Scientific Name: Manilkara zapota

Plant Family: Sapotaceae

Other Names: chico sapote, sapote, sapodilla

Chicle trees are easily noticed in the Maya forest because of the criss-cross slash marks that scar the trunk. These marks are not characteristic to the species but are made by chicle tappers as they harvest chicle sap, an original form of chewing gum.
The chicle tappers, or chicleros, live in the forest in small groups for months during the rainy season in order to collect the chicle. To harvest chicle, the chicleros climb the trees and use a sharp machete to make zig-zag slashes in the outer bark of the tree. The latex, which drips from the cuts, is then collected and carried in rubber-lined bags to camp where it is boiled. Once reduced, the chicle is formed into blocks and prepared for storage and shipment. Traditionally, this was done with mules.
Chicle has been tapped from the trees since the time of the ancient Maya. In the Maya forest, chicle was a primary export between the 1880s and the 1950s as a natural base for chewing gum. Exports declined, however, when cheaper synthetics took over the market. Chicle trees can be sustainably tapped every six years and are now experiencing a small revitalization as a native forest product.
The ancient Maya used this tree for many of its resources, most noably its rich sweet fruit. The wood was prized for beams and lintels because of its tremendous strength and durability against the ever-present termite. It is such a dense wood that it sinks in water! Some of the area's most impressive carvings are created on Chicozapote.