Tag Archives: essential oil

Miguel, Celestina and Rosewood Trees in Tamshiyacu – November 8, 2015

Juan harvesting rosewood branch

Juan Silvano harvesting rosewood leaves from Miguel’s tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

One highlight of my recent trip to Peru was spending a day with Miguel and Celestina – a couple who live in Tamshiyacu, a small town that is about an hour and a half by Iquitos by speed boat.  I first toured their farm a year ago with our local contact Juan who introduced us to a few families that had planted rosewood trees in a community development project around 2003.

 

They warmly greeted us in their home filled with their children, grandchildren and dogs.  Other families in the area had either sold their land or sold the rights to their rosewood trees to a new company making essential oil.  I was pleased that this senior citizen couple wanted to work with us to manage the rosewood trees they had left on their property.

Motorcar from Tamshiyacu

Motorcar from Tamshiyacu. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Heading out with machete and large collecting basket, our project manager Yully, Celestina and I sat in the back seat of a motorcar while Miguel and CACE videographer Tulio perched in the luggage rack in back.  We soon got beyond the paved road in town and traveled for miles on dirt roads that were rutted but solid since the “dry” season rains were not intense.   Twenty minutes out, we passed by some rough wooden buildings with tarp roofs in a clearing made by roughly hacking down a section of rainforest.  The government was creating these new settlements by giving land rights to poor families seeking a place to farm.

 

Miguel squeezing sugar cane

Miguel squeezing sugar cane with wooden press.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

The motorcar dropped us off at a tiny trail entering the woods on the other side of the road and promised to pick us up at the end of the day if we could reach him on his cell phone.  After a half-hour hike, we reached Miguel and Celestina’s plot that they had legally acquired over twenty years ago.  They had planted yucca (also known as cassava and manioc) as their main staple food.  Pineapples, umari fruit, and Brazil nuts were their main commercial crops.  Sugar cane provided snack food. They hoped that selling rosewood material could increase their modest income.

 

Miguel attaching tag to rosewood tree

Miguel tagging rosewood tree on his property. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

We got to work tagging and measuring all of the rosewood trees that were still alive a dozen years after the donated seedlings were transplanted into their field.  Some were vigorous tall trees that seemed good to maintain as a source of seeds in the future.  Many had grown to 30 feet tall and seemed good candidates to be pruned to provide branches and leaves for distilling.  A few were still no bigger than seedlings that might grow if exposed to more light.

 

Tulio measuring rosewood tree diameter

Tulio measuring rosewood tree diameter. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

After four hours of hot hard work, we gathered under their rustic shelter built to protect bags of charcoal they were soon going to sell.  Miguel then cut up and gave each of us a whole pineapple to savor – the freshest and sweetest I had ever had in my life.

We promised to return soon to do our first modest harvest to make a small batch of rosewood oil. We will need to undertake this task carefully, though, since many of the trees have grown very large and will need to be pruned carefully to keep them healthy and produce good material for distilling in the future.

CP Yully Miguel Celestina at Tamshiyacu

Miguel, Celestina, Yully Rojas and Campbell Plowden. Photo by Tulio Davila/CACE

In addition to helping this couple in the coming years, we hope to learn a lot about rosewood tree growth and management that we can apply to our rosewood project at Brillo Nuevo being developed with our partner Camino Verde.  Those trees are now almost three years old, and we expect to conduct our first experimental harvest in early 2016.

Advertisements

Exploring a new partnership with Maijuna native communities

March 5, 2015

Maijuna boys in boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna boys in boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I just returned to Iquitos after a successful four day visit to the Maijuna native community of Nueva Vida in the Napo River region of the northern Peruvian Amazon. The main purpose of the trip was to meet their artisans and see if they wanted to work with CACE to develop and market several new models of handicrafts. I also wanted to explore the potential for harvesting copal resin with them and distilling it into fragrant essential oil as a new source of sustainable income for the village.

Campbell Plowden and Shebaco at Maijuna party in 2009.  Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden and Shebaco at Maijuna party in 2009. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

My journey began with a speedboat ride at dawn from Iquitos to the Amazon River town of Mazan with my CACE videographer companion Tulio Davila. After stocking up on supplies, we eventually met up with our Maijuna guides Everest and his father Sebastian “Shebaco” Rios Ochoa.

