An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Pochete, CEIBA AESCULIFOLIA

from the August 29, 2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO
POCHOTE FLOWERING

Biking the quiet little road running south of Pisté to Yaxuná I saw a tree very similar to the big Ceibas we often speak of here. Spiny-trunked Ceibas are one of the largest, most distinctive and appreciated trees of the humid American tropics. Our Ceiba Page is at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/ceiba.htm.

The tree on the road to Yaxuná, despite growing to about the same big size as the Ceiba, despite having a very spiny, thick trunk like a Ceiba, and despite its leaves being digitately compound with seven or so leaflets like a Ceiba, definitely wasn't a Ceiba. Ceiba flower petals are white or pink and about 1-1/3 inches long (3.3 cm). This tree's petals were brown on the outside and white inside, and were an impressive 4-1/3 inches long (11 cm)! You can see two big blossoms reaching for the sun above.

One of the tree's digitately compound leaves is shown below:

digital leaves of Pochete, CEIBA AESCULIFOLIA

A small section of its very spiny trunk is shown below:

spiny bark on trunk of Pochete, CEIBA AESCULIFOLIA

The Maya call this tree Piim but in most of Mexico the Spanish name is Pochote, and I don't think it has a decent English name. It's CEIBA AESCULIFOLIA -- the species name aesculifolia meaning "having leaves like a Horse-chestnut or Buckeye tree." You can see that Piim or Pochote belongs to the same genus as the Ceiba, the genus Ceiba, but regular Ceibas are Ceiba pentandra. In other words, the Ceiba aesculifolia along the road to Yaxuná is very closely related to the famous Ceiba, but it's something else.

On our Ceiba page there's a picture of a Ceiba fruit releasing lots of white, cottony fiber. That fiber once was sold commercially under the name of kapok, and before cheap synthetic fibers came along was much used for stuffing pillows, cushions, life-saving vests, etc. In the Flora of Yucatan (1947), Paul Standley reports that in southern Yucatan the Maya once made large numbers of mantas, or capes, from Pochote's fruit fibers, and they were regarded as superior to those of the Ceiba. He also says that Pochote's fibers were used for starting fire, while Ceiba's fibers won't easily catch fire.

Pochote's fibers are still in demand nowadays as stuffing for cushions and such for people with allergies to wool and feathers.

Pochote, which in rainy tropical lowlands can reach 100 feet tall (30 m), and whose thick trunks often flair broadly with buttresses, is distributed through much of humid, lowland Mexico, to Costa Rica. As with Ceiba, it's a member of the Bombax subfamily of the Hibiscus Family, the Malvaceae.