The Genus Chiranthrodendron comprises a single species, C. pentadactylon. The tree is called the Devil's, monkey's or Mexican hand tree or the hand-flower in English, the árbol de las manitas (tree of little hands) in Spanish, and mācpalxōchitl (palm flower) in Nahuatl, all on account of its distinctive red flowers, which resemble open human hands.Common names include Arbol de las Manitas (Spanish), and mācpalxōchitl (palm flower) in Nahuatl.
Origin and distribution
The tree is most common in the subtropical highlands of Mexico, less commonly found in Guatemala. I propagated the seed and planted it in Northern California just north of San Francisco. The tree seems to thrive in the cloud-forest-like redwood covered hills. The tree gave a few flowers in its fourth year, a few more in the fifth, and now on its sixth year from seed it is close to 50 feet tall and flowering profusely in June.
USES AND ETHNOBOTANY
From what limited ethnobotanical information I can find: solutions containing the tree’s flowers are used as remedy for lower abdominal pain and to treat heart ailments. Similar solutions are used to reduce edema and serum cholesterol levels and are used as diuretics. The flowers can still be found sold in markets in Mexico and Guatemala, commonly referred to as “Manitas” or little hands.
It has also been documented that parts of the plant were used to flavor the traditional cacao beverage by the Aztecs in the 16th century.
Apparently the leaves are edible, and traditionally used to wrap tamales and cheese, said to impart a distinct flavor.
The lower saucer portion of the flower contains up to a few tablespoons of sweet syrup with a flavor reminiscent of burn caramell / sugar.
The bark can be used to make rope.