Michael Gilmore discussing map with Maijuna in Nueva Vida (2009).  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Michael Gilmore discussing map with Maijuna in Nueva Vida (2009). Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I first met this friendly confident native leader through long-time Maijuna friend and CACE board member Michael Gilmore. We had danced together after a Maijuna federation congress in 2009, and he hosted me last summer in Sucusari when we conducted a quick search for copal trees near his village. I much appreciate that he gave me the name “Baiyiri” – the Maijuna word for copal.

Maijuna leader and elder photo at FECONAMAI congress 2009.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna leader and elder photo at FECONAMAI congress 2009. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our original host for this visit was going to be Walter Perez from Nueva Vida, but on two days’ notice he had flown to Lima with two other Maijuna to meet with the Peruvian President. This was a critical meeting that marked the final hurdle to winning government approval for a regional protected area that would encompass the four main Maijuna villages in the Napo and Putumayo River region and the forest in between. This struggle to gain legal recognition for their traditional lands coincided with a multi-year battle against a road project that would go through the heart of it. I wished Walter well on his mission and was happy to have Shebaco with me again for mine.

Maijuna statue at Puerto Huaman. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna statue at Puerto Huaman. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Like many native groups, the Maijuna are striving to improve their standard of living and standing in modern Peruvian society and maintain certain aspects of their culture that give them pride and sustenance. The Maijuna were once called by the derogatory term “orejones” (big ears) because they had the custom of placing increasingly larger disks into their ear lobes. They gave up this practice a generation ago, but they embraced a program led by linguists from U.C. Berkeley that has reinvigorated the teaching and use of the Maijuna language by all generations.

Chambira palm fiber basket woven by Maijuna artisan.  Photo by Michael Gilmore

Chambira palm fiber basket woven by Maijuna artisan. Photo by Michael Gilmore

Half a dozen women from Nueva Vida learned how to make decorative baskets from chambira palm fiber that were similar to ones made by campesino artisans from the Tahuayo River, but their skills languished for several years because the workshop’s sponsors did not provide follow-up support to market any baskets they made. Since there was a new spark to this enterprise, Michael thought that this would be a propitious time to connect with these budding artisans.

Campbell Plowden discussing basket design with Maijuna artisan.  Photo by Tulio Davila/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden discussing basket design with Maijuna artisan. Photo by Tulio Davila/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Due to our late start from Mazan, we didn’t get into Nueva Vida in Shebaco’s peque-peque (motor canoe) until well after dark. After setting up our tents in our host’s main room and a quick supper of tuna fish and crackers, we went to sleep. My visit began in earnest the next morning by meeting almost the whole community. I spoke no Maijuna beyond my nickname, but showing and discussing a video of our handicraft project with other artisans quickly established a common language dealing with chambira palm fiber and other plants used in making woven crafts.

Maijuna artisans of Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna artisans of Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

There was no doubt they could make the kind of baskets we wanted, but it took a patient dialogue to sort through which dye plants they had available to make certain colors and which colors we should avoid using in our initial designs unless we wanted to provide artificial dyes from the city. Our discussion about pricing for the baskets was uncomfortable for a time because their scale was different than other villages we have bought similar products from.

Maijuna elder sleeping next to copal flame. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna elder sleeping next to copal flame. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While the Maijuna were all familiar with the basic uses of copal resin – burning it for light or boiling it to caulk their canoes, they were fascinated to see and hear the stories about the intimate relationships that copal resin exuding from the trees has with various weevils, flies, ants and bees.

Maijuna harvesting copal at Nueva Vida.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna harvesting copal at Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

For two days I accompanied Shebaco and rotating four-man teams from Nueva Vida to search for copal. We had most luck finding large fresh lumps on trees on or near the tops of little hills and spent the other half of our time slogging through swampy low lying areas.

Maijuna harvesting copal with machete lashed to pole. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna harvesting copal with machete lashed to pole. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Harvesting a lump was sometimes as simple as cutting it off with a machete at chest height. A team member lashed his machete to a pole and thrust the blade under lumps that were attached to the trunk ten to twenty feet from the ground. In a few cases, a spry Maijuna wrangled his way up a nearby small tree or vine to get at some lumps that were twice as high. Two men tried to catch the dislodged lumps below (in Tulio’s long-sleeve shirt the first day and an old cassava carrying bag on the second) while trying to keep dry resin bits from falling in their eyes.

