Seeds, fruits 

Used as beads or containers

Jicaro, Crescentia alata

Family: Bignoniaceae

Native to: Southern Mexico, Central America, Costa Rica

Habitat: Both dry and wet plains, and hill sides, elevates up to 1200 meters. 

Ecological value: Ruderal species. Source of food for local horses and people. Attracts pollinators including bats, drought tolerant.

Material uses: Fruits have woody shells, used for cups and containers. Wood used locally for wagons, etc. 

Edible: Licuorice flavored pulp in center of fruits used for drinks, there is also oil in the fruits.

Medicinal value: Used as an astringent and anti hemorrhagic, treats dysentery. 

Research: Marian Farrell/Christine Facella


Image Credit/Source: Christine Facella

Calabaso, Crescentia cujete

Family: Bignoniaceae

Native to: Central, South America, West Africa, South Africa, Naturalized in India.

Habitat: Commonly dry but seasonally wet plains and hillsides, at elevations up to 1,200 meters above sea level.

Ecological value: Attracts wildlife, pollinated by bats. Deciduous tree that grows to 10 meters, slow growth rate, drought tolerant. Large fruits have nectaries that attract stinging ants, which ward off browsers such as goats. Provides habitat for epiphytes (bromeliads and orchids common sight).

Material uses: Empty fruit bowls are used as drinking vessels, cups, rattlers, instruments. Timber can be used in construction and for building carts and other wood products. Shells are used ornamentally in West and South Africa. Wood also used to grow epiphytes.

Edible: Fruits called Jicara are used for drinks, raw pulp and seeds are poisonous. Fruits can be eaten but pulp and seeds must be cooked beforehand. Roasted seed as coffee substitute.

Medicinal value: Used as an astringent and anti hemorrhagic, treats dysentery. 

Other: Can grow in very acidic, alkaline, and saline soils. Shade tolerant but prefers sun. Grown in live fences.

Research: Sam Schillinger/Christine Facella


Image Credit/Source: Franz Xaver,

Sandbox tree,  Hura crepitans

Family:  Euphorbiaceae

Native to:  Tropics in North and South America

Habitat: Rainforests and moist coastal forests, often exposed to seasonal inundation. lowland climates.

Ecological value: Established plants are tolerant of drought. Fast growth rate: 4m in two years. Macaws eat the toxic fruit, then swallow a particular type of clay found along riverbanks, that neutralizes the toxins.

Material uses: Fishermen use the sap to poison fish. Shells of unripe fruit used to make containers. Yellow- brown wood, medium soft and light weight, susceptible to damage from termites. Used in general carpentry, furniture, in veneers. Used traditionally in making canoes.

Medicinal value: Used to treat leprosy.

Other: Also known as the Dynamite tree, named for the explosive sound of the ripe fruit as it breaks apart. Susceptible to wind damage. Tree is recognized by pointy spines. Grown as a shade tree in cocoa plantations. Supports cultivation of vanilla plants.

Research: Mengmeng Chen/Christine Facella


1."The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species".

2."Hura crepitans". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 24 December 2017.


4. Attenborogh, The Private life of plants.

Image Credit/Source: Hans Hillewaert,

Leadtree, Leucaena collinsii

Family: Fabaceae

Native to: The Americas. 

Habitat: Seasonally dry deciduous forests, elevations up to 900 m.  

Ecological value: Green manure, livestock fodder, and for soil conservation

Material uses: The seeds (jumbie beans) can be used as beads. Gum from trunk with similar properties to gum arabic. Timber for poles and fence posts - very durable.

Edible: Seeds raw or cooked. Young pods, leaves and flower buds as greens.

Medicinal value: Used for anti-parasitic medicine. Some species have high levels of mimosine that may lead to hair loss and infertility in non-ruminants. 

Other: The generic name is derived from a Greek word meaning "white," referring to the flowers. Flowering is between August and November and fruiting occurs from February to April. The species is highly deciduous and sheds its leaves during the prolonged dry season from December to April. Firewood. Used as a live fence. Most psyllid resistant leucaena species.

Research: Marian Farrell/Christine Facella


1. Orwa C, A Mutua, Kindt R , Jamnadass R, S Anthony. 2009 Agroforestree Database:a tree reference and selection guide version 4.0 (

Image Credit/Source: Scott Bauer,

Phytelephas seemannii

Family: Arecaceae

Native to: Northern South America in countries like Columbia and Panama.

Habitat: Under story plants, found in wet forests around the elevation of 200 meters.

Ecological value: Pollinated by insects, specifically by 2 types of pollen-eating rove beetles and their predators (From genus Xanthopygus). Squirrels and agoutis will eat the fruit.

Material uses: Apart from being a source of food the plant can also be used for thatch, which is the roofing of houses for locals. The seed can be used as an alternative to ivory.

Edible:  The seed can be eaten in two ways: First is when it's young and still liquid, you can drink it as a sweet drink. Once it becomes mature it will harden into a jelly-like texture. 

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