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Bring back Yucatán’s fruit trees, science researcher urges

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The zapote negro is among Yucatán’s fruit-bearing trees that we are seeing less of. Photo: Punto Medio

Mérida, Yucatán — The age-old tradition of planting fruit-bearing or flowering trees in the backyard is due for a revival, said a researcher at the Center for Scientific Research of Yucatan (CICY).

Veronica Franco Toriz said that some endemic species are increasingly difficult to find and, in the case of one species, in danger of disappearing.

“At the present time it is customary to buy the fruits in the store or in the market, but if there is no money, what to do then?” said Franco.

Accelerated and disorganized growth of cities and populations has resulted in the loss of vegetation and deforestation of natural ecosystems, she said.

The ciricote is disappearing, she said, as well as the pepino kat, the canisté, the nance blanco, the zapote negro or tauch, wild varieties of papaya and some others that came from Southeast Asia as the china lima or the cajera, she said.

The researcher, who leads the Environmental Education Program at the Roger Orellana Botanical Garden, blamed the dismantling of the ejido, where the heads of family migrated to work as masons far from home — in Mérida, Riviera Maya and Cancun — or to the United States for agricultural or kitchen work.

“Then, their wives, who 35 or 40 years ago took care of the land and the children, saw themselves in need of becoming providers and went to work as domestic servants, in commerce and, more recently, to the maquiladoras (assembly plants) … and they neglected the care of the plants and fruit trees of the house,” she explained.

The ciricote, a native species that bears a sweet fruit eaten as a dessert, and provides good-quality wood for furniture, is in danger of disappearing, said Franco.

It also grows fast, its bark is medicinal for coughs and bronchial infections, and its raspy leaf was used to scrub dishes.

The black zapote is a fruit native to Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico. It has a texture and a taste very similar to chocolate, but is very low in fat — 100 grams is 45 calories — and has more vitamin A and C than an orange. In addition, its potential medicinal use is being studied.

Another disappearing tree that, although not edible, is the ceiba, which produces a fruit that contains a silky fiber known as “pochote.” In addition to being used as filler for mattresses, pillows and life jackets, its fiber also in demand as a lightweight insulating material for aircraft cabins.

The ceiba’s flowers are an important source of nectar and pollen for honey bees and its oil is a potential biofuel source.

The tree, known in English as the Kapoc or the Silk Cotton Tree, is cultivated mainly in Thailand. To the Maya, it is sacred and revered as a symbol of the entire universe.

The researcher also lamented that in the backyards of houses that do have sour or sweet oranges, their yields go rotten while families buy soda at the market.

Franco Toriz said that with enough land, fruit trees’ bounty could bring in good income.

Sources: Punto Medio, Verema, ThoughtCo

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