Maijuna tossing copal lump down.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna tossing copal lump down. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The teams quickly adopted our protocol of not harvesting small fresh resin lumps so the weevils inside them could mature and stimulate more resin lumps in the future. They also understood that while they could take old black lumps back to their homes to stoke cooking fires, the dry odorless lumps were not worth distilling because they had lost most of their essential oil. We collected GPS points at all of the trees to aid in finding these trees again in five or six years and combine them with satellite landscape data to help identify other good sites for finding copal trees in more distant Maijuna forest areas.

Maijuna artisan Elena and dolphin ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna artisan Elena and dolphin ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Other highlights of my time in Nueva Vida included fishing with Shebaco and Everest and meeting Elena, an artisan who had woven a beautiful river dolphin as a sample keychain. After Tulio talked with her, I commissioned her on the spot to make fifteen more as Christmas tree ornaments. I was impressed that Tulio was able to sincerely engage with people who are understandably often very shy in this situation to become comfortable enough to share something about their craft making and other aspects of their lives. In the final hours of light, I was very happy to reach an agreement with the president of the artisan association about making an initial batch of baskets for us.

Yully Rojas measuring copal tree with Maijuna team.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas measuring copal tree with Maijuna team. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our Nueva Vida hosts were accepting if circumspect in sharing their evaluation of our visit with us. Every community in this region has had multiple experiences with visitors from various groups coming in to pitch one project or another – many of which lack follow-up or don’t go well for other reasons so I understand why they temper their enthusiasm for a new venture until it proves worthwhile. I already felt a bond with Shebaco, but I was encouraged that several people from Nueva Vida asked me one and only one simple question: “When are you coming back?” So the dance has begun. I hope to see thirty beautiful baskets in three weeks as the next step.

Shebaco observing copal distillation in Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Shebaco observing copal distillation in Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Back in Iquitos, our project manager Yully set herself to the task right away of distilling the resin collected at Nueva Vida. It was great to learn that it shared the highest yield of essential oil we have produced so far from any region. Analyzing a sample of it will help determine its composition and commercial potential. If these aspects prove positive as well, the next step will be to formulate a management plan to guide the development of this local enterprise in the years to come.

The rosewood project in Peru – Part 1: Progress in Brillo Nuevo

By Campbell Plowden

Putting rosewood leaves in bag at Brillo Nuevo. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Putting rosewood leaves in bag at Brillo Nuevo. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The CACE rosewood project began in the summer of 2012 when we collected and distilled some leaves from one rosewood tree near Brillo Nuevo in the Ampiyacu River region. It was the lone survivor of a few seedlings that Oscar López Flores’ father had brought with him from the Algodón River farther north almost 70 years. Oscar remembers growing up with these aromatic trees in front of his home that had long since been left to return to forest.

Bora man separating rosewood oil from distillate water. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man separating rosewood oil from distillate water. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The oil that we extracted from this tree had a wonderful aroma, but we would clearly need more than one tree to create a community enterprise that would make and sell rosewood oil. Read full story about Oscar’s rosewood tree.

Juan Silvano with young rosewood tree. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

Juan Silvano with young rosewood tree. Photo by C. Plowden/CACE

We got a look at what such a project might look when we visited shaman Juan Silvano and saw some of the thousand plus rosewood trees that he had planted near his eco-lodge on the outskirts of Tamshiyacu. While most of his fellow rosewood planters had stopped pruning their trees many years ago when government support for the project evaporated, Juan still hoped that he would be able to find a good partner to make essential oil from his rosewood trees and other medicinal plants. Read full story about rosewood and ayuhuasca at Juan’s center.

Rosewood seedlings and scions at Jenaro Herrera. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood seedlings and scions at Jenaro Herrera. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

With encouragement and funding from the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center, we combined forces with the NGO Camino Verde and contracted the Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP) to use rosewood cuttings and seeds from rosewood acquired from the Tamshiyacu River region to produce 1000 seedlings to plant at Brillo Nuevo. See full story about rosewood seedlings at IIAP nursery.

Robin van Loon from Camino Verde, Yully Rojas from CACE and Bora family who planted rosewood seedlings in their forest field. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Robin van Loon from Camino Verde, Yully Rojas from CACE and Bora family who planted rosewood seedlings in their forest field. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

By February of this year, the nursery had produced 900 good seedlings that were taken by truck, ferry, speedboat, motor canoes and backpacks from Jenaro Herrera to fields around Brillo Nuevo. Robin van Loon from Camino Verde then worked with four families (chosen by lottery) to plant 225 seedlings in a half-hectare plot of each family.See more photos about rosewood planting at Brillo Nuevo.

