El Chaka – A Yucatecan Tree with Papery Bark

The Chaka (chah-KAH) tree is found everywhere in the Yucatan and can be identified by its papery, red colored bark which seems to be suffering from some sort of skin disease as it is constantly shedding. Many locals consider it an ‘acceptable’ tree to leave on ones property when clearing in preparation for building a new home. While the other endemic varieties such as chukun, catzin and even the honey-producing dzidilche are considered ‘undesirable’ because they either have thorns (like you are going to be climbing these trees every afternoon) or produce garbage (in the form of leaves, the horror), the chaka is left because it has neither thorns nor a huge amount of leaves and many think it is attractive (which it is). So, when coming upon a cleared lot you will often find that the chakas have been left standing as solitary reminders that some native trees are more desirable than others and testament to the owners – or in many cases the architects – somewhat tepid desire to preserve at least some of the local vegetation.

Unfortunately, the chaka is a soft wood whose root structure seems to be largely superficial and in my time here in the Yucatan, which has included observing the passage of more than one major hurricane, I have noticed that the chakas, when left surrounded by their more hardy, deep-root, neighboring trees, survive strong winds much more handily than when left alone to fend for themselves. Standing alone, they easily succumb to a strong gust of wind which snaps their branches and if the gale strong enough, uproots them entirely.

You can read up on the chaka here (en español) but in a nutshell it says that the tree is indigenous to the area, and its leaves are used for medicinal purposes (curative baths for fevers, according to this site), its wood for carving (although most wood carvers will use other, harder wood varieties) and as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens.

I have several in the backyard and here are some photos of their trunks and bark, which I find quite interesting.

7 thoughts on “El Chaka – A Yucatecan Tree with Papery Bark

  1. I know the chaka is not a relative of the madrone or manzanita, but they all certainly remind me of each other. I really have an attraction to peely-bark trees. Weird, huh? I’ll be on the lookout for them when I visit in July (pre-Shakira). Thanks for posting this. Never would have paid attention otherwise.

  2. The bark can be used as a tea and reportedly helps you sleep but can cause fantastic dreams. In Key West, they call it “the tourist tree’.

  3. Hi somebody told me that Chaka tree logs by themselves, if we planted… it will grow easily.
    I will try it and I will tell you what happen.

  4. Yes, this is true. Often you will see them used as fenceposts and they are sprouting branches and leaves, making them living fences! Good luck!

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