Around Sao Paulo, in southern Brazil, grows a tree that's a veritable homecenter of stock. In a South American version of one-stop shopping, local craftsmen use its wood for everything. From the strong, straight-grained stock that resembles oak, they build entire houses--the framing, paneling, millwork, moldings, flooring, and furniture.
A home and its contents built of peroba doesn't have to be monochromatic, though. The species is a family of rainbow hues. For variety, Brazilian woodworkers choose from peroba rosa (brownish red and best known), peroba preta (rose-red with black veins), peroba muida (red with dark patches), peroba poca (off-white), peroba rajada (pink and black), peroba tremida (yellow and gold), and even peroba reversa (bird's-eye figured).
Although the perobas form quite a clan, the family tree branches out still further to encompass some pretty strange but no less utilitarian cousins. There's yarura, for instance. Color doesn't make this cousin from northern Brazil notable, shape does. Unlike peroba, which can grow 125' tall and big enough around to yield lots of long, straight lumber, the deeply fluted trunk of yaruru looks like thick boards standing randomly on end with only their edges touching. In fact, to make a canoe paddle, natives simply saw off one of the board-like flutes from the trunk and shave the end for a handle.
Then, there's cousin quebracho blanco. From western Brazil, this tall and paunchy tree dwarfs even the majestic peroba. One tree can yield about 15,000 board feet of lumber--almost what you'd get from 15 oak trees with trunks 30" in diameter and clear of branches for 40'. Now, that's a tree!
Illustration: Jim Stevenson