Pochote, Ceiba aesculifolia (Kapok) is also known as apochote, ceiba, puchote, lánta in Chiapas, kuch (Maya) in Yucatán y len-o-ma (Chontal) and Matzu (chinanteco) in Oaxaca.
Once a year, the pochote trees in La Yacata are festooned with huge cotton balls. Every year I tell myself that I’m going to gather them up to stuff some pillows. This year I finally did!
It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. The trunk of the Ceiba aesculifolia (kapok) is covered in thorns, so climbing is out of the question. The seed pods were mostly out of my reach considering these trees can grow up to 25 meters high. The soft, downy fluff disintegrated and floated away after I touched it. It’s like trying to catch dandelion puffs. I managed to get one shopping bag full for my efforts.
Since the fluff is quite a bit, uh, well fluffier than synthetic materials, not only did I make a huge mess trying to stuff a pillow, but my bagful was only enough for one very small pillow. Well, I guess I’ll try again next year when the cotton balls bloom.
This tree has no leaves when it flowers, making it a strange sight. Bats are the primary pollinators as well as moths and hummingbirds. It grows in dry and rocky areas, so it comes as no surprise that La Yacata abounds in them.
As with all things found in nature, the pochote has medicinal value. In the states of Mexico and Quintana Roo, it is used to induce vomiting. In Yucatan, the fermented bark is used in a wash given to those with sunstroke.
Again, not surprisingly, the cotton-like fluff has been traditionally used for stuffing. It has also been used as tinder for fires and wicks for candles. Recently, this soft material has been found to be effective insulation for refrigerators.
Traditionally, infusions of the pochote leaves have been used to treat sores, snake bite, and dermatitis. Francisco Hernández de Toledo mentioned the pochote in his collections of works Plantas y Animales de la Nueva Espana, y sus virtudes about plants and animals found in Nueva Spain (Mexico) and their virtues.
There have been no studies so far to ascertain the validity of using pochote leaves on the skin.