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Thursday, April 12, 2018

My new relationship with Ramón

I've entered into a new relationship. His name is Ramón. I really didn't mean for things to get this serious, but maybe the time has come, and well.....here's the backstory....

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R
ising 80-100’ into the canopy directly over my driveway, this year a large tree called the Mayan Breadnut or Maya Nut Tree, Brosimum alicastrum bore a LOT of fruit which plopped onto my truck and littered the ground until it got my attention   

The wildlife appear to relish the nuts, even when they’re green, peeling off and dropping the heavy rinds all over the place.  Occasionally a nut slips from their grasp and lands on my  roof, crashing like a firecracker -- think of a marble, crashing on the bottom of a tin bucket from 80-100' up. Yup, that's about right.  There is a Maya Nut Tree over my little Micasa, out in the jungle, too.

Here in the rainforest you never know what’s blooming or fruiting overhead until the trees drop their flowers or fruits, or some gluttonous forager loses a grip on its snack as it goes to pop it into its mouth. Possums,coatis, kinkajous, and other creatures chow down at night, and howler and spider monkeys, toucans, parrots, and other birds and mammals forage in the daytime, so you can often pick up “clues” about overhead tree identities on the ground after their feasts.

In early February I sketched a bunch of interesting seeds/fruits/nuts that had fallen from the canopy onto my walkway. The green fruit and shiny brown seeds on the right are the fruits from that tree, but at the time I didn't know what kind of fruits they were.

Now in early April, the fruits have ripened, and the green peels have matured to a bright orange.  They taste a lot like oranges, too. To make sure they were edible, I first asked Belizean friends what they were called, then found them in my (excellent) book Trees of Belize by Kate Harris, then went online to find out if they’d poison me if I nibbled on them. They won’t. 

And that was how I met and fell in love with...my Ramón Tree.  { HA!  Gotcha! Right?}  I also discovered something else so interesting I thought you might enjoy it, too.  

It seems that the leaves of the Ramón Tree, named after the Spanish word ramónear which means “to browse,” were a favorite choice for chicleros seeking food for their mules.  In case you don’t know, the chicleros were the hombres who went out into the forest in the early- to mid-1900s to harvest the latex from the chicle tree (Manilkara sp.for use in making chewing gum.  There are still some working chicleros.  I actually know a chiclero (but his name is Erec, not Ramón). 

Chicle has been used as a chewing gum for a l-o-o-o-ng time-- as Wikipedia notes: Maya traditionally chewed chicle… as a way to stave off hunger, freshen breath, and keep teeth clean.”  You've heard of Chiclets, right?  They're nearly pure chicle latex, sugar added.  

Okay, so the chicleros’ mules ate the Ramón leaves. Then, their appetites sated, they hauled the bags of chicle out of the jungle to be sold in the markets. I have a couple of chicle trees about a hundred feet up the hill from my Ramón Tree, crisscrossed with ancient chiclero slashes from which the latex dripped into the gathering bags.

What really snagged my attention, though, was reading that as the chicleros chopped branches from Ramón trees for the mules, they’d often discover that the trees were growing up from the tumbled stonework of Mayan ruins.

The archaeological record from Mayan sites shows that Ramón nuts were apparently a dietary staple to the ancient Mayans, who ate the fruit and also boiled or baked the dried and ground nuts, which have more protein than corn, as a major part of their diet. Ramón nuts are still eaten in Quintana Roo (in Mexico) as survival food. 

So, in a Ramón nutshell, it appears that the Ramón groves discovered by the chicleros may be descendants of old Mayan Ramón orchards. What makes it even more interesting, is that my Ramón Tree is within twenty feet of the edge of what is said to be an unexcavated Mayan site in Mayan Circle here in the ecovillage where I live. So maybe my Ramón tree’s long-ago ancestor was planted by a long-ago Mayan.

Anyway, here’s what the ripe Ramón fruits look like. If you come to visit me in in April and see a small orange fruit lying in the road (check the end of my driveway, just behind my pickup truck) stop and take a look.  It will probably be a Ramón fruit. As you can see, it looks like a tiny orange with a stem.  The seeds have a brassy appearance that's very distinctive.

If it's a Ramón fruit, give it a wash then nibble on the orange rind. It’s really tasty – citrusy and sweet. Yum! I didn’t try eating a green one earlier this year, because 1) I didn't know what it was then and I never taste unknown fruits, and 2) I'm guessing that the green rinds (like the ones in my sketch) would be horribly tart and inedible, and maybe taste like turpentine. 

I hope you'll forgive me (and Ramón) for trying to fool ya.  It was irresistible. 


2 comments:

Yogimama said...

Say hello to Ramon! Love your writing and surprises! Thank you for sharing your life and artwork!

Renie said...

It's hard to tell, but I BELIEVE I could hear Ramon returning your greeting. Sort of a leafy rustle, and a thump as yet another fruit hit the pickup canopy.

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