Ombú, Phytolacca dioica, is a giant shrub probably transplanted by the Spanish to the pampa from the Andean foothills. Highly adaptable, it grows in virtually any terrain and became common on the pampa, in the Chaco, and beyond. The odd plant has soft, spongy wood unusable for building or fuel. Its leaves, fruit, and flowers have little use except as purgatives. The overhanging branches offer shade to humans and livestock on the largely treeless plains. Visible from miles away, the shrubs served as landmarks to help travelers navigate across the plains. Like the ceibo, the ombú became fabled in regional folklore. Superstitious gauchos attributed supernatural powers to the shrub, some believing that it could cause a person harm or make someone fall in love.
See alsoAndes .
Coluccio, Félix. Diccionario folklórico argentino, vol. 2. Buenos Aires: L. Lasserre, 1964.
Slatta, Richard W. Gauchos and the Vanishing Frontier. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
Richard W. Slatta