Inspiring Tropical Giant: Parota/ Huancaxtle Tree
Tara A. Spears
While walking my dog around the Guayabitos residential area this week I collected lots of interesting seed pods. Besides the artistic seed pods, the tree –arbor de Parota or Huancaxtle in Spanish- is magnificent. You can’t miss this species due to its size and growing shape. The Parota trees are protected in Guayabitos. Those people purchasing lots with a healthy Huancaxtle tree cannot cut down the tree to build. If the Parota tree is dead or diseased, a permit must be obtained in Compostella to remove it.
The Parota is one of the largest trees in the dry forest area of Mexico and Central America, reaching up to 12 feet in diameter and 40 m in height with a huge spreading crown. It is a conspicuous and well-known tree in its native range. Large crowned trees scattered in pastures are a common sight and a distinctive feature of the landscape in many parts of Mexico and Central America.
Parota trees are highly valued as an ornamental planting. The shade they provide creates many an oasis on the searing and sun-baked plains in its Pacific slope habitat. The Parota tree is widely grown as a shade tree to shelter coffee plantations or for shade and forage for cattle; it also improves soil fertility by nitrogen fixation.
The Parota tree is a member of the Leguminosae family and has additional common names: elephant ear, Guanacaste, and earpod tree. Several sources explain that huanacaxtle (pronounced “wanna-cox-lay’) is derived from the indigenous Nahuatl language meaning ear. This tropical giant grows up to 30 meters high and the trunk can get to 11 feet/3.5 meters wide! It has large, lacy fronds composed of numerous tiny alternating bi-pinnate compound leaves. The leaves emerge in the early days of spring and stay in full leaf for eight to nine months of the year. Parota trees bears tiny white flowers during April/May.
The flowers are small, in a circular form of very long yellowish-white petals. The flowers appear in small groups on short petioles. It is after the tree has fully leafed out that the flowers bloom. The almost circular fruits are legumes and frequently resemble an ear, hence its name.
I choose my location because I love looking at these gorgeous trees and my street has many. In fact, my house has Parota trees on all four sides so I can enjoy them from anywhere in my yard. Unfortunately, about the 3rd year in this house, I started having an allergenic reaction to the flowers! Since the pollen season is limited to a couple of months, I just stock up on allergy meds.
The Parota wood is reddish-brown, lightweight, and water-resistant making it in high demand for furniture, cabinets, and for shipbuilding. The bark of the tree is a lovely light grey color that contrasts nicely with the vibrant green of its lacy leaves. While this tree does make wonderful shade and has an appealing domed growth habit, Parota also has huge roots that help it weather tropical storms. These anchor roots are very destructive if planted too close to a structure or roadway, as it can crack cement.
The next time that you visit Jaltemba Bay, take a half hour to stroll around the residential area to view lovely Parota trees.