Photo of the Ceiba tree with a Mayan pyramid in the background. I took this photo while visiting the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben in Mexico. Although the excursion to the Chacchoben ruins took over an hour by bus, it was well worth it. This was by far my favorite part of our cruise through the western Caribbean in 2013.
Ceiba is the name of a genus of many species of large trees found in tropical areas, including Mexico, Central America, South America, The Bahamas, Belize and the Caribbean, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. Some species can grow to 70 m (230 ft) tall or more, with a straight, largely branchless trunk that culminates in a huge, spreading canopy, and buttress roots that can be taller than a grown person. The best-known, and most widely cultivated, species is Kapok, Ceiba pentandra, distinguished from Bombax ceiba, which bears red flowers.
The tree figures an important part in the mythologies of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. For example several Amazonian tribes of eastern Peru believe deities live in Ceiba tree species throughout the jungle. The Maya civilization believed, Yaaxché, a concept of the central world tree is often depicted as a Ceiba trunk, which connects the planes of the Underworld (Xibalba), the terrestrial realm and the skies. The unmistakable thick conical thorns in clusters on the trunk were reproduced by the southern lowland Maya of the Classical Period on cylindrical ceramic burial urns or incense holders.