Luke Plowden and Bora man measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Bora man measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

This summer we organized a team of young Bora men to check on the status of the rosewood seedlings in the four plots around Brillo Nuevo. Half of the team including CACE volunteer Luke Plowden first counted the number of rosewood seedlings that were still alive. They then recorded the height, width, number of leaves and general condition of twenty seedlings selected at random in each area.

Measuring soil humidity near rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Measuring soil humidity near rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The team also used a battery-powered probe to record the soil moisture near these sample plants. While we had heard complaints that some plants had been stolen and saw that a few had withered to leafless stems, it was good to find that at least 90% of the plants were alive in each plot and most were in very good shape.

Bora men photographing insect at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora men photographing insect at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While one crew was taking these measurements, four other fellows used digital cameras to take pictures of the measurers and sundry critter and plants in the field. This was our first photography workshop designed to help the Bora document their activities and nature in the forest, field and around their own homes. See photos of insects and frog in the field.

Red lip plant with water at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Red lip plant with water at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

On the next day of the monitoring, we reversed the roles so the photographers learned to use the measuring tape, GPS and humidity gauge while the first group got lessons and practice using the cameras. We gathered in the evening to review the day’s images with the group when we had reliable power and functioning computers.

it Moore and Bora man drawing chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

it Moore and Bora man drawing chambira palm at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our Amazon Field Volunteer Amrit Moore was beginning another kind of documentation on the first day of the rosewood monitoring. She sat on a log and drew colored sketches of chambira palm trees – the most important plant for making crafts in the region since fibers are pulled from its leaves to weave into almost every handicraft.

Felix Flores sketch of chambira palm. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Felix Flores sketch of chambira palm. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Amrit was joined by Bora woodsman Felix Flores Vega who showed that he had good potential to develop as much skill with a colored pencil as he already had with a machete. Amrit is now working to make illustrations for all of the major Ampiyacu craft plants for a resource manual to be shared with all of the artisans in the region

Go to: The rosewood project in Peru – Part 2: Rosewood in the Ucayali

To learn more about or support this project, please visit http://www.AmazonAlive.net or http://www.AmazonEcology.org.

Campbell Plowden measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas doing training Bora men to use GPS. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas doing training Bora men to use GPS. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man measuring rosewood seedling at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas and Bora team recording rosewood seedling growth. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas and Bora team recording rosewood seedling growth. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore drawing chambira palm tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore drawing chambira palm tree. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden in field with rosewood seedlings at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden in field with rosewood seedlings at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Amrit Moore on canoe at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke Plowden and Amrit Moore on canoe at Brillo Nuevo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The rosewood project in Peru – Part 2: Rosewood in the Ucayali

By Campbell Plowden

See: The rosewood project in Peru – Part 1: Progress in the Ampiyacu

Recover - Rainforest Ecoversity Center. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Recover – Rainforest Ecoversity Center. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Near the end of our six weeks in Peru, my son Luke and I took a one hour flight from Iquitos to Pucallpa to investigate another rosewood oil project. This trip would have taken us five days to chug up the Ucayali River by lancha (ferry boat) since no roads link Iquitos to the outside world. I arrived in the city with a few disparate contacts, but a series of meetings led to me Limber Gongora – director of Recover (Rainforest Ecoversity Center).

Rosewood seedling under canopy at RECOVER. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood seedling under canopy at RECOVER. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Recover is a non-profit organization that does environmental education and rainforest restoration projects at its center just outside the city. When Luke and I toured the center we saw that each of the rosewood seedlings they had planted were shaded under a thatched shelter to prevent the sun from baking them. I was surprised to see that several years after planting, most of the seedlings were still only a foot or two tall. I’d heard that rosewood is not a pioneer species that grows rapidly in open sun, but I wondered if this growth rate was unusually slow due to the reduced fertility or increased compaction of the soil that was last used for cattle grazing.

Lush concession in Ucayali. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Lush concession in Ucayali. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Apart from his work with Recover, Limber is also working with the Lush Cosmetics company based in the United Kingdom to produce rosewood for export. While surveying forest lands belong to a Shipibo community, they discovered that the forest in a logging concession actually had more of this aromatic tree that had been wiped out in most of its former range. Lush ultimately took over the harvesting rights in this area and backed the purchase of an 85 gallon distiller from Heart Magic to process leaves, branches and wood from trees that were already on the ground.

