Dyes, mordants, tannins  

For textiles or wood

Albizia guachapele / Pseudosamanea guachapele


Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Guatemala Southward to Venezuela and Ecuador

Habitat: Generally grows in dry areas, spontaneously in pastures and abandoned fields, generally 500 meters above sea level or below. Tolerant of shallow, infertile soils.

Ecological value: Fixes atmospheric nitrogen, fast growing drought tolerant. 

Material uses: The wood is easy to work. Smooth finish after sanding. Used in shipbuilding (planking, ribs, decking), railroad cross ties, general construction, flooring, decorative veneers, and furniture. Good quality timber. Golden dye obtained from heartwood.  

Other: Thrives in nitrogen-rich soil. Used as a shade tree. Can survive forest fires. 

Research: Michael Sanchez/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Albizia+guachapele

Image credit/Source:  Mateo Hernandez Schmidt. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/6327391

Cashew, Anacardium occidentale


Family: Anacardiaceae

Native to: Northeastern Brazil, South America

Habitat: Arid thickets, sandy soils, sand dunes within proximity of coast, up to 600 meters above sea level

Ecological value: Pollinated by bees, ants. Wind and drought resistant and can withstand sea spray, (but not maratime exposure) has many medicinal uses, can be used as a support for vanilla plants, good for erosion control .  Fast growing.

Material uses: Dye, construction, adhesive, fuel, insect repellant. Varnish, ink, termite proofing wood, tannin used in tanning industry. Reddish brown wood is lightweight but hard, good for construction and carpentry. Good fuelwood.

Edible: Both fruits and seeds are edible (seeds MUST be roasted as they contain blistering agent killed by heat).

Medicinal value: Used to treat malaria, reduce blood sugar levels, remove warts and ringworm, sap is a contraceptive, used to detoxify snake bites . 

Associated plant community: Anacardium genus

Other: Cannot withstand frost. Oil used in the manufacturing of plastics.

Research: Sam Schillinger/Christine Facella



Image credit/Source: Eric Gaba, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Anacardium_occidentale#/media/File:Cashew_Brazil_fruit_2.jpg

Pond Apple, Annona glabra


Family:  Annonaceae

Native to:  Native to tropical South America , West Africa, Florida and Caribbean

Habitat: Humid lowland areas, usually near the coast, and coastal mangrove swamps.

Ecological value: Seeds are dispersed during the wet seasons when seeds drop into swamps and rivers. The seeds can withstand floating in salt water and fresh water for up to 12 months. Resilient to flooded sites. Can become invasive. Fast growing. 

Material uses: The brown wood is light in weight, soft and easy to work with and moderately resistant to rot. It is used for making bottle stoppers, oars and as a substitute for cork in fishing nets. Species from this family often produce a brown/yellow dye. 

Edible: The pulp is eaten raw or made into jellies or drinks. 

Medicinal value:The leaves and young stems combined with the leaves and stems of Passiflora foetida, are boiled to make a tea which is drunk to destroy flatworms and nematodes.  

Other: Possible use as a pioneer species for re-establishing woodland. 

Research: Michael Sanchez/Christine Facella


1.  http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Annona+glabra

 Image Credit/Source: Daniel Di Palma, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Annona_glabra_01.jpg

Peach palm, Bactris gasipaes


Family: Arecaceae

Native to:  The tropical forests of South and Central America

Habitat: Along riverbeds and primary forest gaps, up to 800 meters above sealevel.

Ecological value: Pollinated by insects, fast growing, 15 to 20 meters in just 10 years.

Material uses: Good economic oil palm (62% oil from seed). Used in cosmetics and soap. Fiber for thatched roofs, paper and baskets. Spines of plant used for tattooing. Leaves yield green dye for fabric. Strong wood used in construction, flooring, bows and arrows.

Edible: The raw fruit spoils quickly but it can be stored as a dry meal or preserves. It can yield flour and edible oil. 

Medicinal value: Oil eases rheumatic pains (used as a rub).

Other: Peach palm fruit is widely used as animal feed. Plants begin flowering around 3-5 years of age and will produce crops twice a year over 50-70 years. Shallow rooted.

