What is a cow tree?

May 10, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Biology

Cow tree or milk tree is the popular name given to several species of evergreen trees native to the mountains of South and Central America. They get their name from the fact that when the trunks or branches are cut a large quantity of white, milklike juice exudes. The “milk” of one species, Brosimum galactodendron, is sweet, palatable and nourishing, and for centuries the natives of northern South America have used it for food.

Baron Alexander Humboldt (1769-1839), German naturalist, explorer and writer, seems to have been the first European to call the attention of the scientific world to this interesting tree. The Spanish name—palo de vaca—also signifies “cow tree.” This name is sometimes applied to other species of trees whose juice is similar but inedible.

A rare species of cow tree – Couma guatamalensis – found in Guatemala produces “milk” that bears a remarkable resemblance to cow’s milk both in taste and appearance. Some of the natives use this “tree milk” in their coffee and as a substitute for real milk in sweet desserts. Cow tree milk, like cow’s milk, sours quickly.

In New Zealand cow tree is applied to the tree known to the Maoris as karaka. This tree does not “give milk,” but its seeds and the pulp of its orange-colored fruit are eaten by the natives. When steamed and dried the seeds are edible and wholesome, but very poisonous when raw.


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