Chechen and Chaca Trees

Mayan Garden Club September Tip of the Month

If you travel anywhere in the Yucatan and Riviera Maya jungle areas, you will eventually run into the Chechen tree and the nearby growing Chaca tree. The Chechen tree has black sap that seeps out of the grayish trunk , however, several trees in the Yucatan can look similar. The wood of this tree is very hard and prized for furniture and for building. The leaves are curly and often black-spotted with the sap.  The Chaca tree has a distinctive light brown bark that appears peeling in older trees. The wood is softer but the tree grows easily from just a limb being stuck in the ground or in a pot. It is often used to make living fence posts.

One of the trees, the Chechen (Black Poisonwood Tree), has sap that is very toxic and can cause a horrible rash and burn.  Even touching the leaves can cause a bad reaction.  Often you will not even know that you have been infected until the burning and itching rash appears.  It is similar to the worst poison ivy you have ever seen! Luckily, growing near the Chechen tree you will usually find a Chaca tree (also called Gumbo Limbo) which is an antidote to the Chechen’s poison — if applied in time.

Simply cut a piece of the bark of the Chaca tree vertically and wipe the inside on the affected area to neutralize the rash.  You may also make a tea with the bark to help rid your body of the toxins.  If you don’t use this in time, it may be necessary to use cortisone cream or even make a trip to the doctor.

The Legend

So why do these trees always grow near each other?  According to the Maya legend, two great warriors were brothers, but of entirely different personalities.  One, Kinich, was kind and loving while his older brother, Tizic, was hateful and angry.  Both fell in love with the same maiden, the beautiful Nicte-Ha. T hey declared a battle to the death to determine who would have her.

A terrible battle raged on, the moon hid, and black clouds filled the skies as the earth was torn apart and the heavens went into hiding. Eventually the brothers both died in each other’s arms.

In the afterlife, they begged for forgiveness and asked to return to the world of the living to see Nicte-Ha again.  The gods granted their wish and the brother Tizic was reborn as the Chechen Tree which burns and blisters anyone who touches it. The loving brother, Kinich, was reborn as the Chaca tree, which neutralizes the venom of the Chechen.  They both watch over Nicte-Ha who was reborn as a beautiful white flower.

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