Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the September 24, 2017 Newsletter issued from Rancho Regensis north of Valladolid, Yucatán, MÉXICO
BOOB, THE "GRAPE TREE"

It's a special pleasure to meet a new tree. This week I found one I've been wanting to see for a long time, so it's a double pleasure. It grew so enmeshed with other trees and vines at a forest edge that it was impossible to see whether it was a tree or a woody vine, but I knew from the literature that it can grow to 100ft (30m). The tree is especially striking now because it's bearing its fruits. Below, you can see a branch with its large, broad, leathery leaves and long clusters of grape-like fruits:

COCCOLOBA SPICATA, fruits & leaves

A closer look at a fruit cluster is hown below:

COCCOLOBA SPICATA, fruits & leaves

This is COCCOLOBA SPICATA, with no good English or Spanish name. The tree is so special it deserves some kind of handle, so I've learned its Maya name, which is Boob. Using the Maya name is appropriate because it occurs only in the Maya area -- the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize and part of Guatemala.

If you've seen Sea-Grapes along tropical America's sandy beaches, from southern Florida to South America, you've encountered a close relative of Boob. Sea-Grapes is Coccoloba uvifera, so Boob is a species in the same genus as Sea-Grapes. You might enjoy comparing our Boob pictures with those of Sea-Grapes on our page at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/seagrape.htm

The genus Coccoloba resides in the Buckwheat or Knotweed Family, the Polygonaceae. A distinctive field mark of members of that family consists of the conspicuous stipules that commonly form a collar-like sheath, or "ocrea," around the stem at the point of petiole attachment. The ocrea encircling the stems of Boob are especially worth noticing, as seen below:

COCCOLOBA SPICATA, stipules

In that picture the ocreae are green at their bases and brown and tattered at their tops.

Despite this being my first time to see Boob fruiting, the plant is common here. A 15ft-tall (4.5m) Boob stands exactly in front of the hut's porch, beside the wasp nest, and a smaller one grows to the side. I've seen hundreds around knee to shoulder high. They're very conspicuous because of the leaves' large size and shiny, leathery surface. But all those encounters have been with non-flowering, non-fruiting plants. Why are flowering/fruiting Boob trees so rare? I asked my Maya friends about it.

They say it's because the Boob is so useful -- people cut down the larger ones, the trunks being used as thatch supports for the thatch roofs on their traditional huts. Far from the roads, they tell me, you can still see plenty of mature Boob trees flowering and fruiting.

Also they say that when they can't find banana leaves in which to wrap their tamales, they look for Boob leaves, which are so leathery that they make good wrappers. A study of the medicinal flora of Oxtankah, just north of Chetumal on the Yucatan's southern Caribbean coast, found Boob traditionally used for treating asthma