General construction

Soft wood, smaller species

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.

Cabbage bark, Andira inermis

Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Southern Mexico through Central America to northern South America.

Habitat: Alluvial forests, evergreen tropical to dry savannah. Roadsides and riverbanks up to 900 m above sealevel.

Ecological value: Andira inermis is a nitrogen-fixing tree attracts many pollinating insects.Important source of nectar for bees. Bats eat the fruits. Tolerates periods of inundation. Drought tolerant when established. 

Material uses: The tree's wood is used for lumber. The wood is very hard, heavy (0.77g/cm³), and very resistant to attack by fungi and termites. Lumber used for bridges, railroad tracks, waterfront docks and  furniture.

Edible: Edible fruits, but seeds are toxic. 

Medicinal value: Treats snakebites, used as narcotic, as laxative and a vermifuge.

Other: It is used as a shade tree in coffee plantations, in soil conservation projects to protect watersheds and cultivated as ornamental. Flowers more frequently in dryer climates. Insecticide and piscicide properties. Prunings used as firewood.  Prunes well.

Research: Mengmeng Chen/Christine Facella


1. Behrendt, G., J.D. Brazier., and G.L. Franklin. 1968. Maderas nicaraguenses. Características y usos potenciales. FAO y Min. de Ag. y Ganaderia. Honduras. pp 21-22.

2. Berendsohn, W.G. 1989. Listado básico de la flora salvadorensis. Dicotoyledonae. Familia 118:Leguminosae. Cuscatlania (El Salvador) I(2):118-8.

3. Faria. S.M., J. Sutherland, and J. Sprent. 1986. A new type of infected cell in root nodules of Andira spp. (Leguminosae). Plant Science 45:143-147.


Image Credit/Source:  S.Pereira-Nunes,

Cortezo, Apeiba membranacea


Family: Malvaceae

Native to: South America, Central America - Panama, Nicaragua and Honduras.

Habitat: Humid forests in plains and foothills.

Ecological value: Grows in low and medium elevations.

Associated plant community: Angiosperms, Eudicots, and Asterids.

Material uses: Heartwood and sapwood are light yellow. The grain is straight with texture, luster medium to bright. The wood is light, but low in durability, easy however to work with and finishes well. Used in construction, plywood, crates. Fiber obtained from species, used in Panama.

Research: Jin Young Lee/Christine Facella






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

Arrabidaea corallina


Family: Bignoniaceae

Native to:  Central and South America

Habitat:  Dry forests and creek banks where the soil is sandy.

Ecological value:   The flowers of this plant attract honey bees.  

Material uses: The durable hard-wood is commonly used in the construction of a tropical cottage design. Traditionally used in Panama for baskets, used to catch shrimp.

Edible:  They are toxic plants that can cause diarrhea. 

Other:  In Brazil in the municipality of Boqueirão the plant created an outbreak, poisoning 550 goats, and killing 6 of them. Used as an ornamental.

Research: Lucia Palacio/Christine Facella



2. Morales et al, 'Plantas de uso folklorio y Tradicional en Panama'

Image credit/Source: Dick Culbert,

Glassywood, Astronium graveolens, Goncalo alves


Family: Anacardiaceae

Native to: Mexico, Central America, and South America as far south as Bolivia

Habitat: A canopy tree found in both dry and humid tropical forests at elevations up to 1,000 meters. A common element of upland forests. 

Ecological value: Attracts pollinators such as insects. Moderately fast growing.

Material uses: The wood is moderately hard, heavy, fairly loose in structure, durable and takes an excellent polish.. Among the most outstanding heavy, durable construction timbers, it is also highly favored as a fine furniture and cabinet wood. It is cut for decorative veneers and is also used for specialty items such as knife handles, brush backs, archery bows, billiard cue butts, turnery, and carving.

Other:  The tree yields a valuable timber and is commonly exploited from the wild. The wood is exported to many countries. Pioneer species, tolerant of shade, also used for ornamental purposes. 

Research: Jiahuan Cheng/Christine Facella



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

3. 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:  David J. Stang,

Chumba wumba, Astrocaryum standleyanum 

Family: Arecaceae

Native to: S. America and C. America - from Nicaragua to Ecuador.

Habitat: Lowland rainforest, usually on imperfectly drained soils at elevations below 200, but up to 500 meters.

Ecological value: Orange fruit attracts spiny rats, squirrels,capuchins, opossums, peccaries, agoutis, pacas, coatis, and tapeti rabbits who generally eat fallen fruits and disperse the seeds. The agouti and palm have a close relationship as the fruit is one of his most important food-sources: Fruit is collected and seed buried in ground. The agouti will commonly rob each other, digging up and re-distributing seeds elsewhere. The palm's spikes prevents critters from climbing stem. 

