What you need to know about our natural fibers: The iraca palm, and how we found it.
The iraca palm is a vegetable fiber in which we use to make most of our artisan products. We set out to find where it grew, learning about its harvest and looking close to the work that goes into its cultivation. The journey to obtain the iraca palm (Carludovica palmata) or toquilla palm (as it is also known) took us to several places in Colombia, but we also came across the palm in unexpected places. Here’s the story!
San Cayetano - Bolivar, Colombia
The first time I saw the iraca palm up close was in San Cayetano, a district located in the department of Bolívar, Colombia. I traveled through this area - full of rain, mud and more - with my dad. We did a two-day tour led by local artisans in which I had the opportunity to start working with this plant. We analyzed the entire harvesting process. We then entered Montes de Maria, a mountainous area an hour away from San Cayetano. There, we searched for wild iraca palm crops and discovered a variety of plants in different shapes and sizes (the tallest one was 2.50 meters!).
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia
In this coastal mountain range on the Caribbean coast, I also found iraca palm. Based on the recommendation of a local farmer, I went to a coffee farm that had been in the same family for three generations. While visiting I found wild iraca palm - the tallest one being approximately four meters high. At 1600 meters above sea level, this was one of the highest places I found the iraca palm growing!
Located in the department of Antioquia, this municipality is two hours from Medellín. I didn’t expect to find the iraca palm here, but one day during a tour, I was thinking about it. To my surprise, three houses from the place where I was staying, I saw a giant iraca palm in front of a large white house!
San Andres, Colombia
On this island located in the Caribbean Sea, I was stunned to see a crop of iraca. I was surprised because I was used to seeing it in cooler climates, and San Andrés is hot. It was planted by a hotel called 'Casa Las Palmas'. The owner of the hotel, who travels throughout Latin America with her husband and collects seeds from different palms from all over the region, told me that on one of her trips to Honduras, they decided to bring iraca palm seeds, and now they are planted around the hotel.
Bonus: Iraca palm in Chicago, Illinois, USA
Even though it’s not Colombia, I couldn’t avoid sharing that I found the palm exhibited in the Field Museum of Chicago. There is a sample of the palm exhibited in one of the oldest areas of the museum. It was a complete sample, it had the flower, the bud and the fibers that we use to weave. I left happy to learn that other countries collect important information on plant fibers from South America.
Ochabe will continue to search for iraca palm crops. We are passionate about knowing everything behind the work of our artisans. Thank you for visiting our website and learning more about our precious materials!