I knew it - there IS such a thing as an ice cream tree (I'm still looking for the money tree, I'll let you know when I find it). The Ice Cream Bean Tree is found in Central and Southern America. It is called the ice cream bean tree because it produces bean pods up to 1 meter long which contain a sweet, juicy, white pulp that has a soft cotton wool texture and tastes like vanilla ice-cream. Not only does it have a delectably delightful bean pod it produces a rich leafy biomass that helps control weeds and erosion.
The bad news is that one of its main growing grounds in on the brink of extinction - if you can refer to a forest as becoming extinct. The Atlantic Forest located along the Atlantic coast of Brazil is now designated a World Biosphere Reserve, which contains a large number of highly endangered species including the cute and cuddly marmosets and lion Tamarin. It has been extensively cleared since colonial times, mainly due to the farming of sugar cane, development of urban settlements, and illegal logging. In fact there is only about 7% of this vast tropical forest left, and sadly it is still one of the biggest tropical forests left in the world.
If you wouldn't call yourself a tree hugger (that's ok they don't give very good hugs) you might want to at least give these guys a quick pat on the back because tropical forests eat carbon dioxide for lunch - literally. They help regulate the atmosphere and stabilize the global climate by consuming carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen - which of course we can't live without. Not to mention the 23 species of primates, 1000 species of birds and over 20,000 species of plants - including my new favorite the Ice Cream Bean Tree.
Plant a Billion Trees and Save the Ice Cream Bean Tree
So what are we supposed to do fly to Brazil and plant a couple million trees? Kind of, it turns out the Nature Conservancy is working hard to bring the Atlantic Forest back to its glory days by restoring 2.5 million acres of land and planting 1 billion trees over the next 7 years. They call it the Plant a Billion Trees campaign. For every dollar donated they will plant a tree - so empty your piggy banks, dig through the couch cushions, and clean out your cars to see how many trees are hiding in there. You can help plant a single tree, give a recurring monthly donation or even give trees as a gift which includes a quarterly publication to Nature Conservancy magazine as well as a few other fun goodies depending on the gift level.
So help save the Ice Cream Bean tree, and I'm sure they'll have a big banana split party to celebrate the 1 billion mark - you have to bring your own chocolate sprinkles.
Ice Cream Bean Tree Update 9-21-11:
When I wrote this post on the Ice Cream Bean tree nearly two years ago the Nature Conservancy was just getting started with the Plant a Billion Trees campaign. Today I happened to take a look and they are at 9,791,249 trees planted - the one billion mark isn't too far off.
Also, as an interesting side note thanks to the comment from Ed Musgrave I've discovered the Money Tree... Called the French Peanut tree it is a Brazilian tree that produces edible seeds that are similar in flavor to peanuts. Roasted seeds are also ground to make a hot drink similar to hot chocolate. The trees are easily grown in pots, and are cultured in bonsai form as “lucky trees” or “money trees”.
As fate would have it the money tree and the ice cream bean tree both grow in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil and thus would benefit from the Plant a Billion tree campaign. And of course who wouldn't like a nice cup of money tree hot cocoa with their ice cream bean tree banana split?