Palo Rosa sign with Shipibo and scientific name at Recover center.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Palo Rosa sign with Shipibo and scientific name at Recover center. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

One valuable tip I picked up from Limber was that they had created their own version of a “rocket” (energy efficient) stove that allowed them to heat the still for a full run with a few pieces of fuel wood instead of having to buy and cart in an endless series of expensive tanks of gas. I wished I could have seen their operation, but it was too deep in the forest to reach with my limited time.

The Lush operation in Peru was getting a decent yield of oil, and they had already produced their first barrel. The company had not been able to ship it out yet, though, because they were still trying to sort out export regulations with the Peruvian government. The species is rightfully listed as a protected species with the Conventional on International Trades in Endangered Species (CITES) so procedures need to be adopted to demonstrate that making and selling this oil is being done in a sustainable way that does not aggravate the threatened status of this tree.

Campbell Plowden with FECONAU leaders in Pucallpa.  Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden with FECONAU leaders Robert Guimaraes and Felipe Mori Guimaraes in Pucallpa. Photo by Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Shipibo artisan Esther Lopez Chavez with hand-made fabric. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Shipibo artisan Esther Lopez Chavez with hand-made fabric. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

During my stay in Pucallpa, I also met with two leaders from FECANAU (the federation that represents 33 Shipibo native communities in the Pucallpa region) and learned about their forest inventory activities in the Flor de Ucayali community and the group’s desire to develop their own operation to distill and sell rosewood and other aromatic oils. They seemed like good potential partners, but CACE does not yet have the resources to develop a new essential oil project beyond our current ones in Loreto. I did visit one Shipibo community, however, and bought a few of the beautiful hand-made Shipibo fabrics that CACE will try to sell on a limited basis.

My final stop in Pucallpa to learn about the management of rosewood was the IIAP (Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon) office on the outskirts of the city. The director welcomed me and brought me to the office of the man responsible for silvicultural research. He looked through his collection of thick reports on various trees, but they were none focused on rosewood. We then toured the nursery where hundreds to thousands of cuttings of several timber species were being cultivated in protected bins to study their genetic and growth characteristics.

Palo Rosa sign at IIAP herbarium in Pucallpa. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Palo Rosa sign at IIAP herbarium in Pucallpa. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The only rosewood seedlings around were a handful of survivors of two rows planted in 2009 that an almost blank sign indicated came from Tamshiyacu. The researcher assured me that IIAP would be very happy to initiate a proper set of trials at their nursery if we wished to pay for it. His remarks were a potent reminder that the government invests few of its own resources into developing non-timber forest resources. The burden for doing such studies rests almost entirely with non-governmental groups who wish to develop these options for communities.

Patriot 6.5 hp shredder. Photo by Patriot Products.

Patriot 6.5 hp shredder. Photo by Patriot Products.

CACE now plans to purchase a Patriot grinder to shred small branches and leaves from rosewood and other aromatic trees in the Ampiyacu and other project sites into small chips. We will then feed these into a 20 gallon distiller we plan to buy from Heart Magic to extract what we hope will be beautifully scented oils that can be sold for use in perfume and/or aromatherapy. We will continue to share notes with Camino Verde that has purchased the same equipment and has already produced a trial batch of oil from a rosewood tree relative and aims to produce rosewood oil in the future when seedlings it has planted reach an adequate size to be pruned in a few years.

20 gallon essential oil distiller. Photo by Heart Magic

20 gallon essential oil distiller. Photo by Heart Magic

We have raised enough funds now to purchase the grinder and distiller in the U.S. which are not available in Peru. We now need to raise another $4000 to design and build our own “rocket stove” and pay for shipping and customs fees to get this equipment to our base in Iquitos. Learn more about this project and how you can support it at: http://www.AmazonAlive.net and http://www.AmazonEcology.org.

See: The rosewood project in Peru – Part 1: Progress in the Ampiyacu

Rosewood reforestation launched in the Ampiyacu

Rosewood seedlings at nursery at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood seedlings at nursery at Jenaro Herrera. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology and its ally NGO Camino Verde have carried out the first phase of a reforestation and essential oil production project in the Ampiyacu region. In early February, we had 900 young rosewood trees (Aniba roseaodora) ready to deliver to their new home down river.

