Dave Boehnlein travels to the Amazon to visit an Amazonian permaculture project which aims to become a regional model for sustainable production of food, fibre, fuel and medicines. He described The Temple of Light project in his article 'Growing a Productive Landscape' in PM75. The following are some of the more interesting native and exotic species he has selected, which serve both as food and construction materials.
Though these are probably not the species you will grow in your own back garden, their sometimes ingenious multi-uses really provide inspiration for your own projects and species selection back at home!
Amazon Species of Interest
Macambo (Theobroma bicolor)
Macambo is a close relative of cacao. It seems to be much more resistant to fungal disease, however, and thus a good shade-tolerant food forest plant. It produces abundant pods that have a sweet cloying fruit inside with a flavor not dissimilar to durian. The seeds are the big winner. The pods are filled with seeds that are traditionally fried or boiled and salted. They have a flavor somewhere between popcorn and chips!
Dale Dale (Calathea allouia)
Dale dale is a small plant closely related to arrowroot. It produces tubers that have a crisp texture similar to Chinese water chestnuts with a flavor not unlike hominy or corn. We really liked this species because we frequently found it growing wild in the super sandy parts of the property where little else grew. A partially shade-tolerant root crop is an excellent addition to the Temple's food production system.
Aguaje (Mauritia flexuosa)
Aguaje is a large fan palm that grows in swampy areas throughout the Amazon, even in standing water. It produces sour, oily fruits that are much loved by local people. These fruits can be used to make an excellent ice cream with a flavor not unlike tangy butterscotch. What's more, when the tree reaches a height where harvest is inconvenient, people cut it down and let it lie for several months. When they come back they can pop open the trunk which will have become infested with thousands of glistening, white grubs the size of your thumb. These 'suri' (Rhynchophorus palmarum) are considered a protein rich delicacy by local people!
Exotic Species of Interest
Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
This tree, native to India, is truly a staff of life wherever it is planted. It has a wide range of tolerances for wetness and drought. It produces beautiful, yellow timber. The fruit is the largest in the world. It contains delicious, edible carpels around the seeds that are much prized throughout Asia. The seeds themselves, about the size of a chestnut, are also edible (when cooked) and a good source of carbohydrates and protein. The fruit can also be eaten green as starchy potato-like dish. The leaves and fruit provide good fodder for animals. Latex can also be harvested from the tree for use as glue and varnish.
Katuk (Sauropus androgynus)
Katuk is an excellent perennial vegetable from Southeast Asia. Its nutritious leaves have a sweet, nutty flavor excellent for salads and cooked vegetable dishes. It is a medium shrub that is adaptable to sun or shade. It can even be planted as an edible hedge managed by occasional pruning. It is also a good looking ornamental with attractive pink and white fruits throughout the year.
Asper Bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper)
This bamboo species is a clumper, which means it grows slowly in a cluster rather than running far and wide. It produces some of the best construction timbers with a culm diameter of up to 20cm (8in). It grows rapidly, which means it has the potential to provide a fast, renewable source for construction materials, minimizing the need for slower growing timber trees. This bamboo can reach 30m (100ft) in height so it creates an impressive statement in the landscape. This is also one of the most highly prized bamboos for its large, edible shoots.
If you're interested in getting involved with projects at the Temple of the Way of Light please contact them directly through their website at www.templeofthewayoflight.org . They are actively seeking experienced permaculturists to help with implementation. If you're interested in seeing more work from Terra Phoenix Design visit: www.TerraPhoenixDesign.com
Dave Boehnlein is a permaculture teacher and the principal at Terra Phoenix Design. He also serves as the Education Director for the well-known Bullock's Permaculture Homestead on Orcas Island, WA, USA (http://PermaculturePortal.com) where he lived for seven years assimilating everything he could about permaculture systems. He is particularly passionate about ethnobotanical horticulture and keeping things organized. He is also currently working on a permaculture book with co-author Jessi Bloom and illustrator Paul Kearsley for release in early 2014.