The ombu, half tree, half elephant
In the early 20th century, Barcelona residents were only used to seeing pines and holm oaks in the city, so can you picture the look on their faces when they encountered these exotic, out-of-proportion trees for the first time?
At the beginning of the 20th century, when landscaping work was beginning on Montjuïc to transform it into an area the entire community could enjoy, many species were introduced that had never been seen in the city. The ombu is one that still surprises us today.
The Jardins de Miramar, which boast sweeping views of the Barcelona coast, have an avenue planted with ombu trees. Ombus are actually giant weeds and have gnarled, knotted trunks. The base of the tree is enlarged and grows chaotically, making it look as if it could swallow up anything around it. It has a vast canopy that provides shelter from the summer sun and pays tribute to its name in Catalan "bellaombra", or beautiful shadow.
We say it isn't a tree because, in spite of its size, it doesn't produce wood. It doesn't have growth rings but a soft, spongy tissue instead, which has no useful purpose and can't be used as fuel. It is designed to store large quantities of water to withstand the dry conditions of its native region, the South American pampas.
Ombu trees produce male and female flowers on separate trees. This is why, as you walk through the gardens, you'll find some of them laden with bunches of fruit (female) and others with no fruit (male).
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