Material uses: The wood is used for walking sticks, bows, fishing rods, furniture and basketry.  Plant often cut down for oil processing. Important fiber for local groups: fibers from leaves are used to make furniture, pitchers, plates, trays, coasters, vases, hats, fishing nets etc. 

Edible: Fruit and palm hearts. Harvesting the palm heart (or 'bud') leads to death of plant. 

Other: The trunk of the palm It is covered densely in sharp, flattened black spines up to 20 centimeters long.  Grows tiny white flowers during the rainy seasons of May and June.  Most common in Central Panama in the tropical forests around the Panama Canal. Where demand is high for fiber, the palm has been decimated. In Ecuador it's used in agro-forestry practices. Heavily utilized in Ecuador where it is considered one of the most economically important plants. 

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



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,

Red ceiba, Bombacopsis quinata

Family: Malvaceae

Native to: Central America, and Northern South America

Habitat: Lowland wet forests, dry to very dry, or wet tropical forests, from sea level to 900 m.

Ecological value: Sometimes used as shade coverage on coffee plantations. Fast growing, pollinated by bats.

Material uses: Exploited in the wild as a timber source. Durable wood used for construction, furniture, doors, suitable for plywood and veneer. Coppices well, used as a live fence, occasionally used as fuelwood, but not preferred. 

Medicinal value: Roots are used as treatment for diarrhea.

Other:  This species is possibly incorrectly name and could potentially be transferred to the genus Pachira. Grows well in humus rich loamy soil. Listed as vulnerable due to over exploitation and habitat loss. 

Research: Peaches Harrison/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: Wendy Cutler,

Jamaican caper, Capparis cynophallophora

Family: Capparaceae

Native to: Florida in the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America to northern Argentina.

Habitat: Dry and wet tropical forests, coastal thickets.

Ecological value: Produces large quantities of flowers. Attracts a variety of birds. Slow growth rate.

Material uses: Hard wood used for posts, and as a source of fuel-wood.

Medicinal value: Roots and leaves used for a variety of ailments.

Other:  Wind resistant and extremely salt tolerant. Full sun/part shade, evergreen. 

Confusing nomenclature: Quadrella cynophallophora, Capparis flexuosa, Cynophally flexuosa. 

Research: Hyejung Moon/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: Bob Peterson,

Carao, Cassia grandis

Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Central and South America

Habitat: Warm tropical climates in low altitude rain forests, roadsides, pastures below 900 m. 

Ecological value: The Carao is a good medium sized tree to plant when starting to replenish forest land - fast growing pioneer. However, it has become known as an invasive weed in the Global Compendium of Weeds, and has spread from it's origins in central America to much of the tropics around the world.

Material uses: Used as a shade and ornamental tree in landscaping and gardens. Potential commercial source of gums (pharmaceutical industry). Ashes of wood used in soap-making. Strong, multi purpose wood, used for construction, fence posts etc. Fuel wood. 

Edible: The pulp surrounding the seeds in the pods is edible. It is sweet but described as having a bad scent and a known laxative. 

Medicinal value: Seed pods can also be used in gums and as a binder for the Pharmaceutical industry. Treats ringworm, mange infections in dogs. 

Research: Liam Pitts/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: Haplochromis,

Guacatonga, Casearia comersoniana​

Family: Flacourtiaceae

Native to: Southern Mexico to Brazil.

Habitat: Roadsides and along fences, varied forest formations.

Ecological value: Pioneer species, suitable for reforestation schemes. Fruits sought after by birds.

Material uses: Roof construction and firewood, specially in Panama.

Other: Small tree, 4-5 meters. 

Research: Harry Gomez Moron/Christine Facella


1.Discover Life: Casearia Commesoniana:

2. Guaçatonga

Image Credit/Source: Mary W. Farmer.

Casearia guianesis

Family: Salicaceae

Native to: In the Antilles and from Costa Rica to Brazil

Habitat: Occasionally found in young forests, most commonly along shores and margins of clearings.

Material uses: Its hard and heavy wood, usually yellow or light brown, and used as fuel or lumber for traditional construction.

Other: Propagation by seed.

Wild sage, Casearia sylvestris

Family: Salicaceae

Native to: S. America - Argentina and Uruguay, north through Brazil, Central America to Mexico.

Habitat: Moist or dry forest, often in secondary growth, generally at low elevations but up to 1,200 metres above sea level. 

Ecological value: Used in reforestation schemes. Pioneer species. Fast growth rate. Attracts pollinators such as bees. Tolerates salty soils, produces fruit year round which birds consume.

Material uses:  Seeds produce a non-drying oil.  Wood is dark, fine-textured, hard, strong, but with little resistance to wood-eating organisms. Used for construction, flooring, boards, cabinet making,  fuel and to make charcoal.

