The Cecropia tree is one of my new favorite species.
When I visited the tropics a few years ago, I saw a large Cecropia tree growing in my friend’s pastureland and asked what in the world it was.
“Bacano tree,” he replied. “You can cut them down again and again to feed the goats whenever you’re short on forage.”
I looked up at this crazy, Dr. Suessian tree and wondered if it had any other uses. “Bacano” is just one of the many names for these genus of fast-growing trees. Others include
If you subscribe to my YouTube channel, you probably saw the little video from ECHO I posted a few weeks back where our tour guide was sharing some of the many uses of this incredible tree.
Here’s that quick video again:
Sandpaper, wood, animal fodder, edible fruit, tobacco substitute, quick shade, musical instruments, composting material, biomass for biochar… and it even has some medical uses.
It’s funny. People complain about trees dropping leaves all over their yards… but at ECHO they viewed the constant leaf drop as a plus.
As I wrote in Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, it makes a lot of sense to plant fast-growing trees and plants just for the purpose of making compost. If you’re in a tropical climate, the Cecropia tree is a great choice.
I imagine it would make a great “nurse tree” for a tropical food forest, providing shade to younger trees along with a lot of chop-and-drop potential. The Cecropia tree is considered a “pioneer species.”
That means it’s one of the first plants to jump into a torn-up spot, bringing new life to damaged, eroded or burned areas. Pioneer species grow quickly and help shade and restore the soil so more finicky long-term species can return.
These are the sorts of trees you want at the beginning of a food forest.
When I start my next food forest, I’ll be adding Cecropia.
As it is, we have a few large Cecropia trees and some small ones here and there on our new homestead. Last week I tried some of the leaves as a tobacco substitute in my trusty Peterson’s briar pipe and found they tasted much like a decent English tobacco blend. Really good – much better than I expected, plus the smoke was quite smooth and non-irritating.
I tried chopping up a felled Cecropia in the bush with my machete and found the wood to be very, very hard. The stems are hollow, which has given me some ideas for future musical instruments…
…anyhow, as I stated in the title, this is really a useful tree. It’s a shame you can’t grow it in the temperate USA. I’ll bet you could pull them off in parts of California, Florida, Texas, Arizona and most definitely Hawaii… but for those of you in New Jersey, Oregon, etc., it’s not going to happen except in an amazingly huge greenhouse. And if I had enough money for one of those, I’d simply move to someplace warmer.