FISHPOISON TREE - Jabim, Habim, Habin, Jabin


Though this is one of the most common and useful trees in the Yucatan, English speakers here don't have a good name for it. I use the Maya name, but one problem with that is that the Maya really don't care whether a word ends with an m or an n, using those letters interchangeably at the ends of words. Also, in Spanish, words beginning with an h-sound sometimes begin with h, sometimes with j. Therefore, this tree's Maya name isn't standardized in print. Habim, Jabim, Habin, Jabin -- you see them all. Whatever the name, the tree is Piscidia piscipula and that's it flowering above in April.


The ground beneath the above tree was littered with so many fallen blossoms that it looked as if a snow flurry had passed through. Above, that's itsflower, looking a lot like a garden bean blossom.

Some English books refer to the tree as Fishpoison Tree because the tree's bark can be ground up, sprinkled into a pool of fishy water, the fish will rise to the top gasping for air, and they can be captured. Many indigenous American cultures have used the tree this way, but this use is unknown to the many Maya I've asked. I'm not surprised, though, because with no rivers or lakes here the Maya haven't needed such a fish-getter.

The Maya do appreciate this tree, however, because it grows large and its hard wood resists rotting when planted in the ground. Around mid May, at the end of the dry season, once again Habims become conspicuous when they produce enormous quantities of very strange looking fruits, as shown below.


Fishpoison Tree, leavesSince Fishpoison Trees are members of the Bean Family the fruits are legumes. The dangling legumes are very slender, but each one bears four paper-thin, fin-like "wings."

Despite such glorified flowerings and fruitings, Jabim's leaves are fairly unspectacular, rather like the North's pinnately compound ash leaves, as shown at the right.