Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

From the February 11, 2008 Newsletter written in the community of 28 de Junio and issued from a ciber in San Francisco Pujiltic, Chiapas, MÉXICO; I'm at about 800 meters in elevation, ± LAT 16° 18'N,  LONG -92° 28'W.

In certain parts of this community's small reserve Ramón is the most common tree. They're old, stately trees, too, producing enormous quantities of fruits, which in some places cover the ground as if someone had spilled a big bag of brown marbles. You can see several fruits in various states of maturity below:


In that picture a dry Ramón leaf displays its typical herring-bone pattern venation. Ramón is a member of the Fig Family so it's looking like a leaf from an American strangler fig is no accident.

Also you can see that the fruit's hard, nutlike part is covered by a warty skin that's orange when mature. That covering is mildly sweet and not bad to eat, but the main eating is in the nut part.

People here call the tree and its fruit "Talcoít" and have never heard of my name of Ramón. When I asked a fellow if he'd heard of Yerba Buena's name Cacaté he said he had Cacaté on his land, but it wasn't the same as my Ramón. He took me to a small tree heavy with orange fruits, each fruit subtended by a persistent, leathery calyx. He told me to take a bite, and I did. Puckery! I'd expected that, because with those leathery sepals it had to be the local persimmon. I'd hoped it would be ripe, but it hadn't been. Later the fellow said that his "Cacatés" eventually get sweet, too, just like our northern persimmons in late fall.

Anyway, when my friend Antonio saw me carrying the Ramón fruits to photograph he told me he'd fix me a meal by boiling the hard nuts with ashes, the ashes needed to help the hard fruits soften. Later that day he brought me what he'd promised, shown below.


They tasted a little like boiled peanuts and had the same texture. Antonio eats them and other things he finds in the forest, and tells about a famine that came through here years ago, maybe in the 20s he says, when all the crops failed but people kept alive eating this fruit. I think I've read that the ancient Maya depended on them the same way, often storing them for long periods. The tree's leaves and young branches are much used as livestock food.

My Plantas Medicinales de México says that the white-latex-producing fruits are used to encourage new mothers to lactate, but around here the trees and their fruits aren't regarded as medicinal. I read that the fruits can be roasted, ground, and the resulting powder used to make a drink rather like coffee.

This is simply one of the most useful and wonderful trees I know and should be planted throughout the world's tropics in anticipation of a collapse of the international trading system. As we've seen it goes by a host of local names. The name to remember is its Latin one, BROSIMUM ALICASTRUM.

From the February 18, 2008 Newsletter written in the community of 28 de Junio and issued from a ciber in San Francisco Pujiltic, Chiapas, MÉXICO; I'm at about 800 meters in elevation, ± LAT 16° 18'N,  LONG -92° 28'W.

Last week I mentioned the wonderful fruits of our Ramón trees, BROSIMUM ALICASTRUM, of the Fig Family. This week Eliezer and I made coffee of them.

roasting Ramón fruits (Brosimum alicastrum) for making coffee

Above you see Eliezer pouring Ramón fruits into a pan over a fire blazing on a traditional Maya, elevated fireplace of the kind I modeled my firplace after when I was a hermit back in Mississippi. Below, Eliezer is grinding the toasted fruits into a fine powder.

grinding roasted Ramón fruits (Brosimum alicastrum) for making coffee

Finger-long strips of cinnamon bark also were ground with the fruits. As soon as the powder's rich fragrance reached our noses we began suspecting we had something good.

After boiling the powder mix for several minutes we ceremoniously poured the whole family sweetened cups of brew, and... it was delicious. People who'd eaten boiled Ramón fruits all their life and seen untold millions of brown Ramón fruits lying unharvested along trails through the forest simply couldn't believe such a tasty drink could be made from them. Old men shook their heads and grinned, and little kids wanted more.

Now we have to learn how to streamline the process so that the price people are willing to pay for a cup of Ramón coffee makes it worthwhile for someone to pick the fruits off the ground, dry and parch them, grind them into fine powder, package the powder, and finally market and sell it.

from the March 4, 2012 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Nowadays the Ramóns are flowering, as shown below:

Ramón, BROSIMUM ALICASTRUM, flower heads and leaves

Those spherical, yellowish things are clusters, or inflorescences, of tiny flowers. One cluster is shown below:

Ramón, BROSIMUM ALICASTRUM, flower head showing individual flowers

Anyone familiar with how flowers are supposed to look will have a hard time figuring out what's being seen in that picture. Since Ramóns belong to the Fig Family, and fig flowers are famous for being weird, we shouldn't be too surprised.

First, nearly all the flowers shown in the last picture are male, with no calyx or corolla, and bearing only one stamen instead of the usual several. Each stamen bears a baglike, pollen-producing anther atop its filament. Unlike any other anther I can remember, the Ramón flower's anther is shaped like a mushroom with a stem connecting with its cap more or les in the cap's center -- it' "peltate." This strange anther is about 1mm wide.

Not easy to make out in the picture are the one or two female flowers at the cluster's center. Female flowers bear deeply two-lobed stigmas, which extend from the inflorescence 4-7 mm before the male flowers open. In other words, the Ramón's female flowers mature before its male ones, which makes self-pollination much less likely.

By the way, while photographing the above flowers I had to admire a Ramón twig's stipular ring, shown below:

Ramón, BROSIMUM ALICASTRUM, stipular ring

Woody plants of the Fig Family normally bear such rings. Stipules are modified leaves that fold over very young twigs and leaves as they are emerging. Once the young parts grow tough enough, usually but not always -- depending on the species -- the stipules fall away, leaving a stipular scar. In the picture, the scar arises at the bottom of the green bud in the picture's center, and continues to the lower, right, all the way around the twig, encircling it, thus becoming more than a mere stipular scar; it's a stipular ring.

from the February 11, 2008 Newsletter written in the community of 28 de Junio and issued from a ciber in San Francisco Pujiltic, Chiapas, MÉXICO; I'm at about 800 meters in elevation, ± LAT 16° 18'N,  LONG -92° 28'W.

While gathering Ramón fruits I photographed the base of a Ramón tree trunk in order to show something of which you see a lot around here, a buttressed tree-trunk. Buttressed trunks have widely flaring supports rather like the fins on a rocket, as shown below:

BROSIMUM ALICASTRUM buttressed trunk

Buttresses help big trees remain upright in soggy ground. Having buttresses must be very effective, because they develop among many unrelated tree species. You see them on certain species of strangler figs, on Ceibas, Mahoganies, Cedros (Spanish Cedars) and many other large and noble trees of the hot, humid lowlands.