Research: Xiliang Chen/Christine Facella


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bactris_gasipaes#Uses

2. Clement, C. R. (1988). Domestication of the pejibaye palm (Bactris gasipaes): past and present. Advances in economic botany, 6, 155-174.

3, 4. Crane, J. H. Pejibaye (Peach Palm) Growing in the Florida Home Landscape. HS1072. Florida Cooperative Extension Service. University of Florida IFAS. 2006.

Image Credit/Source: Chris 73, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pupunha_(Bactris_gasipaes)_2.jpg

Achiote, Bixa orellana


Family: Bixaceae

Native to:  American tropics, coastal South America

Habitat: Naturally found in grasslands, shrub-lands and forests. Cultivated in urban areas and supervised plantations. From sea level up to 2200 m in elevation.

Ecological value:  Pollinated by bees.

Material uses: Natural colorant used to red and yellow pigment. Used in cooking, 

cosmetic and pharmaceutical situations. Color fades when exposed to light and air. Gum from bark. Fiber for cord from bark. Dye is rich in carotenoid pigments. 80% consists of bixin (red) and norbixin/orelline (yellow). 

Edible: Used in food coloring for its flavorless profile and intense color pay-off. 

Medicinal value: Rich in Vitamin C and anti-oxidants. Used in indigenous medicine to treat a plethora of ailments related to stomach, viral, skin and heart issues in addition to snake bites. Bixin from seed shell used as an insect repellent.

Other: Also grown as ornamental. Can be heavily pruned therefore suitable as a hedge or live fence. Used as body and hair paint amongst indigenous tribes. 

Divi-divi, Caesalpinia coriaria


Family: Fabaceae ⁄ Leguminosae

Native to: South/Central America, West Indies

Habitat: Semiarid open country. Seasonal or coastal forests, dry plains and hillsides (900m max elevation). Can withstand a wide range of climates. 

Ecological value: The bacteria that grows in the roots fix atmospheric nitrogen as well as provides nitrogen for plants near by.  The flowers attract bees.   Slow growing. 

Material uses: The pods contain 45% tannin, produces a black or blue dye.  Trees yield around 45-135kg of pods per year.  The wood creates a red dye. The leaves are used as mulch. The wood itself is utilized as fuel.  Hardwood substitute for ebony - making small items. 

Medicinal value: The powdered pods are used as an antiperiodic. The roots are 


Other: Grows in moderately fertile and well drained soil. Might be renamed Libidiba coriaria. Wind sculpted. Can be inter-cropped with other species, and requires little care.   

Research: Senna Lau/Christine Facella


1. Fern, Ken. 2014. Guazuma ulmifolia. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Guazuma+ulmifolia (accessed on 21 September 2017). 

2. Missouri Botanical Garden. Na. Guazuma ulmifolia. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=287260&isprofile=0& (accessed on 21 September 2017). 

 Image Credit/Source: L. Shyamal, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caesalpinia_coriaria.jpg

Iguano, Caesalpinia eriostachys


Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Central America

Habitat: Tropical forests 

Ecological value: Species of this family generally fix atmospheric nitrogen. Often fast growing.

Material uses: The heartwood is often used to produce dyes that are red and purple.   

Other: Also known as Poincianella eriostachys and Schizolobium covilleanum.

Research: Hyejung Moon/Christine Facella



2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesalpinia_pulcherrima

mage credit/Source: Francisco Farriols Sarabia, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/508190

Dyer's mulberry, Chlorophora tinctoria


Family: Moraceae

Native to: Neotropics, from Mexico to Argentina

Habitat: Moist or dry thickets of forest 

Ecological value: Leaves are a food source of silk worms. Medium growth rate, pioneer. 

Material uses: Dyes can quickly turn brown when exposed to air. Wood for decking, planking, and framing for boats, exterior and interior flooring, turnery, furniture parts, tool handles, railroad ties, and wood tanks. Durable wood, fairly easy to work with. Produces a yellow dye called fustic primarily known for coloring khaki fabric for U.S. military apparel during World War 1.

Edible: Fruit eaten raw.

