Yerba Maté (pronounced 'yur-bah mah-tay'), the amazing herb from South America
The yerba maté plant is an evergreen tree from the Aquifoliaceae family, which includes holly that grows in the subtropical forests of South America; specifically northern Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil. The tree stands between 6 to 8 meters tall, sometimes reaching as high as 15 meters. There are many different species in the family; the Ilex genus having more than 550, in South America there are 280 species, 60 of which occur in southern Brazil. Only 3 species are used in the maté industry (I. paraguariensis, I. angustifolia, & I. amara); Ilex paraguariensis being the most important.
Size and Shape of the Trees and Leaves
The factor that characterizes the size and shape of yerba maté trees is access to sunlight. In the dense subtropical forest, the fight for sunlight has caused the wild trees to have long slender trunks with a large leafy top. The cultivated trees are pruned to spread and become bushes that rarely develop large trunks. They are carefully harvested each season to maintain the bush-like shape which eases the labour in harvesting.
The maté plant, due to the widespread genetic variety of the Ilex genus, may have white or light purple stems, and thick waxy leaves that may present dented or smooth edges. The leaves of the wild plant are usually smaller and darker, while the cultivated leaves are larger, and the serrated edge can become less evident.
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