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Our favourite trees: Araucaria species

© Kenny Helsen, WeForest
It’s summer in the Atlantic Forest. As thousands of birds, animals and insects begin their nightshift, an ancient Araucaria angustifolia pierces the skies above. Its evergreen limbs offer year-round shelter to wildlife below, stretching as high as 40 metres in a perfect star-shaped symmetry that remains unchanged for over 250 million years.

To indigenous communities in South America, the Araucaria is more than a symbol of age-old beauty – it’s a source of survival. In autumn, as local wildlife forages for food, its branches blanket the forest floor with thousands of protein-rich pine nuts – a large proportion of which are harvested by communities as an essential means of trade.

It’s for this reason, and many others, we stand in awe of Araucaria species at WeForest, but no-one more so than our Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, Kenny Helsen.

“I’m obsessed with Araucaria! They’ve been around for so long that they’re truly living fossils, remnants of when the climate was very different,” he says. 

Araucária (Araucaria angustifolia) © Webysther Nunes
© Webysther Nunes

“They’ve evolved on the ancient supercontinent Gondwana and so they’re found on completely different sides of the world, from Australia and New Caledonia to South America.”

Despite their multi-continent occupancy, their existence has never been more threatened. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List reports the Araucaria species that is most directly involved in our restoration, Araucaria angustifolia, as critically endangered, adding to a growing list of 9,000 other species suffering the consequences of unbridled human destruction.

Otherwise known as the Paraná pine, Araucaria angustifolia can live as long as 600 years. Native to southern parts of Brazil and adjacent parts of Argentina and Paraguay, these ancient giants were once known to dominate vast amounts of the world’s forests, and remain an important part of Brazil’s coastal Atlantic Forest. 

In the past 20 years alone, 80% of the Atlantic Forest has been lost through illegal logging, mining and crop cultivation. With our partners Fundacion Vida Silvestre and WWF NL in Misiones, Argentina, we’re working to protect Araucaria angustifolia and other native species essential to our climate, wildlife and the complex balance of nature.

Araucaria angustifolia © Fernando Losada Rodríguez
© Fernando Losada Rodríguez

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