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Brazilian rainforest - Expo Paris 1867

Brazilian rainforest at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

Rightly proud of its woods, which one day, when the axe has felled the last trees that still raise their heads on the face of the old world, our industry will come to ask for at a high price, Brazil wanted them to be represented at the Exhibition in a very special way. It was impossible to succeed better. The virgin forest is a happy conception which does the greatest honour to the intelligence and taste of the organisers of the Brazilian Exhibition.

This name of primeval forest has been much abused in our days; it has even been somewhat extended to all the wooded parts of America, and I know of Europeans who, as soon as they set foot on the new continent, felt no less emotion at the sight of the first clump of wood than did Christopher Columbus when he discovered the mouth of the Orinoco, that is, that confine so ardently desired and sought after. If the name of primitive forest were to be applied in the strictest sense of the word, it could only be to the immense regions which extend into the torrid zone of southern America and fill the two basins, united to each other, of the Orinoco and the Amazon.
The forests near the equator are not only rendered impenetrable by the impossibility of cutting a path with an axe through trees which are not less than eight to twelve feet in diameter, and whose branches are joined together by a veritable network of climbing lianas; the principal obstacle comes from the arborescent plants, which leave no empty space in a region where all the plants become, by the very nature of the soil, woody.

And yet Providence has not willed that these admirable regions should remain forbidden to man. He has opened up wide roads by means of these countless rivers, whose tributaries sometimes carry more abundant water than the Danube and the Rhine; directed in all directions, they are the vital element of this vegetation, which owes its richness to the twofold benefit of humidity and heat. The explorer launched his canoe in the middle of rapids and cataracts, and before his enchanted eyes unfolded the most marvellous spectacles of nature.

It was the brush of M. Rubé, who made the green oasis that one meets in the middle of the Palace spring up. Gigantic trunks project their powerful roots into the ground; the large branches of a tree form a ceiling of greenery and through the gaps in the foliage, the blue sky can be seen. The landscape is of a freshness that seduces; it is an original, picturesque corner, which breaks the somewhat monotonous succession of the Exhibition's windows.

In the middle of the forest rises an immense pyramid of wood, composed of more than four hundred samples. Some of these brightly coloured woods are already familiar to cabinetmakers; others, of a fine, tight, resistant fabric, are eminently suitable for civil and naval construction. The pieces of wood have been cut in an ingenious way that allows us to study their fibres in the horizontal, longitudinal and transverse directions.

Here is the mangrove tree that grows on the banks of rivers; the bark of the mangrove tree is used as tan, and the wood is highly valued for making beams and rafters; but it cannot be used as stakes, because the buried part rots quickly, nor as fences, because it deteriorates when exposed to the air. This wood is mainly used in Brazil as fuel. The tree grows back after it has been cut, with incredible rapidity, provided the root has not been damaged.

The outer layers of this wood are not very hard, but the heart of the wood is very axe-breaking. Its hardness increases with time: it then becomes a beautiful polished black and takes on the strength of iron.

This sample belonged to a Periguao, the most beautiful of the palms. The trunk of this smooth, sixty-foot high tree is adorned with a crown of foliage, delicate like that of the reeds and curled around the edges. The fruits, similar to peaches, are renowned for the delicacy of their taste and the beauty of their colour; together, seventy to eighty in number, they form immense clusters. Every year, each tree brings three of these bunches to maturity.

Mahogany is generally used for doors, windows, floors and furniture. Its colour is lighter when it is first cut, but soon changes to a reddish brown. Rosewood, rubberwood, all these trees, in a word, so precious for their many uses, are represented in this magnificent collection by remarkable samples.

The Brazilian government has understood all the advantages that international trade should, in the near future, derive from these forest riches, and a liberal decree has just opened to the pavilions of all countries this ocean of fresh water called the Amazon. There, the gigantic trees offer themselves, so to speak, to whoever wants to cut them down, and the river itself provides the easiest and cheapest means of transport to the port of Para, which is the great gateway of Brazil open to the sea, that is to say, to the old continent. This is a consoling thought, that industry will not be stopped for want of food, and that it can continue without fear on that road of progress of which the Exposition is the striking manifestation.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée