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More than humansMore than humans


If we could calculate how many lives rely on a single ipe tree in the Amazon, the figure would be in the thousands, not to mention the billions of microorganisms that thrive around her trunk, leaves, branches, flowers, and roots. These more-than-humans can live as long as a century, interwoven with a complex network of creatures. Together, they keep the forest standing. Such was the life of H.s., tree-person, house-tree, whose existence was cut short by human greed. This is her story.

Born as a seed—a small, winged grain—H.s. was scattered in the air by her mother

She let the wind show her the best place to fall and put down roots

Settled into the deep, moist soil in a corner of the Amazon, she started stretching toward the sun as stem and leaves

Anchored to the subsoil, she was surprised by fungi and bacteria who gradually entwined with her roots. They provide nutrients in exchange for carbohydrates (sugar) and connect her to a large mycorrhizal network, allowing her to communicate with other plants and trees

In her first years of life, she encountered dozens of ant species, including the Camponotus, who are attracted to the sugary substance produced by her leaves

Her canopy, now large and dense, began to shelter many animals, among them robust capuchin monkeys, who finds safety from the sun and predators in tree, and also the comfort they need to rest

Various species of epiphytes like moss, ferns, orchids, and bromeliads also started using her trunk as support for their development and growth

H.s.’s body also became a support structure for creepers and vines like the titica vine, a species that loses all connection with its roots after germinating in the soil and relies on physical support from large trees

When H.s. transpired, she cooled the air by releasing large quantities of water into the atmosphere, contributing to “flying rivers.” Because her roots ran deep, she would draw water from the water table

As she was about to turn four years old, H.s. was poised for another revolution: maturity. It was time for her to make children of her own and release them into the wind currents. She started by undressing, letting all her leaves drop to the ground

When they fell, H.s.’s leaves helped create plant litter. Thousands of fungi broke down the fallen leaves and turned them into organic matter, enriching the soil and helping fertilize other forest beings

But H.s. knew she would need the help of other creatures in order to reproduce. For this, she had to preen herself. Her branches blossomed into bright petals that formed carefully drawn chalices

In a matter of days, her canopy was taken over by golden yellow clusters that shielded pubescent ovaries

Now, she could catch the eye of creatures flying in the distance. The nectar in her flowers attracted bumblebees, wasps, and other insects who, while feeding, took the pollen dusting the tops of the flowers to the ovules at their base

Birds like the hummingbird were drawn to the nectar and feasted on this sugar-rich substance

Parakeets, Blue-gray tanagers, Short-billed honeycreepers, and Red-rumped caciques are among the bird species that feed on the nectar, “stealing” the substance at the base of the flower

Her petals were also a source of food for many species, like howler monkeys, the Pale-breasted thrush, and the colorful Purple-throated euphonia with its high-pitched call

Following this period of agitation, H.s. felt she should focus her energy on developing the embryos

Her flowers wilted to discourage further visitors, and she turned her attention to the development of her long, dry fruit

Shaped like runner beans, their thick, bitter pods shielded hundreds of seeds. But some birds, like parrots, could break through the casing with their powerful beaks. H.s. didn’t mind. She knew the majority of her seeds would be safe until they were scattered in the wind

And so it was throughout her 53 years of life. But another creature had long set its sights on H.s.: the commodity-man

Unlike the other animals, the commodity-man sought not comfort but money

Its heavy, sharp-toothed machines trundled toward H.s. and sliced into her base

Once a body full of life, H.s. was killed by human greed and turned into a commodity


The ipe tree who provided shelter and love in the Amazon – then became a table in New York

Dead at 53, H.s. left behind countless children and thousands of friends who were woven into her warm and welcoming life

Jaqueline Sordi

14 nov 2023

The short-billed honeycreeper is a restless creature. A quick-winged, thin-legged bird, he has the peculiar habit of dipping his head toward the branches to extract nectar—one of his primary food sources—from the base of the flower. Whenever he saw H.s. in the forest, a bright dot in the green blanket of the Amazon, he knew he could take it easy. With vibrant yellow, funnel-shaped flowers, like miniature trumpets, H.s. stood at an impressive 23 meters. For years, she had been a celebrated elder among the region’s insects and birds. The creatures know that summers in the Amazon, when the rain dies down, food grows scarce, and many of the trees have to conserve energy to survive, are when ipes like to show off their dazzling blooms. Their flowers provide shelter, food, and refuge for many species. It was during one of these scalding hot summers, as the young H.s. was experiencing her first bloom, that her friendship with Short-billed honeycreeper began.

When the bird first set eyes on the ipe tree, unsure why he was so drawn to that splashy, brightly colored creature, he noticed something odd: an intense, varied commotion in the branches. Parakeets, hummingbirds, and bees zipped and zoomed around the canopy, producing a strange, chaotic symphony.

After cautiously approaching, Short-billed honeycreeper breathed a sigh of relief: even though the space was crowded, there was room for one more. He perched on one of the branches. His interest piqued, he decided to sit and watch the activity around him. Inside the handsome flowers were small, reddish stripes. He gazed at the flurry of insects coming and going and assumed H.s. had carefully drawn those small landing strips. He was delighted. Those lines pointed toward the nectar, the coveted, sugary liquid nestled in the base of the flowers. Dozens of mangavas, large, black bumblebees, marched into the small yellow trumpets in lockstep, only to buzz off soon after, satisfied. Short-billed honeycreeper was no fool and immediately followed suit.

H.s. got her welcoming nature from her family

Written into the tree’s DNA were millennia of understanding that her interactions with the world were essential to her survival and well-being. Before H.s. was even born, she already knew that she would have to get along with the wind in order to become life. When her mother scattered her in the air as a seed—a small, winged grain—she let the wind show her the best place to fall and put down roots. Settled into the deep, moist soil in a corner of the Amazon, she began spreading out like a person stretching their arms on a quiet, sunny morning. She sprouted upwards as stem and leaves and reached down to the earth as roots. It was in this narrow, lightless place that H.s. forged her first relationships.

As she made herself at home in the subsoil, she was surprised by the slow approach of fungi and bacteria gradually entwining with her roots. They exchanged nutrients with H.s. while introducing her to a complex web of roots, fungi, and bacteria that silently (to the untrained ear) connect trees and plants to one another. Curious, H.s. did not fight their approach and let herself slowly be entangled by an intricate web made up of thousands of other forest beings. In it, she learned one of the many ways of communicating with the life around her. Through this network, which had evolved over millennia, she received signals from other trees warning her of imminent danger, and notified others or was herself notified about periods of scarcity or plenty.

The trees looked after each other. Together, they grew stronger

Things were a bit more complex above soil. At first, H.s. had mixed feelings about the sun. She liked the warmth and listed toward it. At the same time, she didn’t know what to do with so much heat, which could be at turns cozy or blistering. Her mother had known this would happen, and with the care that can only be given by those who create life, left a small reserve of energy stored in H.s.’s seed so that she could mature unencumbered.

It was a while before H.s. was able to make sense of her complex body. Then, just as she was about to turn five months old, a small revolution took place: her roots informed her that she could draw water and mineral salts from the soil and send them up to her leaves, which would in turn absorb sunlight and turn it all into glucose. H.s. gained her independence. She started producing her own energy. First she discovered photosynthesis. Then she discovered herself as a tree. So began the first major stage of her life cycle. H.s. started dictating her own growth rhythm, generating more and more wide, jagged leaves, and thickening her firm but malleable trunk. She became a mature being.

Soon enough, she caught the attention of the small ants circulating in the area. At first the group, in the Camponotus genus, frightened H.s. Small and dark, they had long, pointed antennae. They came in the hundreds, then the thousands. Resolute, they climbed the trunk to the branches and, finally, posted themselves on the leaves. They noticed small glands, extrafloral nectaries that secrete a delicious sugary substance. H.s. absently offered this flavorful banquet to the small creatures, which was unusual for trees in that region. The ants ate, then filed back down without hurting H.s., leaving behind only a curious sensation.

A while later, after several of these visits, the tree understood that the sugar in her leaves was another thing she’d inherited from past generations. Throughout time, in order to live in the forest, her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents had developed a nectar source outside the flowers that could attract ants and spiders who in turn scared off predators that might harm the trees’ leaves.

H.s. felt protected by those small creatures. Inspired by them, she had the urge to look after her other forest companions. First, she grew out her canopy so that it was wider and denser, offering up a safe place for travelers to perch and take shelter. The robust capuchin monkeys who every so often came through the region immediately took interest. They stopped by to entertain H.s. with rehearsed choreographies. Powered by their tails, they leaped from branch to branch, and also used them to sit and rest. Confident and excited, the tree firmed up her trunk a little more so ferns, orchids, and bromeliads could safely flourish on her warm body, lending a touch of color and finesse to the typical brown gradations of her bark.

