Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wild Plants: Macal

These huge flowers appear in my Mèrida garden several times per year. They last showed themselves in November, and began to blossom again in mid February. The blooms resemble those of the plant which we call "skunk cabbage" in Alaska, differing mostly in color; skunk cabbage flowers are yellow. This is macal, of which two varieties are indigenous to Yucatan, known as macal box (maCAL bosh) and xmakin macal (shmaKEEN maCAL). As best I can tell by talking to people, this is the latter variety.

In my garden where it receives a lot of water, macal grows and flowers all year, but my research tells me that in natural surroundings these plants sprout in May, or around the hot and steamy beginning of the rainy season, and the edible roots are ready for harvest in November. New plants sprout from the roots, and spread quickly. I once chopped down a couple of these plants that were very mature and had stopped producing healthy new leaves, and within two months I had probably twenty new examples which had grown from the roots, which I had left in the soil. The roots are huge; I read somewhere that three or four would fill a bushel basket. The flesh is white and very starchy, and some people have told me that eating macal in excess can cause sickness. I haven't tried it yet. I am waiting for someone with experience in cooking and eating macal to help me with the recipe the first time I prepare it for the table.

The plants grow wild, and are commonly seen in rural gardens. I get the impression that in the past macal was eaten more commonly than now. The presence of potatoes and a greater variety of vegetables has somewhat displaced macal in the Yucatecan diet, except perhaps in cases of families living in extreme poverty. I appreciate the huge leaves for their ornamental value, and the flowers because they are delicate despite their large size, and for their mild, pleasant aroma.


  1. Hello Marc,

    I am sorry we didn't meet in Juneau. I am now residing in Sayulita for another month and still finishing the CLAD classes. Poor me, Annie is not our facilitator anymore.

    Life here is good, and I do appreciate your help in the class situation.

    Margo/Juneau person

  2. It's good to hear that you are in Mexico, and that the technical side of taking the courses worked out. I was sure it would. Enjoy.

  3. This plant looks like the one we call elephant ear. It is a relative to the caladium. I have seen the macal growing wild in Brasil, and perhaps it does so in Mexico as well. Also, I have seen the bulbs for sale in the grocery stores in Brasil, but I have never eaten one. The flowering part reminds me of the anthurium bloom in shape, but also looks like the bloom of a peace lily. Who knows, they may all be family. Love your blog. Ccinha

  4. Well, they are blooming again right now in late April and May. It seems that with the water they get in my garden the plants will bloom about every three months. I'm still looking for a recipe.

  5. Maybe this is taro root. There are different varieties, and I see where some write that it is the source of tapioca too; but I think manioc/cassava or yucca root is a different plant. In the subtropical US there is a weed coloquially called "skunk cabbage" because of its disagreeable odor, but it looks nothing like this.


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