Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jabuticaba Bird

The Jabuticaba Tree is native to Brazil, and bears a fruit that grows directly on the trunk of the tree. While that's certainly unusual, it's not the most amazing thing about this spectacular tree. Because unlike other trees, the Jabuticaba tree also grows a bird.

While technically they're affixed to the tree via a tightly wound nest, the fact is that the birds are virtually immobile from the time they hatch until they reach adulthood, at which point they fly away and nest in neighboring trees. Once free, the adult birds switch their diets to a variety of nuts, berries, seeds, and the occasional insect larvae. They also take responsibility for caring for the younger, fixed nestlings.

The nestlings are actually born in nests built in neighboring trees. Once the birds are born, the Jabuticaba Bird carries the nestling to the Jabuticaba Tree in its mouth and "plants" it on an available branch. It then feeds it, protects it, and teaches it. The nestlings continue to live on the branches of the tree, fixed in place, feeding on the fruit growing around them when the fruit is in season and fed by the community of adult Jabuticaba Birds around them when it's not.

Traditionally the Jabuticaba is a highly seasonal fruit that Brazilians enjoy picking directly off the tree. While it's often made into jam, the fruit is very sweet on its own, has a very short shelf life, and tends to lose its flavor if frozen, so there has been very little commercial harvesting. As a result, humans and birds have been able to co-exist - Jabuticaba Bird, Tree, and Fruit in harmony with humans. Brazilians avoid picking the fruit directly surrounding the nestlings, and in exchange, the adult birds leave them alone. While picking, Brazilians call out, "Oi Caro!" to the nearest bird as they pick the fruit, which loosely translates to, "Hey, dude!". It's unclear where this tradition comes from.

In culture, the song Jabuticaba, features Bebel Gilberto singing about how the Jabuticaba is her favorite fruit and implicitly comparing the bird to her lover, who has "flown away" after "outgrowing" her. The movie Jurrassic Park featured a prehistoric flying lizard that was an ancestor of the Jabuticaba Bird; in the movie, the bird attacks Sam Neil when he climbs a tree to escape a Tyronnasaurus and ends up in the branches of a Proto-Jabuticaba Bird nest.

Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado explored the complexity of the symbiosis of the Jabuticaba Tree in Dona Flor and her Two Husbands in a scene where Dona Flor cooks Jabuticaba Jam while musing on her relationship between herself, her dead husband, and her living husband; a Jabuticaba Bird flies in the window and attacks her, creating a powerful metaphor for the way in which her dead husband is haunting her. More recently, Matt Groenig, creator of The Simpsons, created a poster featuring a Jabuticaba Tree with nothing but tiny Bart Simpsons growing directly off the branches.

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