It was like this for a while, summer after summer. Until one day, just as she was about to turn four years old and a dry spell was nearing the rainforest, H.s. felt an unusual sensation, a kind of internal simmering that coursed through her vessels like dopamine through veins (ah, hormones). She was poised for another revolution: maturity. Internal and external factors (temperature and humidity) indicated she had reached reproductive age.

It was time for her to make children of her own and release them into the wind currents

At the time, H.s. suspected she would need a plan to advertise her sexuality amid the forest’s many distractions. So she started by undressing, letting all her leaves drop to the ground. Her naked branches did not go unnoticed. The anthill went into a tizzy: “Did you see how different H.s. looks? Do you think that means our relationship is over?” the ants asked one another. They soon realized this was not the case. The leaves would come back. Greener, more handsome, and juicier. Ready to welcome them with a banquet of nectar, year after year. It was only a matter of time.

But first, H.s. had to preen herself. Until then, her shape and color had washed her out in the middle of the forest. It was time to shine. The same branches that had once been dotted in jagged green leaves now blossomed into bright petals that formed carefully drawn chalices. In a matter of days, her canopy was taken over by golden yellow clusters that shielded pubescent ovaries and could catch the eye of creatures flying in the distance, such as Short-billed honeycreeper. H.s. knew that in order to complete that important stage of her life, she would have to attract and enthrall him as well as many other birds and insects. She knew they were the only ones who could take the pollen dusting the tops of the flowers to the ovules at their base. Without it, fertilization could not be completed. The bright yellow of the flowers wasn’t enough to seduce them. Which is why there was another offering at the base of the flower: a further banquet of nectar.

Her plan was a success, and for the 15 days of H.s.’s first bloom, she was at the center of an animated, energetic period of intense get-togethers. The mixture of rhythms occasionally threw her off: the different frequencies of wingbeats were at times in tune and at times out of tune with the birds’ high-pitched song. Besides bumblebees and hummingbirds, there were also parakeets and red-rumped caciques, small, blue-eyed black birds with yellow beaks. A festival of colors in search of flavorful nectar.

While some respected the path drawn by the tree—red stripes that signaled the route to the feast and consequent fertilization—others, like the blue-gray tanager, were not so patient. They ignored the suggested itinerary, sinking their beaks into the base of the flower and piercing it to steal the sugar. There were also those who cared exclusively for the petals, like the flat-nosed and intensely furred howler monkeys who took up residence on the branches alongside the many other winged creatures, finding there not only food but companionship and protection throughout those fervent weeks.

Following this period of agitation, H.s. felt she should focus her energy on developing the embryos. All that effort shouldn’t come to nothing. For this, she needed peace and focus. Her flowers wilted to discourage further visitors, and she turned her attention to the development of her long, dry fruit. Shaped like runner beans, their thick, bitter pods shielded hundreds of seeds. They were designed this way in order to give the seeds time to mature before setting off into the world. But despite this protection, some were waylaid by parrots whose powerful beaks could break through the casing. H.s. didn’t mind. She knew the majority of her seeds would be safe until they were scattered in the wind. And it was so.

The whole process lasted three months and provided H.s. not only with new experiences but also with lessons she carried with her forever. The uneasiness of her first years, when she had to learn to read the forest while understanding herself as a tree, slowly turned to peace and quiet. She grew wise and grasped the cyclical dimension of her existence. And so, little by little, H.s. began to bring back her leaves, resuming old friendships, and strengthening the ties that were formed with every new bloom.

Various bird species, such as Short-billed honeycreeper, began making annual visits to H.s., safe in the knowledge that every early summer, a welcoming, cozy, nurturing body would greet them. They hoped for a long, loyal friendship. After all, they knew ipe trees could live up to 100 years in that forest. What none of them had imagined was that another creature had long set its sights on H.s.: . A fearful species that failed time and again to understand the value of life, it had used the same strategy as Short-billed honeycreeper—flying above the forest to locate the ipe’s vibrant flowers—to map the trees and plan its next path of destruction.

Unlike the other animals, the commodity-man sought not comfort but money

Neither H.s. nor her visitors saw the danger slouching in that sweltering August morning, when the tree was in her 53rd year. It all happened so fast. Short-billed honeycreeper was flitting toward the tree, content to be reunited once again with H.s., when a thundering noise knocked him off balance.

