Cultivate as a conservation strategy

Quipo, Cavanillesia platanifolia


Family: Malvaceae

Native to: South and Central America from Colombia to Panama

Habitat: Lowland moist and dry forest. Prefers a humid, well-drained soil and a position in full sun.

Ecological value: Pollinated by insects, has a fast growth rate, and is drought tolerant.

Material uses: Used to make a strong, white, opaque paper. Inner bark contains a fiber similar to a Cuba Bast, also known as a Hibiscus elatus. Substitute for Balsa wood (Ochroma). Local people use the bark to create canoes and floating rafts out of hardwood logs. Branches, inner bark and saplings can be spun to make rope.  Source of lacquer. 

Edible: Oil from seeds.

Other: Water can be harvested from this tree. Occasionally cultivated as an ornamental. Listed by IUCN as near threatened. 

Cedar wood, Cedrela odorata


Family: Meliaceae

Native to: Pacific coast of Mexico, throughout Central America and the Caribbean

Habitat: American tropics:  Wet primary and secondary forests. Lower montane forests, up to 1900 meters above sea level. 

Ecological value: Attracts pollinators such as bees, source of nectar for honey production. Fast growth rate. Pioneer species naturally termite- and rot-resistant, lightweight attractive wood.

Material uses: Used in beekeeping structures, instruments, household articles and furniture to store clothing. Bark used for twine. Good fire wood. Excellent timber.

Medicinal value: Treats feavers and headaches, earaches. Decoction for abortion. 

Other: Cedrela odorata is the most commercially important and widely distributed species in the genus Cedrela. Listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of  Threatened Species, from over exploitation. Economically important timber species. Used as windbreak or shade tree in coffee or cocoa production. Susceptible to Hypsipyla attack (root borer) and should  be intercropped with Leucaena leucocephala, Cordia spp.  Anthocephalus Chinensis or under the light shade of Eucalyplus delgupta.  Good choice for reforestation schemes. Planted as ornamental.

Research: Xiliang Chen/Christine Facella


1.Gillies, A. C., Cornelius, J. P., Newton, A. C., Navarro, C. , Hernández, M. and Wilson, J. (1997), Genetic variation in Costa Rican populations of the tropical timber species Cedrela odorata L., assessed using RAPDs. Molecular Ecology, 6: 1133-1145. doi:10.1046/j.1365-294X.1997.00287.x

2.Root endophyte interaction between ectomycorrhizal basidiomycete Tricholoma matsutake and arbuscular mycorrhizal tree Cedrela odorata, allowing in vitro synthesis of rhizospheric “shiro”

Mycorrhiza, 2013, Volume 23, Number 3, Page 235

Hitoshi Murata, Akiyoshi Yamada, Tsuyoshi Maruyama, Show All (7)

Image Credit/Source: Forest & Kim Starr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Starr_030807-0045_Cedrela_odorata.jpg

Bala de canon, Couroupita nicaraguensis

Family: Lecythidaceae

Native to: Central and South America

Habitat: Semi tropical areas, semi-deciduous forest, swampy areas.

Ecological value: Pollen is very attractive to bees and other pollinators. 

Material uses: Wood is lightweight but not durable. Susceptible to termites and fungi. Used for musical instruments.

Edible:  Fruits are edible but not widely sought after because of pungent scent.

Medicinal value: Used to treat hypertension, tumors, pain, inflammation, common cold, skin conditions, wounds, malaria, and toothaches. Pulp is rubbed on dogs to treat mange.

Other: Listed as near threatened on IUCN redlist.

Research: Peaches Harrison/Christine Facella


1. Trade Winds Fruit. (2013) “Couroupita Nicaraguensis”  

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

3. Mitré, M. (1998). “Couroupita icaraguensis” 

Image Credit/Source: Christopher Hu, https://www.flickr.com/photos/33762731@N03/3436367117/

Cynometra hemitomophylla

Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Central America

Habitat: Moist lowland tropics, growing on well drained hillsides and valleys as well as along the sandy coastline up to 500m elevation. 

Ecological value: Pollinated by honeybees.

Material uses: Very dense and hard wood, resistant to elements. 

Edible:  Fruits are edible but not widely sought after because of pungent scent.

Other: Would make good ornamental shade tree. On UICN endangered plant list. Species in this family are often able to fix atmospheric nitrogen.  

Research: Peaches Harrison/Christine Facella


1. Ken Fern. (2014) Useful Tropical Plants Database “Cynometra Hemitomophylla”

2. The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017)

Image Credit/Source: Reinaldo Aguilar, http://tropical.theferns.info/image.php?id=Cynometra+hemitomophylla

Cocobolo, Dalbergia hypoleuca/retusa

Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Central America

Habitat: Dry land deciduous forests, tropical moist forest. Occasionally along roads in canal areas.

