained soils, this tree is commonly found in secondary (disturbed) forests, and is a “pioneer species”, which means it is one of the first species to colonize disturbed areas (Orwa et al, 2009). Because of these traits, this tree is commonly used in reforestation projects.
Extracts from the leaves of this tree are commonly used to treat snakebites. This is because these extracts contain secondary metabolites, which are compounds not involved in development or reproduction and work against local tissue damage, caused by snake venom (Mendes et al, 2010). Snake venom contains enzymes that cause proteolytic and nephrotoxic activities, which can lead to inflammation and tissue necrosis. The secondary metabolites found in the herbal extracts help to inhibit the enzymatic and biological activities of venom toxin, along with stopping it from migrating into the systemic circulation (Mendes et al, 2010).
Arkive. (n.d.). Guapuruvu tree. Retrieved from http://www.arkive.org/guapuruvu-tree/schizolobium-parahyba/.
Mendes, M. M. et al. (2010). Acute toxicity of Schizolobium parahyba aqueous extract in mice. Phytotherapy Research, 24(3), 459-462.
Orwa, C. et al. (2009). Agroforestree database: a tree reference and selection guide version 4.0. Retrieved from http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treedb/AFTPDFS/Schizolobium_parahybum.pdf.