Other: Bark is astringent, tonic and vermifuge, in large doses it is purgative.

Research: Amy Feng/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Maclura+tinctoria

Image Credit/Source: MBG, https://www.gbif.org/occurrence/1257759380

Chrysophyllum cainito


Family: Sapotaceae

Native to: naturalized in Central American lowlands, naturalized in the Central American lowlands.

Habitat: Tropical woods at medium and low elevation up to 400m above sealevel. 

Ecological value: Caimito grows successfully on almost all types of soil and in a range of climates. Medium growth rate and drought tolerant when established. Fruit consumed by mammals such as the Kinkajau.

Material uses: The reddish-brown wood is suitable for construction purposes, wood veneers and cabinetry. The mature branches are used as a medium to grow orchids.

Also good quality paper made from pulp and tannins from bark. Good fuelwood. 

Edible: Fruit eaten raw or as preserves. Seed kernal made into nougat.

Medicinal value: Leaf infusions are used as infusions to treat diabetes and articular rheumatism. The fruit also has antioxidant properties.

Other: The tree is hermaphroditic (self-fertile), and produces a strong odor.

Also cultivated as ornamental.

Sandpaper tree,  Curatella americana


Family: Dilleniaceae

Native to: Northern America to Central America: Brazil to Mexico

Habitat: Dry open or brushy hillsides, savannas and savanna forests from sea level to  1,200 meters above sea level

Ecological value: Leaves are a food source of silk worms. Medium growth rate, pioneer. 

Material uses: Dyes can quickly turn brown when exposed to air. Wood for decking, planking, and framing for boats, exterior and interior flooring, turnery, furniture parts, tool handles, railroad ties, and wood tanks. Durable wood, fairly easy to work with. Produces a yellow dye called fustic primarily known for coloring khaki fabric for U.S. military apparel during World War 1.

Edible: Fruit eaten raw.

Other: Bark is astringent, tonic and vermifuge, in large doses it is purgative.

Research: Goksu Piskinpasa / Pichayaporn Lohasiriwat/Christine Facella


1. https://ast.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curatella_americana

2. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Curatella+americana

Image Credit/Source: Edgarhernanlaragarcia,  https://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:C_americana.JPG

Dragon's blood, Croton draco


Family: Euphorbiaceae

Native to: South America, Colombia, Panama, Mexico

Habitat: Moist or wet forests, steep sides of hills, 600-1600 meters above sea level.

Ecological value: Has a broad crown and can supply a great amount of shade, intercrops very well with other tree breeds. Tolerates strong winds but not coastal exposure. Can also grow in shade. Fast growing species. 

Material uses: Red sap is used to make scarlet colored dye. Timber used for beams.

Medicinal value: Anti-tumor, antiviral, strengthens teeth, treats ulcers, heals wounds. Oil from seeds can be used as a purgative.

Other: Grows best in well drained soil, a vulnerable species. Mature trees have a distinct silhouette. 

Research: Sam Schillinger/Christine Facella


1. "Croton Draco". Plants For A Future, https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Croton+draco

2. "Croton Draco". Useful Tropical Plants, http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Croton+draco

3. "Croton". Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croton_(plant)

Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Croton_draco#/media/File:Croton_draco_3zz.jpg

Devil's ear, Enterolobium cyclocarpum


Family: Fabaceae

Native to:  tropical regions of the Americas, from central Mexico south to

Northern Brazil and Venezuela.

Habitat:  trees grow as single specimens in a sunny pasture. Dry forest zones, usually below 300m but up to 1200m.

Ecological value: A popular tree for roadsides and urban planting, although sidewalks, roads, or foundations may be cracked or raised by the roots of the tree. One of the largest fast –growing trees in Central America. Established plants are very drought tolerant. Re-sprouts vigorously after coppacing or lopping - suitable as a live fence.

Material uses: The bark and fruit are used locally as a soap.

Local craftspeople often polish the seedpods and sell them to tourists. Wood, walnut brown, light in weight, durable in water, resistant to termites, warps little. Washboards, canoes as good as cedar for construction. Paper making. Good fuel wood. Fruit contain tannins. Gum - substitute for gum arabic.

