Notes From The Forest

22 years ago, I had just arrived to Honduras and decided to make it my home.  I  started a small publication called Copan Tips. The purpose of this publication was to provide information to travelers visiting Copan Ruinas. Most travelers who went there did so on a tight schedule, and missed most of the better things to do and see. I felt that if they had better information, they would extend their stay in this lovely town.

A few expats in town jumped onboard with the idea, and offered to help write a couple of articles. One of them, titled “Notes from the Forest” was about the different trees around Copan. The purpose of it was to help the visitor identify the most outstanding trees in the forest.  Mimi de Castro, a local resident in Copan who is an expat from San Francisco kindly put it together.

This post is relevant to the Copan Ruinas Valley. Yet many of the trees mentioned here are abundant throughout Honduras. Following is a copy of the original text for your enjoyment. Thank you Mimi for your cooperation!

Notes from the Forest

notes from the forest
madreado or madre de cacao live post fence.

Whether you arrive in the Copan Valley by an overland bus ride or a chartered plain, you will have seen and possibly remarked upon those wonderful “fence post” trees. Beyond being the most popular natural material for marking off boundaries between farm lands, the Pink Cassia ( Cassia Javenica), or Madre de Cacao or Madreado as the tree is popularly named, also provides a spectacular flowering show.  The branches from this tree are, when leafless, completely surrounded by masses of unevenly tinted pink blossoms. Some visitors remark that this tree reminds them of the apple trees in blossom.

You will notice that the trees are quite irregular in form and this is due to the method of planting. Branches from mature trees cut off by a machete and simply set in the found at regular intervals to form lines of fence posts. Look for those trees forming the fence boundary as you enter the parking area for the visitor’s center at the archaeological site.

Upon leaving the visitors center, on the way to the entrance to the ruins, you will walk across a long, narrow filed that once served as a landing area for planes and helicopters. Notice that as far as you eye can see there are small seedling dotting the area. This planting is the result of an extensive reforestation project by the Instituto Hondureño de Antropologia e Historia. Their efforts will serve to further the beauty and ambiance of this site. (Today, this is actually a young forest as it’s been more that 20 years since the trees were planted).

As you amble along the shady path leading you to the entrance gate, notice the large, multi-stalked palm on the your left. This palm, the cohune (Orbigua Cohune) is a native to of Central America. This palm can grow to a height of 50 – 60 ft. and produces a rich palm oil.

Notes from the forest
Cashew tree with fruits

At the end of the shaded path, The Great Plaza becomes visible and just to your right is a small, knarled, old tree with leathery green and maroon leaves. This is the tree that bears the cashew nut. A native of the Caribbean region, the Maranon (Anacardium Occidentale) produces a pear shaped fruit of red or yellow to which, at the bottom, is attached the kidney shaped cashew nut. In Central America, a refreshing drink is made from the acidic fruit.

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notes from the forest
A Ceiba tree in Copan Ruinas. Photo by Adalberto H. Vega

There are dozens of species of deciduous trees in the archaeological park. By far the most spectacular and long – lived is the Ceiba (Ceiba Pendantra). This Central American native tree was the most sacred tree of the Maya Mythology. You can identify this tree when young by its apple green direct growing trunk. Also by its evenly spaced radiating horizontal branches.

When mature, the trunk is huge with gray elephant like skin.  The roots send out lateral hips above ground to form fantastic twisted shapes. Besides its height, longevity and mystical association this tree is useful economically. The large seed capsules of the Ceiba produce “kapok”. This is a long silky cotton like fiber that is used to stuff pillows and mattresses.

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Visitors here during the rainy season have the pleasure of seeing the forest at its best, green and lush with growth. As if this were not enough, the Spanish Cedar (Cedro Odorata) is filling the air with the perfume of its blossoms,