The ceiba tree is the official tree of Puerto Rico, just as the Giant Sequoiah is the state tree of California. One particular ceiba tree in Vieques has been keeping watch over Puerto Rico since the days when Spain owned the Island. Known as La Ceiba, this tree has great sentimental value for the people living in the area.
That tree has finally bloomed again for the first time since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. The catastrophic storm did billions of dollars worth of damage, wiped out most of the crops, and sent the territory into a black-out that left many people without electricity for more than a year.
But the blooming of La Ceiba has a special meaning. “Her blooms are so significant because it represents that we are blooming, and we will keep creating more life,” Ardelle Ferrer Negretti told NPR.
Ardelle Ferrer Negretti was one of the Vieques residents who worked with the rest of the community to create a special park for this special tree. It is believed to be more than 300 years old.
The ceiba tree is also known as the kapok tree. The trunks were used by the Taino, Puerto Rico’s first inhabitants, to build canoes. The kapok fibers have been used for products from clothing to life preservers to bandages in various times and places; the ceiba is a relative of the cotton plant. The tree is often pollinated by bats, and provides nectar and habitat for mammals, birds, and insects.
The ceiba tree was sacred to the Maya, archaeologists say. Even without a sense of the sacred, the tree is majestic enough to impress visitors. La Ceiba is a favorite attraction among tourists to Vieques.
Ceibas don’t bloom every year, but this year’s blooms in Vieques are bringing confidence to the residents. As Puerto Rico continues to rebuild and recover from Hurricane Maria, signs of hope are welcome.