Trees from Another Planet
A rose by any other name might still smell as sweet, but a tree by definition finds its uniqueness in leaf and branch. The names of trees help us build a visual picture that adds to reading enjoyment. Pine evokes a sense of mountain grandeur or the spicy tang associated with winter and Christmas. Oak treats us to steadfastness and the hope of growth from small beginnings.
Trees have always fascinated me and the more varied and different, the better I like them. I prefer the purple of the Japanese maple over the dark green of a mulberry. The orchid-like blossoms of the desert willow hold more fascination than the waxy blooms of the magnolia. Mesquite trees with their feathery fronds, yellow fuzzy blossoms and contrasting dark trunks and yellow green foliage seem otherworldly.
But my all time favorite tree for looking like its from another planet is the ceibo tree of Ecuador. Most folks know the ceibo as the kapok or silk tree due to the frothy silk seedpods. Ceibos are uniquely designed for dry, waterless climates. Deep green trunks and branches provide the necessary photosynthesis for seed production, and the tree’s life cycle creates the seeds before the leaves. Hollow trunks conserve water usage, streamlining the necessary nutrients directly into seed production.
Ceibos have weird, twisted branches, which often end up resembling people—provided you have a bit of imagination. The barren branches have no leaves or relatively few leaves until the end of the cycle. When everything else is putting forth new leaves, the ceibo stands stark and bare.
I did some research on the ceibo trees and discovered something unique to Ecuador. All the pictures of other ceibos showed waxy, red blossoms. Our ceibos never had red leaf-like blooms. Every year I would watch our ceibos transition from barren to small white blooms, to hairy branches with moss-like trailers, then the seedpods. At the end, if we’d had some moisture small leaves would appear, but more often than not, this part of the cycle was skipped. Other ceibos seems to lack the moss—at least I never saw a picture of one outside of Ecuador.
For me, the ceibos were odd—more fitting of plant life on some science fiction world than a native of planet Earth. In the dry and dusty terrain of Manabí province, the ceibos were often the greenest things around. We became accustomed to barren, leafless bushes with vivid purple or red blooms clustered around the knees of the towering ceibos. In an otherwise brown landscape the green trunks of the ceibos stood out, the dandelion silk of the seedpods floating on the wind like snowflakes, the scraggly grey “hair” draped across branches like tattered scarves.
For a science fiction writer like myself, the ceibos became my touchstone between fantasy and reality, a fixed point in time and space where imagination crossed with the real world. I still miss them.