Edible: The young seedpods and seeds are cooked and eaten as a vegetable

Medicinal value: A syrup obtained from the bark is used in the treatment of colds

A gum obtained from the trunk is used as a remedy for affections of the chest

Associated plant community: Ideal shade tree for coffee plant.

Other:  Fixes atmospheric nitrogen. National tree of Costa Rica.

Research: Hyunjung Kim


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Enterolobium+cyclocarpum

2 .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enterolobium_cyclocarpum

Image Credit/Source: Rolando Pérez, Smithsonian, https://biogeodb.stri.si.edu/biodiversity/bci/species/24667/

Pito coral tree, Erythrina berteroana


Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Caribbean, through central America to Northern South America.

Habitat: Grown in humid climates.  Wet to dry thickets, thin forest, abundant in hedges. Elevation generally below 1000 meters, but can grow up to 2000.

Ecological value: Fixes atmosphere Nitrogen. Planted for erosion control, and as windbreak. Attracts pollinators such as hummingbirds. 

Material uses: Used as live fences and shade trees. Seeds used to make necklaces and other jewelry. Bark yields yellow dye. Wood is solid and hard, but light. Used as substitute for cork. Used as fuel wood. 

Edible: Flowers are cooked and eaten as a form of vegetable. Consuming too much can result to fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

Medicinal value: Consumed large quantity acts as a sedation or deep sleep. Flowers prep in tea for help with hormonal and menstrual imbalances in women. It also helps with hemorrhages, dysentery, and anxiety. 

Other: Crushed branches can be used for fish poison. Mulch from leaves results in better phosphorus balance, higher microfauna population and increased crop yield. 

Research: Jennifer Yaing/Christine Facella


1.Cleversley , Keith . “Erythrina berteroana - Pito Coral Tree.” Entheology. September 13, 2002.

Image Credit/Source: Forest & Kim Starr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Erythrina_berteroana#/media/File:Starr_060121-5949_Erythrina_berteroana.jpg

Genipa americana


Family: Rubiaceae

Native to: Northern South America, the Caribbean, Southern Mexico

Habitat:  Often found in fields, forest margins, and cultivated farms, flood prone forests, including seasonal swamps

Ecological value: The tree grows very quickly (fruits in 3 years), which makes it a very sustainable source of nourishment for surrounding wildlife. Attracts hummingbirds, bats, bees. Heavy leaf-fall improves surrounding soil.

Material uses: Contains tannins, a blue-black dye from the fruit’s pulp, used for dying clothes and pottery. Fiber from bark to make rough clothing. Wood hard and strong, not durable- prone to termites. Used for light construction, such as furniture.

Edible: Produces a sweet fruit, which can be made into drinks, jelly etc. 

Medicinal value: Known for curing candiru (fish) attacks, while the juice of the fruit is known to have helpful astringent effects. Brewed into tea as a remedy for bronchitis. 

Other: Fruit juice stains the skin black, so natives used to use it for going into battle and for decoration purposes. Tree can be inter-cropped with cassara or cotton as shade tree. Wood can be used for fuel. Ornamental.

Research: Zac Pepere/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Genipa+americana

Image Credit/Source: Alejandro Bayer Tamayo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jagua_(Genipa_americana)_(14557582148).jpg

Mexican logwood, Haematoxylium brasiletto 


Family: Fabaceae.

Native to: Caribbean and Mexico south to Colombia and Venezuela

Habitat: Dry rocky brushy hillsides at elevations of 200 - 1,200 meters.

Ecological value: This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby.

Material uses: The wood is the source of a beautiful red dye, which is used locally and exported to countries such as America and Britain. Very hard wood, but small for timber use. Used to make bows for instruments. 

Medicinal value: A decoction or infusion of the plant is employed in Guatemala for 

treating erysipelas and inflammation of the stomach. Tea against tuberculosis and dysentery.

Other: occasionally it may grow into a tree up to 10 meters.