Forced to touch down, he felt the earth quake beneath his thin legs. He tottered and fell. With his head on the ground and his feet in the air, he saw heavy, sharp-toothed machines trundle toward H.s. and slice into her base. He saw her sap spill down her trunk onto the soil. Cowed, he watched the terrified fleeing of the birds who were accustomed to rehearsing their choreographies around H.s.’s canopy. He was blinded by the tree’s sudden fall, which opened a clearing in the dense rainforest. He turned his attention to the grudging untangling of the fungi, who quickly realized life had been snuffed out there.

H.s., an ipe tree whom humans refer to as Handroanthus serratifolius (the name that inspired the initials used in this vivituary) was killed by human greed. She left behind countless children and friends with whom she was woven together throughout her warm and welcoming life. They now keep her memory alive.

And life became a commodity

Following this uproar, Short-billed honeycreeper and other birds watched with shock and horror as H.s.’s inert body was hauled onto a truck, mingling with hundreds of other living beings like her. They had no way of knowing this, but ipe trees are currently in fashion. Their hardwood, water- and fire-resistant trunks have made them popular the world over as a commercial wood. In the last few years, they have become the chosen victims of human greed.

H.s. now lay in the back of a vehicle, which idly awaited sunset before proceeding to the BR-163 highway that—literally—cuts through the Amazon. Under the cover of night, H.s. commenced a long, winding journey full of bumps and detours, designed to evade inspection in the dark of the jungle.

It was the start of another brutally successful venture by the commodity-man

At dawn, at a noisy, dusty sawmill on the side of the highway, the elegant curves of H.s.’s trunk were wrenched off and straightened. Ready for sale, she was turned into “ipe deckings,” a term used to refer to the stiff planks that increase her commercial value. In the United States, these planks can cost up to US$ 6,000 per cubic meter—this is the measure of value H.s. would bring to that new world.

Now standardized, H.s. embarked on a 6,000-km expedition by land and sea to the showroom of a luxurious, made-to-order furniture store in the heart of Manhattan, the richest borough in New York City. It wasn’t long before her exquisite veins caught a passersby’s attention. Soon, she was selected from among several other shades of timber, polished, and transformed into a center table that would grace the rosy dining room of a newly renovated penthouse on the Upper East Side, an affluent Manhattan neighborhood. In a tall building with views of Central Park, she became the main attraction of the apartment that had been bought because its residents wanted to be closer to nature.

There lay H.s., who once held vines, sheltered monkeys, supported bromeliads, and put a twinkle in the eyes of so many birds. Dead, she now held silverware and dishes.

In her corner of the Amazon, where more and more trees are disappearing every day, Short-billed honeycreeper never again found another beautiful ipe in bloom.

* H.s.’s story is a piece of fiction based on painstaking scientific data, journalistic research, and studies that shed light on illegal wood extraction in the Amazon

Death In Numbers

  • 120% is the increase in ipe tree deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2007 and 2019
  • 76% is the increase in sales of this tree between 2010 and 2016, and 2017 and 2021. The largest buyers were Europe, the United States, and Canada
  • 96% of the ipe trees exported from the Amazon rainforest between 2017 and 2021 came from Brazil
  • 38% of the area where ipe logging was noted in the Amazon was not approved by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency
  • 15% of illegal logging took place in protected areas such as Indigenous land and conservation units

Today, ipe trees are included in Annex II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which lays out specific rules for extracting species that risk disappearing if they continue to be excessively traded.


More-than-humans is a collaboration between SUMAÚMA and The More Than Human Rights (MOTH) Project, an initiative of New York University School of Law’s Earth Rights Advocacy Clinic

Report and Text

Jaqueline Sordi


Hadna Abreu

Concept and Editing

Talita Bedinelli

Workflow Manager

Viviane Zandonadi


Plínio Lopes

Scientific Review

Lúcia G. Lohmann, Biology professor at Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil) and the University of California (USA)

Proofreader (Portuguese)

Valquíria Della Pozza

Spanish Translation

Meritxell Almarza

English Translation

Julia Sanches


Disarme Grafico

Creative Director

Bruno Ventura


Bruno Ventura

Flávio Vivório


Mario Medina

Alexandre Olivati

Assistant Web Developer

Enzo Magioli

More-than-humans Project Coordinator

Talita Bedinelli (SUMAÚMA)

Carlos Andrés Baquero-Díaz (NYU)

Project Directors

Eliane Brum (SUMAÚMA)

César Rodríguez-Garavito (NYU)

Special Projects Coordinator

Juliana Laurino

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Mônica Abdalla

Administrative Assistant

Marina Borges