Every winter Paraguayans prune the trees in their yards and sidewalks until they are mere trunks with stumpy limbs, nary a leaf or twig in sight. This is called “pruning” as in “he is pruning his ficus” or “I need to find someone to prune my ficus” (i have to find someone to prune my ficus for me). It is pronounced “po” (police) “dar” (darling).

At first this practice may seem horrifying. But cutting back trees in this drastic fashion serves two important benefits. One is enjoyed in the winter and the other in the summer.

In the winter, less shade = more sunshine

Due to the humidity and lack of insulation, it is often colder indoors than outside during the Paraguayan winter. During this season people like to have as much sunshine in their yards and on their houses as possible. In Paraguay the sun continues to be moderately strong in the winter and sitting in the sunshine is an easy (and cheap) way to warm up. Having more sunshine also greatly increases your ability to dry laundry quickly. Towards the end of fall people start “pruning” and you will see everyone from young children to old ladies either up in ladders or perched in trees hacking away at branches with a machete. This is a spectacle best watched from a safe distance.

Pruning in the winter = better shade in the summer

Due to Paraguay’s sub tropical climate trees grow very quickly. New twigs and leafs sprout up within days of being cut back. By the time summer rolls around many of the pruned trees have already regained most of their branches and leaves… and then some. As in the winter, during the summer it is often preferable to be outside than indoors. However in the summer people seek the shade, not the sunshine. By pruning in the winter Paraguayans ensure themselves a dense shade to relax under during the summer. On hot days most Paraguayans seek refuge under the shade of a tree, ice-cold tereré in hand. Mango trees are particularly prized due to the great shade they provide.

So the next time you see a group of totally bare naked trees remember that by the summer they will be fully regrown and will provide the perfect shade for drinking tereré. In the meantime grab some mate and go warm up in the sun.