Research: Alex Anez Folla/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: Dick Culbert, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Haematoxylum_brasiletto#/media/File:Haematoxylum_brasiletto,_the_Mexican_Logwood_(9336859424).jpg

Bully Tree, Hyeronima alchorneoides


Family: Euphorbiaceae

Native to: Northern South America, Mexico, and Central America

Habitat: Moist or wet forest, seasonal marshes. Up to 900 meters above sea level.

Ecological value: This tree grows well in poor, acidic and waterlogged soils. This makes the tree good for re-vegetation of degraded lands. Additionally, the tree grows very fast (5m in 3 years) making it good for cultivation for construction and medicinal uses. Pollinated by insects. Fruit eaten by monkeys and birds.

Material uses: The bark is a good source of tannins for natural dyes producing a very dark reddish brown color. The tree's wood is predominantly used however, it's almost exclusively used for making boats but suitable for all wood products. Highly durable, also used in veneers, cabinetry, and flooring.

Medicinal value: The bark had properties that is used as a cough supressant and the seeds have oils that are used for intestinal parasites making this tree very useful.

Other: This tree has the capabilities of self pruning because the upper canopy provides shade enough for the lower branches. However it's roots are very fragile. This tree is considered an evergreen and con not pollinate for itself, but relies on insects. It typically flowers and fruits twice a year.

Research: Aria Shehas/Christine Facella


1. Tropical Plants Database, Ken Fern. tropical.theferns.info. 2018-09-18. <tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Hieronyma+alchorneoides>

Image Credit/Source: Tarciso Leão, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hieronyma_alchorneoides_(13344094003).jpg

Guaba machete / Guavo real, Inga spectabilis


Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Central America- Costa Rica to Panama 

Habitat: Rainforests at low to medium elevations up to 1,100 meters about sea level

Ecological value: This tree takes 4-5 years to flower and produces fruits seasonally . Attracts birds, bees and butterflies. Fixes atmospheric nitrogen: The nodules from the symbiotic relationship with bacteria, release nitrogen helping both the tree and neighboring plants.

Material uses: The heavy wood is a good source of timber for construction, however yields a rather coarse hardwood making it easier for termites to infest. The bark is also used for tannins when using natural dyes.

Edible: The fibrous fruit of this plant melt in the mouth like cotton candy and is very sweet. It is usually eaten fresh. The seeds are also edible, though less tasty.

Medicinal value: The leaves and seeds of this tree are used to medicinally treat diarrhea and rheumatism.

Associated plant community: Planted on coffee and cacao plantations to provide shade. The tree is also used to help grow crops like vanilla, black pepper, and pitahaya.

Other: AKA The Ice Cream Bean. The bean pods are typically 24 inches in lengh and 3 inches wide. It fruits from July to December.

Research: Aria Shehas/Christine Facella


1. Tropical Plants Database, Ken Fern. tropical.theferns.info. 2018-09-06. <tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Inga+spectabilis>

2. Montoso Gardens "Inga Spectabilis". (2007) < http://www.montosogardens.com/inga_spectabilis.htm>

Image Credit/Source: Reyes Carranza, http://herbario.up.ac.pa/Herbario/resource/data/vasculares/images/Fabaceae-Mimosoideae/Inga%20spectabilis%20(3).jpg

Guabita cansaboca, Inga vera


Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Tropical South America, North to the Caribbean and through Central America to Mexico

Habitat: Tropical Moist forest, along riverbanks and sheltered ravines. Prefers damp/wet soil. Up to 1,000 meters above sea level.

Ecological value: This is a fast growing tree that flowers and produces fruits year round making it good for pollinating. They promote and maintain soil fertility due to a symbiotic relationship between the tree and a bacteria in the soil. The nodules from the bacteria release nitrogen helping both the tree and neighboring plants.

Material uses: The heavy wood is a good source of fuel and is used for charcoal. The timber is also good for building as it is hardwood. The bark is used for tannins and natural dyes.

Edible: Seeds of this tree are found within a sugary edible pulp while providing flowers for bees to make honey out of year round. 

Medicinal value: The bark is used for anaemia. The root is used to treat gallstones and the pulp is good for constipation.

Associated plant community: Planted on coffee and cacao plantations to provide shade.

