A National Symbol of Costa Rica:

On August 31, 1959, the national tree of Costa Rica is named, it will become the tree of Guanacaste. Standing tall and wide, many of us have probably seen the Guanacaste tree. Not knowing and wondering, what could be the name of that tree that stands so boldly there? It stands out from all the rest and carries a myriad of features.

Once you get a chance to see the pods of the Guanacaste tree, you’ll understand how it got its name. The pods have a very particular shape, shiny and brownish in color. Semi-circular, it takes on the appearance of an ear, hence its other common name, the Elephant Ear tree. Of Nahuatl origin, Guanacaste is made up of two words meaning “tree” and “ear”. Other notable names referred to are monkey ear tree, caro caro tree and of course its scientific name. Enterolobium Cyclocarpum.

These unique pods end up serving a multitude of purposes. Livestock will often consume them crossing them to continue on another generation of national trees. Parrots make themselves known by feasting on the fruits of the tree.

While still green before drying, they can be boiled and eaten and are said to be a source of protein. Other ways have been to roast and season them, grind them to create a type of flour, or roast them to become a coffee substitute. Even added to soups or sauces somewhat similar to beans.

The seeds inside the pod have a very distinctive design, a natural eye, some referring to it as a deer’s eye. Natural art is created by making bracelets, earrings and necklaces from seeds. Remember not to get your jewelry wet. The seeds will swell as they absorb water and destroy your jewelry.

The tree itself is of a distinctive height ranging from 82 feet to 120 feet and more. The trunk itself is equally stunning with diameters reaching 7 feet. The Guanacaste tree is known for its impressive size and is one of the features that help make it so recognizable. Often you can see the crown grow wider than the actual height of the tree itself.

Its massive hemispherical canopy grows like a broad crown. The light green fern-like leaves reach lengths of 15-40cm and appear feathery. It is a characteristic that makes the Guanacaste tree so remarkable and part of the culture. Most often, it is recognized for the refuge that this huge tree provides. The wide canopy protects not only animals but also people fleeing the heat and the sun.

The flowering cycle extends from February to April, and January to May produces fruit. Less than an inch ball-shaped, the fragrant white flowers are small.

You will find the national tree that grows best in tropical climates with humidity and a dry season. They are not directly on the beach because they do not tolerate salty conditions, but are located in the coastal zone located further inland and even on the banks of the river. They represent resilience with their high tolerance to survive in various humid and extremely dry climates, even in drought.

The Guanacaste tree can live up to 70 years and with its strong roots, it does not grow near dwellings. The roots expand and can damage homes and buildings, which is why they are not recommended in residential areas. Especially with its expansive crown, it becomes too large to fit into homes.

Dropping lots of seeds, leaves, twigs, and broken branches from the winds would require some cleaning up. You might find one in an open-air park for an escape and rest in the shade. The national tree is not found in dense, lush forests, but more often in large fields and pastures. Coffee plantations will also take advantage of the enormous shade potential of the Guanacaste tree and use them for their coffee plants.

Both the seed and the tree itself grow quite quickly in a short time. However, you need permission to cut one. The wood of the Guanacaste tree is resistant to fungus and water. Most importantly, resistant to insects, especially termites, which makes it highly desirable for woodworking. It creates beautiful furniture with its distinctive grain patterns and striking appearance.

Paintings become a work of art upon seeing the beauty of the swirling colors of browns, reddish hues and dark streaks on display. Hardwood is used for windows, doors, cabinets and posts due to its durability and even for canoes and Costa Rica’s famous ox carts.

But it does not stop there, the national tree is found in the uses of folk medicine. The sap itself has been used as an alternative treatment for lung infections such as bronchitis. Chemical compounds in the bark and pods can be used to create a soap substitute. Gastrointestinal issues can help be alleviated with green fruits.

The Guanacaste tree is much more than a beautiful tree just sitting in the landscapes of Costa Rica. It represents and symbolizes much more. It is all-encompassing and plays a role in many aspects of people’s lives. It is a friend to shelter and protect you on a hot day, offers healing or a little food, and a canvas for those with a skilled hand.

But what’s most impressive about the Guanacaste tree is that it continues to grow strong and resilient through the toughest seasons, just like the country it so proudly represents.

About Matthew Berkey

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