Carrying rosewood seedlings from Brillo Nuevo to family field.  Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Carrying rosewood seedlings from Brillo Nuevo to family field. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE’s field assistant Italo Melendez accompanied the seedlings on their journey from the government nursery in Jenaro Herrera by truck to the port where they were transferred to a ferry boat to go down the Ucayali River to Iquitos and then completed their journey by speed boat to Brillo Nuevo.

Robin van Loon from Camino Verde, Yully Rojas from CACE and Bora family who planted rosewood seedlings in their forest field. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Robin van Loon from Camino Verde, Yully Rojas from CACE and Bora family who planted rosewood seedlings in their forest field. Photo by Italo Melendez/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The young rosewoods were divvied up by the five families who had won a chance in a village lottery to plant one of the first batches of these aromatic trees. Each family then brought its crates of seedlings to a patch of secondary forest to plant with guidance from Camino Verde’s director Robin van Loon.

Bora boy tending rosewood seedling. Photo by Yully Rojas Reategui/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora boy tending rosewood seedling. Photo by Yully Rojas Reategui/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ampiyacu project manager Yully Rojas reported that most of the seedlings were growing well in early April although a few had been chewed by hungry grasshoppers and others had been lifted by jealous neighbors. We are now exploring larger distillation units to extract oil from a modest harvest of leaves in several years. See more photos of the Rosewood seedling journey and reforestation in Brillo Nuevo.

Rosewood reforestation and essential oil for Brillo Nuevo

By Campbell Plowden

For the past three years, the Center for Amazon Community Ecology has been working with the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo to measure the abundance of copal trees in their forests and evaluate the quantity and quality of aromatic essential oil that could be produced from its sustainably harvested resin. We are now also exploring the rosewood tree (Aniba roseaodora) and a few of its relatives as new sources for community production of fragrant oils.

Rosewood grows in wild in Brazil and almost every other country in the Amazon region. It has been used for centuries as a source of oil for perfumes and wood for making fine furniture. Unfortunately the whole tree was routinely harvested to make these products. Severe rosewood exploitation led to concerns about its possible extinction and eventual restrictions on international trade in the species through Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The Brazilian government also passed national legislation to protect the species domestically. CACE is now developing a project to produce a sustainable supply of rosewood oil by distilling its leaves and small branches and planting a new generation of rosewood trees in secondary forests at Brillo Nuevo.

Rosewood tree near Ancon Colonia. © Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood tree near Ancon Colonia. © Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


We had never encountered rosewood in any of our forest surveys around Brillo Nuevo, but our former local coordinator Oscar told us in late June that he could lead us to one “palo de rosa” tree where we collect enough material to distill a test batch of oil. Oscar’s parents brought several rosewood seedlings with them when they moved from the Rio Algodon to the Ampiyacu River region around 1945. One of the trees they planted in front of their house survived and filled the air with a memorable pleasant aroma. When Oscar and his family moved from Ancon Colonia to the larger village of Brillo Nuevo so his children could attend school, it was understood he retained rights to the tall rosewood at the old site.

Putting rosewood leaves in bag at Brillo Nuevo. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Putting rosewood leaves in bag at Brillo Nuevo. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our five-person team piled into Oscar’s “peque-peque” (motorized wooden canoe) and headed an hour up the Yaguasyacu River to a small clearing just past past Ancon Colonia. We hiked through the forest and crossed slippery log bridges for about 20 minutes until Oscar found his old homestead and the sixty-five year old legacy rosewood tree. After two failed attempts to climb the tree itself, one team member scooted up a neighboring tree with our claw-like climbing spikes and snipped off seven one-inch thick branches with a pruning saw attached to a long aluminum pole. We weighed the leaves that drifted down to ensure we had at least five kilograms for our first trial. Later that afternoon we got a bag of leaves from a few species of copal and “moena” trees – relatives of the rosewood for other distillation tests.

Distilling rosewood leaves with alembique pot. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Distilling rosewood leaves with alembique pot. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The next day our task was to extract as much oil from rosewood and other kinds of leaves we had collected. We set up our copper alembique pot and other parts of our distillation apparatus in the open kitchen area of the school. We shredded rosewood leaves and finely chopped the branches, stuffed them into the top of the vessel, filled it with water, and sealed the onion dome with caulking. After burning the plastic face off the thermometer in our first trial using firewood (instead of a gas stove), we shielded the lower part of the still with a few pieces of “calamina” (corruguated aluminum used for roofing).