Research: Aria Shehas/Christine Facella


1. Tropical Plants Database, Ken Fern. tropical.theferns.info. 2018-09-05. <tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Inga+vera>

2. World of Forestry. “Inga Vera”. Agroforestry Database 4.0 (Orwa et al. 2009) < http://www.worldagroforestry.org/treedb/AFTPDFS/Inga_vera.PDF>

Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Inga_vera#/media/File:Inga_vera_20zz.jpg

Black cedar, Juglans olanchana

Family: Juglandaceae

Native to: Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua

Habitat: Mountains at altitudes from 400 to 1500m above sea level.  Also along the banks of rivers or streams

Ecological value: Suitable for reforestation in plantations that are monospecific or mixed. They rapidly grow and have a good form.

Material uses: Moderately heavy wood. It is a dark brown color with a straight grain. It is easy to work with by hand or machine. It allows for an excellent finish. Used for light weight construction, musical instruments, cabinet making, rifle butts, veneer, and decorative plaques. Shell is a use to extract tannin for dying leather.

Edible: Walnuts are edible

Other: Classified as endangered.

Research: Senna Lau/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: A. Sanchun, https://www.especiesrestauracion-uicn.org/data_especie_img.php?sp_name=Juglans%20olanchana

Cuachalate, Juliana adstringens or Amphipterygium adstringens


Family: Anacardiaceae. Synonym - Amphipterygium adstringens

Native to: Mexico to Costa Rica.

Habitat: Deciduous jungles, 200-700 m elevation.

Material uses: A red dye is obtained from the wood. The bark of the tree is decocted in water and taken as a tea.

Medicinal value: Highly valued medicinal plant. A decoction made from the bark is drunk for clean wounds, sores, bleeding gums, cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, typhus, gastritis, stomach ulcers, menstrual cramps, ovarian inflammation, astringent, kidney disease, malaria, lower cholesterol etc. 

Research: Priyal Metha/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: https://ecoosfera.com/2014/06/conoce-las-bondades-medicinales-del-cuachalalate/

Lysiloma divaricatum

Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Central America - Costa Rica to Mexico

Habitat: Wooded, rocky, stream banks or on dry brushy hillsides at elevations of 300 - 1,700 meters in Guatemala.

Ecological value: Biological nitrogen fixation. Drought tolerant. Species in this family are usually fast growing.

Material uses: The bark is a source of tannins. The wood is highly durable; it is considered easy to work; finishes smoothly; and takes a high natural polish. It is used in general construction, for furniture, wheel wright work, parquet, interior trim, bobbins and shuttles, veneer, and knife handles.

Medicinal value: Tannins (Detoxify material).

Other: Succeeds on a range of soil types.

Research: Jiahuan Cheng/Christine Facella


1. Fern, Ken. “Useful Tropical Plants Database 2014.” Useful Tropical Plants. Accessed September 28, 2017. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Lysiloma%2Bdivaricatum.

Image Credit/Source: Dick Culbert, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lysiloma_divaricatum_pods_(27037790014).jpg

Malabar chestnut (Money tree) , Pachira aquatica

Family: Malvaceae

Native to: Central and South America

Habitat: The tree grows well as a tropical ornamental in moist, frost-free areas, and can be started from seed or cutting.  Prefers flooded sites, river estuaries.

Ecological value:  Cultivated as an ornamental and as a cropper. Fast growing tree. Pollinated by bats, honeybees and sphingid moths.

Material uses: Fiber obtained from inner bark can be used in paper-making. Oil can be extracted from seed. Yellow dye from bark. Red dye. The oil can be potentially used in soap making. Wood low quality. Used in paper manufacturing (36% cellulose paste).

Edible: The nut can be eaten raw or roasted, or  ground into a flour for baking bread. The young leaves and flowers may be cooked and used as a vegetable. Seeds yield 58% of a white fat, suitable for cooking.

Medicinal value: Used to treat hepatitis. Seeds can be used as an anesthetic.

Other: Planted as a street tree and ornamental garden tree. Known as the Money Tree.

