Bandeira do Brasil

Bandeira do Brasil

Saturday, April 14, 2012

THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME "BRASIL"

Caesalpinia echinata is a species of Brazilian timber tree in the pea family, Fabaceae. Common names include Brazilwood, Pau-Brasil, Pau de Pernambuco and Ibirapitanga (Tupi). This plant has a dense, orange-red heartwood that takes a high shine, and it is the premier wood used for making bows for stringed instruments. When Portuguese explorers found these trees on the coast of South America, they used the name pau-brasil to describe them. Pau is Portuguese for "stick" (or, by metonymy, "wood" in general), and brasil is said to have come from brasa, Portuguese for "ember", meaning "emberlike".
The wood of this tree has a deep red hue, which may be why it received this name. Pau-brasil had been earlier used to describe a different species of tree found in Asia and other places, called Sappanwood which also produced red dye; but the South American trees soon became the better source of red dye. Brazilwood trees were such a large part of the exports and economy of the land that the country which sprang up in that part of the world took its name from them and is now called Brazil.


 In the 15th and 16th centuries, brazilwood was highly valued in Europe and quite difficult to get. Coming from Asia, it was traded in powder form and used as a red dye in the manufacture of luxury textiles, such as velvet, in high demand during the Renaissance. When Portuguese navigators discovered present-day Brazil, on April 22, 1500, they immediately saw that brazilwood was extremely abundant along the coast and in its hinterland, along the rivers. In a few years, a hectic and very profitable operation for felling and shipping all the brazilwood logs they could get was established, as a crown-granted Portuguese monopoly.
 The flower stalk, or inflorescence, is also branched and contains between 15 and 40 yellow, strongly perfumed flowers, which may be pollinated by bees. The petals are usually yellow with a blood-red blotch. The fruits are oval-shaped woody seedpods, measuring up to 7.3 cm long and 2.6 cm across; they hang off the branches and after the seeds are expelled, the pods become twisted in shape. The branches, leaves and fruit are covered with small thorns.



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