In the pampas or grasslands of South America, grows a strange bush that resembles a tree. This is the ombu. It is the only tree-like plant that lives in this largely arid environment.
The ombu is an evergreen with an umbrella-like canopy. It can grow upto 15 metres wide and 18 m tall and often sprouts multiple trunks. Its wood is soft and spongy, soft enough to be cut with a regular knife. Its sap is poisonous, which protects it against browsing cattle. It is also immune to locusts and other pests.
The tissues inside the ombu’s massive trunks store water. It not only helps keep the plant moist, but also makes the wood resistant to fire. Intense, but short-lived blazes are common in this region.
The ombu is known as the ‘lighthouse’ of the pampas.