Research: Hyunjung Kim/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Pachira+aquatica

Image Credit/Source:  Hans Hillewaert, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pachira_aquatica_(inflorescense).jpg

Avocado, Persea americana


Family: Lauraceae

Native to: Mexico, Central America, and Parts of South America

Habitat: Humid lowland forests or limestone formation up to 2,800 meters elevation. Requires a position sheltered from strong winds. Usually salt intolerant.

Ecological value: Pollinated by honeybees.

Material uses: Oil can be extracted from seed. Seed makes a red/ brown dye. Soft, not durable wood susceptible to termites. Used in light construction, furniture, good quality veneer and plywood. 

Edible: Very popular fruit around the world. Oil can be used for cooking. Leaves can be dried and used for infusions, teas, and extracts. 6-8 years to produce fruit.

Other: Wood is seldom used and is mainly grown for fruit. Ground up seed with cheese is used as a rat poison.

Guava, Psidium guajava


Family: Myrtaceae

Native to: Native to southern Mexico and Central America. Was long ago spread throughout the American tropics, Asia, Africa and Pacific Islands

Habitat: Flourishes in tropical weather. Good quality guava are cultivated/ produced in river basins. Common in disturbed areas. Fruits up to 1500 meters. 

Ecological value: Seeds spread easily. They provide protection against damaging winds and rain. Pollinated by insects, mainly by common honey bee. Medium growth rate. 

Material uses: Used to make toothbrushes. Cultivated as an ornamental. Leaves and bark for dyeing and tanning. Tool handles, fire wood, charcoal, fence posts and in carpentry and turnery. Ingredients in cosmetics such as shampoos. Wood is generally resistant to insect and fungal attack. Leaves and bark used for dying and tanning (black dye). Insecticidal properties. Moderately heavy wood, hard and strong furniture, fencing carpentry, and turning. 

Edible: A main ingredient in most herbal mixtures in the Egyptian market and all across the world. Fruit raw or cooked. Made into either a juice or a jelly. Contains more potassium than bananas by weight. Fruiting begins after 5-8 years, lives about 40 years. Average yields of 30-40 kg plant in 5 years old trees,  50-70 kg at 7 years. Edible oil from seed. 

Medicinal value: Pulp contains vitamins, essential oils and terpenoid acids. The leaf extract has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substances as well.

Other: Can become invasive. Deep root, but no top root. Makes excellent firewood due to abundance. Moderately wind resistant. Spreads and grows very easily. The fruit contains more potassium than any other fruits like bananas, by weight.

Research: Jennifer Yaing/Christine Facella


1. “Guava - Psidium guajava - Seeds.” Trade Winds Fruit.

2. “Psidium Guajava (Guava): A Plant of Multipurpose Medicinal Applications.” OMICS International. May 28, 2012.

3. “Psidium guajava (Guava): A Plant of Multipurpose Medicinal Applications.” Useful Tropical Plants.

Image Credit/Source: Joydeep / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Purple mombin, Spondias mombin


Family: Anacardiaceae

Native to: It is native to the tropical Americas, including the West Indies, besides Brazilian Northeast, it's rarely cultivated

Habitat: Open forest, secondary growth, common live fence, pastures, up to 1700 m. 

Ecological value: Flowers attract honeybees. Fast growing.

Material uses: Seed has oil content of 31.5%. Bark contains tannin. Low quality wood, prone to attack by termites but used in small utensils (not turning) and for matches. Exudes latex used for glue. Substitute for cork. Woody tubercles on trunk cut off and used for bottle stoppers and to make seals for wax etc. Ashes from burnt fuel wood used in indigo dyeing.  Bark used in dying. Bark thick, used for carving figures. Ashes used in soap making.

Edible:  Fruit processed into jellies, juice or pickle. Young leaves as vegetable.  

Medicinal value: Fruit as febrifuge and diuretic. Leaves and roots treat pain, coughs, kills parasites, treats mouth sores, diarrhea and dysentery, stop bleeding, induce labor and abortion, contraceptive. Vitamin B1 and C. Bark used for carving figures. 

Other: Used as live fence. Fruits to feed livestock. Fuel wood. Showy flowers. Fruit after 5 years. Shallow root system. Occasionally used as shade for coffee.

