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CALABASH TREE

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calabash tree

 

 

The Calabash Trees that are found in Belize are small tropical evergreens that can attain a height of over 22 feet. However, the Calabash Tree is referred to as a “tree” in its' local name only, not scientifically, for they are technically shrubs.

 

The scientific name for the Calabash Tree is Crescentia Cujete. The Calabash belongs to the family of Bignoniaceae and is known to grow in abundance in Belize. However, also found in Belize is a cousin to the Calabash Tree, scientifically called Crescentia Alata, that is locally known as the Mexican Calabash.

The Calabash Trees' exact origin is not known, however today, the Calabash has been introduced throughout the tropics and can be found growing in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and the northern parts of South America. The Calabash has become native to much of Southern Mexico and Central America and has also been naturalized in India.

 

The Calabash Tree has characteristics that are uniquely its own that features a broad but irregular crown made up of long, spreading and arching branches which are capable of providing dappled shade on sunny days. Calabash leaves are simple and elliptical in shape, clustered at the nodes. As a result of this unique growth habit, this tree often becomes a surrogate for orchid-growers to perch their plants on its branches. Crescentia cujeteis grown in lawns, parks and are often used for hedges.

 

The Calabash produce nocturnal flowers that are a greenish-yellow color marked with purple veins on the trunk or main branches. Every evening around 6 p.m. these nocturnal blooms open and will emit a fairly strong odor that is attractive to the nocturnal mammal, the Fruit Bat. Fruit Bats help to pollinate the Calabash Trees' flowers which, by noon time the next day, will be closed and all withered away, ready start their nocturnal blooming cycle the following evening.

 

Wood from this tree has a wide range of uses which include manufacture of cattle yoke, tool handles, wooden wheels, ribs in boat building and thin strips are used to make baskets and hampers

 

The Calabash Trees' fruit has been cultivated for thousands of years. The pulp of the Calabash fruit has been known and used for medicinal purposes for hundreds maybe even thousands of years. The medicinal properties of the Calabash fruit have been used to treat headaches, burns, certain respiratory issues, stomach aches, coughs, colds, laxatives and also has been used to help reduce high rates of blood pressure.

 

Beside the use of the Calabash fruit for medicinal purposes other parts of the tree are also used medicinally. A concoction of the bark of the Calabash Tree is used to clean wounds and the pounded leaves are applied as a poultice for headache while finely crushed leaves are applied on wounds to stop bleeding and promote healing.

The oval gourd-like fruit of the Calabash Tree has a hard and woody rind, similar to a gourd. The Calabash fruit can grow up to 25 cm in diameter, not too much unlike the Calabash Vine of the Middle and Far East. Each fruit takes up to seven months to ripen. Ripened Calabash fruits are brown in color and the seeds inside are surrounded by a light-colored pulp.

 

The shells of the dried Calabash fruits are used to make a wide range of household utensils or creatively filled with sand to make musical instruments. The larger fruits are used as bowls or made into helmets that are worn by bird hunters.

 

Past civilizations have used the dried and hardened green shells of the Calabash fruit to make bowls and eating utensils, such as spoons, for about as long as that same fruit has been cultivated as a viable source of food.

One can find gift shops in Belize displaying and selling a wide variety of artifacts made from the calabash fruit. Products made from the Calabash Tree make great souvenirs and usually are not very expensive. Anthony Benjamin


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