Letter | Published:

Barrenness of the Pampas

Nature volume 31, pages 289290 | Download Citation



MR. EDWIN CLARK overlooks, I think, an important factor in the present treeless condition of the Pampas (of the La Plata, so far as my own knowledge extends only), and of the difficulty of establishing trees on those plains. North of Monte Video, for some hundreds of miles, the leaf-eating ant is omnipresent. I have seen streams of them running along the beaten paths to their nests, each ant carrying the yellow petals of some plant similar to the buttercup. When I first noticed, from my horse, this procession of golden leaves, I was greatly astonished. Familiarity, however, soon dispelled this. The opima spolia was being carried to their nests and taken under ground, no doubt as a provision for the winter. The ants were about a quarter of an inch in length, and of a beautiful steel-blue colour. Those I picked up for examination demonstrated their powers by shearing off the hard cuticle of my thumb or fore-finger with their mandibles. Subsequently, I made the acquaintance of a gentleman, well known in the Banda Oriental, the owner of the “Estancia Sherenden.” He showed me a splendid grove of about two acres of Eucalypti of several species—the “blue” and “red” gum chiefly. These he had reared from seed, their enemies being these ants. As soon as the first leaves of his cherished plants appeared, the ants cut them off. He then got a drum of gas-tar sent up from town, and made a circle round each plant. The ants objected to this, and all the trees made a start. For three years in succession he carefully painted the stems with tar, and eventually they got so far away as to be able to supply the wants of their foes and still flourish. When I saw these trees they bore finer foliage than I ever met with in the Australian bush during four years' experience. They were then eight years old. Many were forty feet high, and thirty-six inches round at some three feet from the earth.

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