Ecological value: Slow growing. Fixes atmospheric nitrogen.

Material uses: The wood is used for carpentry and construction. A type of rosewood, but comparatively soft for a rosewood. Faint streaks of black (similar to rosewood). Wood is hard and strong, difficult to work, but used in smaller items such as musical and scientific instruments, tool handles, jewelry boxes, steering wheels.

Medicinal value: Secretion of compound that act as potent bactericides, fungicides and algaecide.

Other: Exploitation as a timber is intense and has in some areas been completely exhausted (Costa Rica). Classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Within this species, compounds have been found that may be used as potent bactericides, fungicides and algaecides. 

Research: Michael Sanchez / Hyejung Moon/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Dalbergia+retusa

Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dalbergia_retusa_13zz.jpg

Almendro, Dipteryx panamensis

Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Southern Nicaragua area, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, select range of distribution.

Habitat: In humid and very humid tropical forests, lowland species from 20-1000 meters above sea level, does best at forest edges and clearings

Ecological value: Visited and pollinated by 20 different species of bees, drupes consumed by wildlife such as Great Green Macaw and rodent species. Slow growth rate up to 60 m tall.

Material uses: An extremely hard wood used in heavy construction projects or sporting goods, one of heaviest woods globally.

Edible: Seeds. 

Other: Tree reaches a tall height that allows the great green macaw bird to nest safely. The tree also blooms purple flowers between May and September. A promising reforestation species. Endangered. Keystone species: fruits in times of scarcity. Ornamental.

Research: Ellen Rust/Christine Facella


1. http://eol.org/pages/11245372/overview

2. http://www.fincaleola.com/almendro1.htm

Image Credit/Source: Environmental Sciences Program, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, © Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Roughbark, Guaiacum officinale


Family: Zygophyllaceae

Native to:  The Caribbean and the northern coast of South America

Habitat:  Lowland dry forests, woodlands and thickets, coastland areas.

Ecological value: This small tree is very slow growing, reaching about 10 m in height with a trunk diameter of 60 cm. The tree is essentially evergreen throughout most of its native range. Drought tolerant (up to 6 months of dry periods). Attracts bees. Tolerant of salty winds, and moderate levels of salt in soil.

Material uses: Guaiac, a natural resin extracted from the wood, is a colorless compound that turns blue when placed in contact with substances that have peroxidase activity and then are exposed to hydrogen peroxide. Very hard wood, used in ship propellers.

Medicinal value: Guaiac cards are impregnated with the resin and are used in determining whether stool contains blood. The heme portion of hemoglobin contains peroxidase and will catalyze the oxidation of guaiaconic acid when hydrogen peroxide is placed on the Guaiac card if blood is present in the stool.

Other: It is the official national flower of  Jamaica. Ornamental. Endangered from over-exploitation. Expensive and valuable timber. 

Research: Marian Farrell/Christine Facella


1. Americas Regional Workshop (Conservation & Sustainable Management of Trees, Costa Rica, November 1996). 1998. 

2. Guaiacum officinale. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 1998: e.T33701A9802341.

Image Credit/Source: Dinesh Valke, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinesh_valke/2477708305/in/photostream/

Guaiacum sanctum


Family: Zygophyllaceae

Native to:  Southern Florida, the Bahamas, and Greater Antilles

Habitat:  Dry coastal areas.

Ecological value: Salt, wind, and drought resistant. Slow growing tree. 

Material uses: It is the hardest, densest commercially used wood, which makes it an incredible material to use in anything that requires strength and durability. Historically used for propellers. Leaves can be used as a substitute for soap. 

Medicinal value: Resins in the wood have been medicinally used in the past to treat a variety of ailments  such as arthritis, gout, rheumatism.

Other: It is an endangered species. Lignum vitae wood - only two species this type of heartwood. Can collect high prices for wood. Plant as a means of conservation.

Research: Zac Pepere/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Guaiacum+sanctum

Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guaiacum_sanctum_23zz.jpg

Manchineel , Hippomane mancinella

Family: Euphorbiaceae

Native to: Florida Everglades, Central America, Caribbean, Northern South America.

Habitat:  Often found along seacoasts and swamps.

Ecological value: Edible to the garrobo and iguana in Central and South America. Roots stabilize sand/soil to prevent erosion. Pollinated by bees.

Material uses: The poisonous sap neutralizes in the sun and the wood can be handled. Native people used the sap to coat their arrows for hunting.  Wood is hard, strong, durable, but susceptible to attack by termites. Easy to work, takes varnish well.

