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Ceiba Pentandra the Sacred Tree of the Maya

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Ceiba Pentandra the Sacred Tree of the Maya
Ceiba Pentandra, Mexico

Ceiba Pentandra, Mexico

Nicoletta Maestri

The Ceiba tree, whose name in Maya is Yaaxche “Green Tree” or “First Tree” is a tropical tree native to Central and South America, as well as of west Africa. It usually grows in the wet tropical jungle, savannah, and near rivers.

This tree averages as high as 30 to 40 meters (ca. 100 ft.), but can reach 60 meters. When still young, a ceiba can grow up to four meters in one year. It has a long and large trunk, up to 3 meters wide and branches that usually grow only at the very top of its trunk, which can be covered by thorns.

The ceiba usually blooms from January to March producing whitish flowers. Its seeds are surrounded by a fluffy fiber which was used, especially in the past, for stuffing beds, pillow, and toys. The seeds also produce an oil used to make soap and a fertilizer.

Different species of ceiba exist in tropical America, and it is among the highest tree in the Maya area. The ceiba was the most sacred tree for the ancient Maya, and according to Maya mythology it was the symbol of the universe. Its roots, growing outside the ground surface, reached the underworld, the trunk represented the middle world, where the humans live and its umbrella of branches symbolized the upper world and the thirteen levels in which the Maya haven was divided

Sources

Schlesinger, Victoria, 2001, Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya. A Guide. University of Texas Press, Austin.

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