Ceiba or Kapok, Ceiba pentandra

Photo by Bob Thomas.

Arguably the most popular tree in the New World Tropics is the Kapok, or Ceiba, tree, Ceiba pentandra.

They are considered to have mystical, sacred qualities by a number of native people, especially the Maya.  Growing to 70 meters (230 ft) or so, the Maya considered that the roots connected Xibalba (the sacred underworld) to the land and sky.  If you stand under one of these giants, you can understand why they have these beliefs.

When young, that is much exposed chlorophyll on the trunk that may attract grazers.  They are adorned with sharp spines to prevent such predation.  As they get larger, the bark covers the chlorophyll and the spines become fewer and more or less disappear.

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