Most people don't notice Pixoy (pee-CHOY) until late in the dry season, in March and April, when the tree's leaves have fallen to conserve water and its branches are heavy with cherry-sized, black, woody, rough-surfaced fruits, as shown below:


Some fruits are shown below:

PIXOY fruits

Despite the tree's homely appearance, it's a very important species. For example, in a Pixoy beside my hut, each early morning when it was fruiting, Yucatan Gray Squirrels would come and gnaw and nibble until they were full. The Maya also know that livestock like to eat the leaves and young stems. Maximino Martínez's classic book Las Plantas Medicinales de México reports that traditionally the tree's bark was used to cure malaria, skin diseases, elephantiasis, leprosy and other ailments. On the Internet, Pixoy extracts are sold under various names as herbal medicine for many uses, including slimming down. You can see what's being offered now by searching on Pixoy's technical name, Guazuma ulmifolia.

When the Maya campesino thinks about Pixoy, however, he thinks "rope." A while back my friend Paulino, at Hacienda Chichen adjacent to Chichén Itzá ruins, needed some crude rope for a Maya ceremony so he simply walked over to a Pixoy and macheted off some six-foot lengths of "water sprouts" -- those fast-growing, straight sprouts that sometimes emerge at the base of a tree and shoot up through the tree's older, much-branched limbs. The sprouts were about as thick as a banana, so they were pretty substantial.

Paulino and his helpers set about beating the poles against old tree-stumps or pounding them with rounded rocks, but not hard enough to crack the bark. This loosened the bark from the wood. Then each man planted a stick before him and began pulling strips of semi-pliable bark off, each strip an inch or two in width. Once the strips were removed they were still pretty stiff so they needed to be worked to soften up, as shown below:

PIXOY fiber extraction

The resulting fibers were used to tie together stacks of ceremonial tortillas wrapped in fronds of Chit Palm before they were baked in a ground pit. You can see how that looked below:

PIXOY fibers used

Pixoy is a member of the Hibiscus Family. It's native to most of tropical America but has been introduced into numerous tropical countries, where sometimes it has escaped to become invasive.