Tonka beans (Dipteryx odorata)
The cumaru tree, of which the tonka bean is the seed, is popularly known as the “sorcerers’ tree”. It is one of the giants of the rainforest.
This leafy tree covets light, and to obtain it, it grows to the incredible height of 120 feet. The oldest specimens are older than 1200 years old. That wasn’t a typo. This huge tree can tell a thousand years of the history of this region that is still so mysterious to us all. For many years the cumaru was mainly used for its timber. Each tree would resound thunderously through the jungle when it was felled. Its sturdy wood, known in English as Brazilian teak, has been used for centuries for making furniture, ships and other durable items.
But the cumaru is a wise and generous species. Its fruits are used as a medicine, a cosmetic and even as a cooking ingredient. Each fruit contains a single tonka bean, but the number of fruits harvested is immense. Accordingly selling tonka beans is the best sustainable use of the cumaru tree. This keeps them standing by generating income for the local inhabitants who protect them. Our goal is to make the crash of cumaru trees falling to the ground a sound heard ever more seldom, since destroying these ancient giants to take advantage of their wood is a predatory use that moreover benefits very few people.
They say that Indian women used to adorn themselves with the long dark tonka beans because of their beauty and the warm, sweet and intoxicating perfume they exhale. Today this bean that used to adorn dusky tribal beauties has conquered the planet and is known as the Brazilian vanilla. Now, through the tonka bean, new forest tales can be told, tales of conservation that rely on the sustainable economic value of our natural heritage.