On June 15, Costa Rica celebrates the “Día del Árbol,” or Day of the Tree. Our namesake tree, and Costa Rica’s national tree, the Guanacaste, Enterolobium cyclocarpum, is pretty close to our hearts. Its name comes from the Nahuatl word “quauhnacaztli”, meaning “tree of ears” because its seeds look like human ears. It thrives in the dry tropical forest despite receiving no rain in the region from December to May.
The Guanacaste tree was named Costa Rica’s national tree in 1959, and it is said its shade is symbolic of the governmental protection of its people. The massive tree is known for its large proportions, its expansive, often spherical crown, and its curiously shaped seedpods.
The Guanacaste tree is among the most majestic and esthetically pleasing of tree species in its native range. Tolerant of a wide range of rainfall levels, temperatures and soil conditions, they can thrive in most low-elevation, tropical habitats.
Guanacaste trees are highly valued as ornamentals and the shade they provide creates many an oasis on the searing and sun-baked plains in its Pacific slope habitat. 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 tree sheds its leaves during the dry season, exchanging those leaves for spherical clusters of white flowers. Guanacaste flowers are very fragrant, and during intense flowering periods (February to March) their sweet, jasmine-like scent perfumes the air.
While this tree does make wonderful shade and has an appealing domed growth habit, Guanacaste trees 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.
Guanacaste wood is highly prized and widely used in wood-working. The wood is reddish-brown, lightweight and water-resistant; it is used to make items such as doors, windows, furniture, cabinets, and for shipbuilding.
The attractive seeds are used to make jewelry as they are quite beautiful. Green seeds can be boiled and eaten, something I have yet to try. Locals also use the leaves, sap, and bark in traditional folk medicines, also you can make artisanal soaps