Research: Christine Facella/Adrian Chiu


1. Eromosele and Paschal, Characterization and viscosity parameters of seed oils from wild plants, Bioreseource Technology, 2003

2. Ayoka  et al, Medicinal and Economic Value of Spondias mombin, African Journal of Biomedical Research, May 2008


Image Credit/Source: 

Dinesh Valke, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinesh_valke/3098187264

Big leaf mahogany, Swietenia macrophylla


Family: Meliaceae

Native to: South America - Brazil, Bolivia and Peru, North through Central America to Mexico

Habitat: All forest types, from pine savanna to rain-forest, but generally in mixed hardwood forest belts, along riverbanks in deep alluvial soils

Ecological value: Slow growing, attracts insect pollinators. Pioneer species, used to recover degraded soils/land.

Material uses: Regarded as the world’s finest timber for high-class furniture and cabinet work. It is used as a shade tree for cacao, coffee and young plantations of dipterocarps. Crushed fruit as potting medium. Oil from seed kernels might have commercial value (bitter Purgative). Bark used for dyeing and tanning leather. Gum from bark. 

Edible:  Fruit processed into jellies, juice or pickle. Young leaves as vegetable.  

Medicinal value: Various medicinal uses of parts of the tree are reported from Central America. An infusion is used to treat diarrhea and fevers.

Other: The crushed fruit shells have been used as a potting medium. Can be weedy. Used in reforestation projects. When young, can be intercropped or agro-crops such as corn, bean, bananas, sweat potato, and cassava.

White olive / Roble coral, Terminalia amazonia


Family: Combretaceae

Native to: South America and north through Central America to Mexico.

Habitat: Wet and humid evergreen forests, rainforests, or open savannahs, where its elevation can be up to 300m above sea level. It can also grow in swamps. 

Ecological value: Fruits are a source of food for species like parakeets and parrots.

Material uses: From floorings, furniture, to doors, the wood has a range of construction uses as it is hard, heavy, and durable. In addition to that, it is also resistant to dry wood borers and moderately resistant to fungi and termites. The bark of the tree can also be used as a source of tannins.

Research: Queenie Szu-Yu


1. Sánchez, Lucía Rodríguez. “Terminalia Amazonia.” Finca Leola. Accessed September 18, 2018. http://www.fincaleola.com/roble coral.htm.

2. Tropical Plants Database, Ken Fern. tropical.theferns.info. 2018-09-18. <tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Terminalia+amazonia>

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminalia_amazonia#/media/File:Terminalia_amazonia_0zz.jpg 

Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Terminalia_amazonia_1zz.jpg

Hog plum / Tallow Wood,  Ximenia americana 


Family: Olacaceae.

Native to: Tropics.

Habitat: Open country, forest, savannah, understory of dry forests, coastal areas, river banks. Up to 2000m.

Ecological value: Pollinated by bees.

Material uses: Seed produces oil that can be used as soap and lubrication(67.4% oil from seed). Essential oil from flowers. Bark and crushed fruit rind keep fleas away. Bark for tanning (contains tannins),and used to strengthen indigo dyes. Yellow-red to brown orange wood, hard and durable-used for small items such as handles. Fire wood. 

Edible: The fruits have a plum-like flavor.  Young leaves can be cooked as a vegetable, but need to be thoroughly cooked as they contain cyanide. Eat in limited quantities. Flower petals edible. Oil from seed-used as substitute for ghee. 

Medicinal value: Can be some effective against the parasite that causes sleeping sickness and anaemia in livestock. Treats headaches, skin problems, snakebites and sore muscles. 

Other: Grown as a hedge. 

Research: Xiliang Chen/Christine Facella


1. “Ximenia americana”. Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 7 August 2015.

2.Raulerson, L., & A. Rinehart. Trees and Shrubs of the Mariana Islands. 1992.

3.^ Low, T., Wild Food Plants of Australia, 1991. ISBN 0-207-16930-

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ximenia_americana

Image Credit/Source: J.M.Garg, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ximenia_americana_leaves_%26_fruit_at_Chilkur_near_Hyderabad,_AP_W2_IMG_7288.jpg

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