Bora man separating rosewood oil from distillate water. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora man separating rosewood oil from distillate water. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

An hour after the fire resumed, an amber-colored oil starting dripping into the separatory flask. We measured the weight of oil that came out every half-hour until the process ran its course in four hours. The amount was less than hoped for, but it had an exquisite aroma. It was not hard to see why rosewood oil has been a classic scent for millennia. A specialty fragrance company President in Los Angeles later confirmed that we had distilled a promising product. This was a good step forward, but we knew that we couldn’t produce enough oil from one lone rosewood tree to establish a community enterprise. We could, however, plant some more to expand our supply of raw material for making oil and assist the recovery of a valuable endangered Amazon tree.

Campbell Plowden and Robin van Loon at Camino Verde reforestation site on the Tambopata River. © Photo by Ursula Leyva Carbone/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden and Robin van Loon at Camino Verde reforestation site on the Tambopata River. © Photo by Ursula Leyva Carbone/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The Marjorie Grant Whiting Center had given CACE two grants to support our Ampiyacu project and also funded an NGO called Camino Verde that did reforestation projects and documented traditional plant uses in the southern Peruvian Amazon. MGWC introduced Robin van Loon, its Executive Director to us and then funded a CACE/Camino Verde pilot project to sustainably harvest and develop several non-timber forest products in both of our areas. A key element of this joint project involves planting about 1000 rosewood seedlings at Brillo Nuevo. To start this process, we commissioned the Institute for Investigations of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP) to produce the seedlings in their nursery at their research station in Jenaro Herrera – the same site as our long-term copal research.

Rosewood seedlings and scions at Jenaro Herrera.  © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosewood seedlings and scions at Jenaro Herrera. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

During my visit to this station in early July, the manager showed me the seedlings that would hopefully become the founders of a rosewood population in the Ampiyacu. They began by laying cuttings from a few small trees onto a planting bed that would be transferred to individual planting bags once they had a good root. We expect these will be large enough by late January for Robin van Loon, the Executive Director of Camino Verde to bring them to Brillo Nuevo for planting. The community had enthusiastically approved this project and chose five families by lots to plant and care for about 200 young rosewood trees in fertile “purma” – a patch of secondary forest in the fallow phase of a slash and burn growing cycle. We expect these trees will grow enough in three to four years to sustain a modest harvest of leaves that can be distilled into marketable rosewood oil.

When I learned that a group of campesinos at Tamshiyacu had already planted several thousand rosewood trees and had experimented distilling some oil from their leaves, Yully Rojas (our Ampiyacu Project Manager) and I took the one hour “rapido” (fast motorboat) there with hopes of finding someone who could tell us about this operation.

Double-snake design on Shipiba fabric. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Double-snake design on Shipiba fabric. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

We eventually found our way to the house of Sr. Juan Silvano who shared the story of his group’s venture with rosewood that began about ten years ago. Tamshiyacu was known as a place where this aromatic tree had once thrived and been a center for rosewood exploitation and oil production. With encouragement and some technical assistance from IIAP, ten residents formed a group that collected and germinated seeds from a few remnant trees and planted about 7,000 seedlings in their properties. In meantime they collected enough leaves from some older trees to produce one liter of oil. They gave this batch to IIAP and the university to analyze, but never got any results. Juan then invited us to visit the area where he had planted most of his rosewood seedlings, some food crops and built a bunkhouse and lodge to host ayuhuasca ceremonies. He also carved hunks of tawari and palo sangre wood into jaguars, snakes, eagles, and abstract human figures inspired by shamanic visions for sale to his clients and other tourists.

Juan Silvano with young rosewood tree at Tamshiyacu. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Juan Silvano with young rosewood tree at Tamshiyacu. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

We paused to chat around a few of the rosewood saplings he had planted in 2003. The ones planted in open sun had grown very well. He had pruned them according to IIAP recommendations for several years so they wouldn’t grow taller than four meters – a nice height to keep the top leaves and branches within easy reach for harvesting. IIAP dropped its support for the project for some years and then renewed it temporarily in 2008 when it surveyed the abundance of seed trees and condition of the five-year old seedlings in the fields of the group members that hadn’t abandoned the project. The group renewed the registration of its group (the Tamshiyacu Campesino Association of Amazon Aromas) with the regional government, but they let this expire again when the government failed to offer any concrete way for them to make or sell any rosewood oil.

