The Ceiba Tree

Ceiba tree
A young Ceiba tree is already huge!

There is no other tree as big and impressive in Mesoamerica as the Ceiba Tree. The tree grows to epic proportions, and does so fast. An adult Ceiba Tree towers well over the rest of the tropical rain forest Canopy. Its size is so stunning that Maya mythology believed that the World was supported by four huge ceiba trees, one on each corner. (The Maya envisioned the World as flat and square).  You can find the Ceiba tree along the tropical gulf coast of Mexico and south to Northern South America. It is a  common tree in Central American lowlands.

If you have ever visited the Mayan Archaeological Park in Copan, you will have noticed some huge trees growing over some of the mounds of the Maya City. These huge trees have a root system than hugs the buildings together and keep them from falling apart. These are all Ceiba trees

One of the more important cities in Honduras got its name from a tree that stood next to the beach. La Ceiba, on the Caribbean coast of Honduras was the headquarters of the Standard Fruit Company in Honduras. They built a dock for the banana ships next to a huge Ceiba tree on the beach. The tree was so big, that it was almost like a beacon to guide ships into port!

Ceiba Tree
Author next to a Ceiba tree he planted 18 years ago.

Despite its huge proportions, the wood from this tree is almost useless. It is soft and does not have much strength. In Mexico, they use the wood from the Ceiba tree to produce toothpicks. You can produce billions of tooth picks from one large Ceiba Tree. Another use for this wood is to use it as the heart for plywood. It is cheaper than filling out the heart of the plywood with pine or other woods. When young, this tree is so fragile, that it has some mean looking thorns on its bark. This is to keep animals from eating while young. Once it grows, the thorns fall off as the tree becomes strong enough to fend for itself! The tree to your left is in the Cangrejal River Valley.

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I will share with you a couple of interesting facts about the Ceiba tree that you did not know. The tree blooms only once every three or four years. Its flower produces a cotton like material called “kapok”. The ancient Maya used it to stuff their mattresses to make a comfortable bed. Today, many natives use it for their pillows. The Ceiba tree leaf is similar to that of the Marihuana plant. I do not suggest you try smoking it, but if you do, let me know what the results are!

As you travel through the Caribbean coast of Honduras, and many other places in Central America and Mexico, you will see a Ceiba tree from time to time. Now you know something about this massive tree and can even get a conversation going with a traveling companion!