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Bursera simaruba L.; chaka', tourist tree

Distinctive forest trees with reddish external bark that peels off in papery shreds, often revealing remarkably green subsurface layers; leaves alternate, pinnately compound with 3, 5 or 7 leaflets; flowers small, in axillary racemes; fruits obscurely 3-angled drupes.

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As is common in the family, the tree yields an aromatic, sweet-scented gum the focus of diverse uses for the plant. As reported by Standley (1930): the resinous wood lights easily; young leaves are applied in a poultice to sores; fruits and young shoots are used to treat snake bites; leaf sap is used to treat swellings; leaf extracts are used externally to treat skin rashes, and internally to treat bleeding in the stomach. Listed as an important source of pollen and/or nectar for bees (Suarez Molina 1981).

An oft-repeated tour-guide fable in Yucatan links the occurrence of Bursera simaruba with that of Metopium brownei. The latter, known as poisonwood, can cause a serious skin rash, and the former provides the cure, and the implication of the story is that Nature or Providence (or whatever), would not provide the ailment without simultaneously providing the cure. Bursera simaruba is essentially omnipresent throughout the peninsula, seemingly in support of the tour guide fable. The deeper, interesting, question is whether one should expect Nature to be structured for the use and benefit of humankind?