The group’s most recent hope to use this resource came two years ago when a French woman came to the area to make fragrant essential oils with a high capacity distillation apparatus. She had bought batches of 300 kg. of leaves and branches from the five remaining active members of the association for a year, but their collaboration fell apart when they failed to reach an agreement on payment terms. After this venture failed, even Juan stopped maintaining his young rosewood trees and top branches now exceeded six meters. He could still start to manage them again, but he is content to let them grow into large trees if he can’t profitably harvest the leaves to make oil.

Yully and I left Tamshiyacu knowing that Juan would be a valuable advisor for our rosewood oil project at Brillo Nuevo so we are now exploring ways to work with him and his group to get a hard start on learning the finer points of distilling rosewood leaves and find the best ways to market its oil.

For full versions of the stories in this article please see these other posts in Campbell’s Amazon Journal:
The Legacy of a Rosewood Tree (Brillo Nuevo)
Steaming Leaves and Heated Emotions (Brillo Nuevo)
A Dying Copal Tree and Rosewood Seedlings at Jenaro Herrera
Visions of Rosewood Oil and Ayahuasca (Tamshiyacu)

CACE welcomes Robin van Loon and Camino Verde as partners

Robin van Loon with shaman Don Ignacio Duri at Infierno © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Robin van Loon with shaman Don Ignacio Duri at Infierno © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology is pleased to welcome Robin van Loon as the newest member of the CACE Advisory Board. Robin is the founder and executive director of Camino Verde, a non-profit organization dedicated to planting trees in the Peruvian Amazon. He is a native of Massachusetts who has lived in Peru since 2001 studying traditional use of medicinal and economic plants in the Andean highlands and lowland tropical forest in Madre de Dios.

Robin van Loon and pijuayo palm fruit at Baltimori. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Robin van Loon and pijuayo palm fruit at Baltimori. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Three years after moving to the Tambopata River area, he founded Camino Verde in 2007 to launch the first viable reforestation projects in the region. The organization created and manages a “Living Seed Bank” that features ten thousand trees representing 250 species valuable for fruits, medicines, craft-making materials and timber. Camino Verde also makes tree seedlings available to local farmers as an alternative to slash-and-burn farming.

Officers of the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center for Humanity Arts and the Environment (MGWC) introduced Robin and CACE Executive Director Campbell Plowden to each other in 2010 to see if they could combine their distinct experience and methods to enhance forest conservation and support sustainable livelihoods in the northern and southern ends of the Peruvian Amazon.

Campbell Plowden, Robin van Loon and Uusula Leyva at Baltimori. © Photo by David Imburgia/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Plowden, van Loon and Camino Verde forester at Baltimori. © Photo by David Imburgia/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

MGWC funded two Plowden trips to Madre de Dios to visit Camino Verde’s reforestation site at Baltimori and financed van Loon’s first visit to several CACE partner communities in Loreto. This pilot project is now developing three cooperative themes:

1) CACE is helping Camino Verde to develop a scientifically based study of the sustainable harvest of medicinal latex from several hundred sangre de grado (“dragon’s blood”) trees planted at Baltimori in the Tambopata River region.

Sangre de grado latex harvest experiment at Baltimori. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Sangre de grado latex harvest experiment at Baltimori. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

2) Camino Verde is the technical advisor and co-financer of a project to plant 1000 rosewood tree seedlings in secondary forest fields in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo on the Ampiyacu River. When the trees mature, CACE will work with the community to distill the leaves into a marketable fragrant essential oil.

Distilling camphor moena leaves at Baltimori; Bora woodsmen collecting canoela moena leaves at Brillo Nuevo. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Distilling camphor moena leaves at Baltimori; Bora woodsmen collecting canoela moena leaves at Brillo Nuevo. © Photos by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

3) CACE and Camino Verde are conducting trial distillations of leaves and branches from several sister species of “moena” trees to develop novel essential oils from Amazon rosewood relatives (family Lauraceae). Promising products will be developed for sale to fragrance companies to generate income for forest communities.

Both groups seek ongoing support for these initiatives. Donations may be sent to support them through the online non-profit funding platform Global Giving. The CACE campaign – Project # 12229 will “go live” on November 26.

Other links and related stories:
The Legacy of a Rosewood Tree
A Dying Copal Tree and Rosewood Seedlings at Jenaro Herrera
Steaming Leaves and Heated Emotions
Visions of Rosewood Oil and Ayuhuasca

Camino Verde on Facebook
CACE on Facebook