Ajuntament de Barcelona

Phytolacca dioica

Miramar Garden and Camí dels Cims

    Catalan name: 
    Bellaombra
    Spanish name: 
    Árbol de la bella sombra
    Species characteristics
    Family: 
    Phytolaccaceae
    Origin: 
    Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil
    Habitat: 
    Riparian forest
    Characteristics: 

    Perennial dioecious plant (it has the feminine and the masculine flowers on different stipes) 7-10 m tall, although it can reach 15 m, with thick trunk thick and big visible roots. The cylindrical and very narrowed at the base trunk can make, whith years, a base from other trunks come up. The chestnut-yellowish brown bark is rough and stretch marked. The dense and wide crown is rounded and irregular and has thick branches. Despite its dimensions, there is not agreement about if it is a tree, a shrub or a herb.

    The simple and alternate leaves, 5-13 cm long (occasionally, 20 cm) and 2.5-7.5 cm wide, have a variable shape (from elliptical to oval or oblong), entire margin and acute apex. The upper side is dark bright green and the lower side lighter with marked central nerve. The petiole is noticeable, 2-8 cm long.

    The tiny cream flowers (3.5 mm long the masculine ones and 4 mm the feminine ones) appear into terminal bunches, 7.5-10 cm long, with unisexual flowers.

    The fruits are infructescences 15-20 cm long (2.5-3 cm wide) composed of many globose berries, about 1 cm in diameter, which have a central depressió central and well-marked by the grooves seeds (about 3 mm). The fruit colour depends on the ripen grade, variing from yellow to intense red and black.

    Flowering time: 
    April-May
    Fruiting time: 
    Late summer-autumn
    Uses and properties: 

    Phytolacca dioica tree is used both in parks and urban gardens because of its shadow and its decoration attributes, both on its own or in group, by its appearance and, mainly, because of its trunk, very spectacular when mature, with strange and curious forms.

    It lives well in warm areas, although it can suffer from leave-fall when temperature drops near zero Celsius degrees.

    History and curiosities: 

    The scientific name, Phytolacca dioica, consists of the genus name Phytolacca, from the Greek φυτόν, “plant”, and λάκκα, “lac”, in allusion to the crimson colour of some of the species fruit juice, and the Latin term dioica, “dioic”, alluding the separation of feminine and masculine flowers in different cuttings.

    The specimens of Phytolacca dioica usually grow isolated; however, it is possible to found important groups of this species, as the so-named Bosque de ombúes ("forest of Phytolacca dioica"), in Uruguay, which stretches in a strip of more of 20 km. The word ombú, with which the tree is also known in Spanish, comes from the Guarani and means “shadow”.

    Although nowadays is is hard to find specimens at the pampa, in former times it was common and served as a shelter for the travellers in highest insolation hours, which earned it the surname of amigo del gaucho, “gaucho's friend”, and to become an element of Río de la Plata folklore.

    In Barcelona, it was introduced at the beginning of the 20th c. at Miramar gardens, in Montjuïc, by the landscape gardener J.C.N. Forestier. These specimens of Phytolacca dioica are catalogued as a trees of local interest. Currently, there also are specimens of Phytolacca dioica at other places in the town, as the University gardens and Diagonal avenue.