Edible: Poisonous to humans.

Medicinal value: Its gum from the bark has treated venereal disease and dropsy in Jamaica. The dried fruit has been used as a diuretic.  Extract from fruit used to treat elaphantitis.

Other: The sap has caused blisters when in contact with skin. Contact with the burning bark has caused inflammation of the eyes. Interaction may be lethal. Excellent windbreaker. Listed as endangered in Florida. 

Research: Senna Lau/Priyal Metha/Christine Facella


1. Andreu, Michael. 2015. Hippomane mancinella, Manchineel. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fr370 (accessed on 08 September 2017). 

Image Credit/Source: Hans Hillewaert, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hippomane_mancinella_(fruit).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

Black wood, Minquartia guianensis

Family: Olacaceae

Native to: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. 

Habitat: Tropical rainforest, sea level to 1000 meters above sea level.

Ecological value: Fruits enjoyed by birds and small animals. 

Material uses: Bark used in various tribal products. It's waxy leaves can be used for rain protection. Fine textured heavy wood, almost impervious to rot. Valuable as timber, hard to cut. Can last 30-40 years in ground without sign of decay. Used for poles and posts in construction. 

Edible: Some berries but rarely consumed by humans.

Medicinal value: Antimalarial, antiviral, anti-tumoral, and antibacterial. Indian tribes in the Amazon sometimes use bark as a fish poison. The Waorani and Ketchwa tribes in Ecuador pound the bark until it is bruised and then put it into small streams and ponds where it stuns the fish and they can be easily collected on the top of the water. Also treats tuberculosis, hepatitis, and rheumatism by various Indian communities in the Amazon.

Other: Near threatened from over-harvest. Grows well with plantains, or on borders of fields as shade trees. Seeds from this family are often rich in oils. Bark, roots and stems of this family are usually rich in tannins.

Research: Amy Feng/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: David Stang, https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minquartia_guianensis#/media/File:Minquartia_guianensis_1zz.jpg

Pochote, Pachira quinata


Family: Malvaceae

Native to: Tropical regions of the Americas, from southern Mexico and the Caribbean south to Paraguay and northern Argentina. 

Habitat: Dry tropical forests.

Ecological value: Pollinated by bats.

Material uses: It is one of the most affordable woods in Costa Rica and used in furniture-making, for guitars, and other fine wood crafts. Similar properties to Cedrela odorata. 

Other: Listed as vulnerable.

Research: Hyunjung Kim/Christine Facella


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachira_quinata

Image Credit/Source: Wendy Cutler, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pachira_quinata_fruit.jpg

Macawood, Platymiscium


Family:  Fabaceae 

Native to: Central and South America

Habitat: Remnant dry forest and woodlands on flat ground, including disturbed or secondary forest. Scattered in dry deciduous forest, on dry hillsides. From sea level to 900m.

Ecological value: This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria that  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. Flowers are very attractive to bees, butterflies. Slow growing tree.

Material uses: Furniture, cabinetry, house construction, veneer, musical instruments, turned objects, and small specialty wood items.

Other: Endangered, thrives in nitrogen-rich soil. Shade in coffee plantations. The species is scarce. Individual often show signs of genetic degradation. 

Pacific coast mahogany,  Swietenia humilis


Family:  Meliaceae 

Native to: Central America-Costa Rica to Mexico

Habitat: Dry Deciduous forest, savanna, hillsides, cultivated fields. At elevations from near sea level to 400m.

Ecological value: Used to prevent soil erosion. A suitable candidate for dryland forestation programs. Shadetree, used in agroforestry systems: Leaf litter enhances soil fertility. Grows in areas with distinct dry seasons.

Material uses: Oil from the seeds were used by the ancient Mexicans in cosmetics and soap. A colorless gum exudes from timber. Timber used locally.

Medicinal value: The seeds are used in the treatment of chest pains, coughs, cancer and amoebiasis. Bark, seeds and sawdust reputed to be poisonous (contains allelopathic compounds).

Other: The seeds have a long storage life, probably in excess of 200 years in controlled conditions. Good intercropper. Used in live fences. Classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

Research: Hyejung Moon/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Swietenia+humilis

Image Credit/Source: Dick Culbert, https://www.flickr.com/photos/92252798@N07/25258438815

Conejo colorado , Trichilia trifolia


Family:  Meliaceae

Native to: Central America, Mexico, southeast Brazil

Habitat: Tropical rainforest.

Material uses: Wood is used for fence posts and firewood.

Other: Critically endangered by deforestation.

Research: Peaches Harrison/Christine Facella


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichilia

Image Credit/Source: Viacheslav Shalisko, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10618559

© 2021 MODEST