Medicinal value: The bark and leaves have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti rheumatic, aphrodisiac, depurative properties and are used in the treatment of inflammation, fevers, gastric ulcers and diarrhea. The oil from the seed and macerated roots are used in the treatment of wounds, leprosy. Anti- tumor, antibiotic properties, inhibit HIV replication. 

Iguana hackberry, Celtis iguanaea

Family: Cannabaceae.

Native to: South America through Central America, the Caribbean to Florida.

Habitat: Dry or wet thickets of plains and hillsides. Elevations below 1000m.

Ecological value: Fast growing tree that provides fruit for birds and other wildlife. It can be very useful for reforestation because of this.

Material uses: The wood is used for oil and to make coal. It is a semi dense wood, so traditionally it is used for minimal construction and to make hand tools.

Edible: The tree’s fruit is eaten raw.

Medicinal value: Tree’s sap is used to treat eye diseases and the fruit itself has been used for treating dysentery and intestinal catarrh. 

Other: Used in reforestation efforts - good pioneer species.

Research:  Zac Pepere/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park,

Kapok, Ceiba pentandra


Family: Malvaceae

Native to: Mexico, Central America, Caribbean and northern South America

Habitat: Secondary forests.

Ecological value: Flowers important to bees, bats and moths. Fast growing.

Material uses: Prior to the heightened usage of synthetic fibers in clothes, the Kapok fibers were used in products such as pillows, clothes, stuffed toys and upholstery. Kapok fibers are labor intensive to produce and extremely flammable but are also water resistant and buoyant. The raw version of the fiber is used in darts for nearby tribes. Ash is rich in potash and can be used for making soap. Construction timber. Used to make canoes. 

Edible: A vegetable oil can be pressed from kapok seeds. Wood ash as salt substitute.

Medicinal value: Ceiba pentandra bark decoction has been used as a diuretic, aphrodisiac, and to treat headache, as well as type II diabetes. It is used as an additive in some versions of the hallucinogenic drink Ayahuasca.

Other: Pioneer species. Economical life: 60 years. A single tree can bear 300-400 pods per year, yielding up to 20 kg of fiber from about 5 to 50 years of age. Responds well to coppacing. rooting system can cause damage to buildings and roads. Used in reforestation programs, inter-cropped as shade tree for coffee and cacao.

Research: Amy Feng/Christine Facella



2. id=Ceiba+pentandra

Image Credit/Source: Phil Stone,

Bastard redwood, Chrysophyllum argenteum

Family: Sapotaceae

Native to: South America, Central America, Caribbean - Trinidad to Cuba

Habitat: Moist, lower mountain forest. 

Ecological value: Fruits year round, food sources for mammals and birds.

Material uses: The wood is hard, heavy, strong, tough, and durable, therefore used for fence posts and tool handles. Also used for charcoal. 

Edible: Sweet fruit.

Research: Maria Camila Misle/Christine Facella


1. Stri. “Chrysophyllum Argenteum Panamense.” Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute-Scientific Databases,

2. Graveson, Roger. “Plants of Saint Lucia.” Chrysophyllum Argenteum,



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

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.

Spanish elm, Cordia alliodora​

Family: Boraginaceae

Native to: South and Central America, Caribbean

Habitat: Both wet and dry forests, up to 1000m and as high as 2000m. 

Ecological value: Pioneer species, attracts pollinators (lepidoptera, bees), tolerant of high winds. Fast growing. Coppices well. 

Material uses: A renowned timber-producing species. The wood is usually straight grained, easy to work to a smooth finish, with little dulling of cutting edges. The wood is used for building construction, flooring, furniture and veneer manufacture, boat timbers, oars, rail sleepers, turnery, scientific equipment, and a wide variety of carvings and artists’ equipment. The wood is resistant to decay; it has some resistance to marine borers and is outstandingly resistant to termite attack. Perfume from oil from flowers. Fire wood.

Edible: Fruits are edible, not tasty.

Medicinal value: A decoction of the leaves is used as a tonic and a stimulant, especially in cases of catarrh and lung infection. Pulverized seeds are used in the treatment of cutaneous diseases.

Other: Good tree for combining with crops as a shade tree. It has been incorporated with pasture, often in mixture with woody species of Erythrina. It has also been grown with sugarcane. When grown as a shade tree, it has shown to reduce yield in crops, but income generated from timber compensates for this yield reduction.

Clam cherry, Cordia nitida/Cordia laevigata


Family: Boraginaceae

Native to: South America, Central America, Caribbean

Habitat: Thickets and forests in coastal and limestone regions.

Ecological value: Attracts butterflies and bees. Used in apiculture. 

Material uses: Highly valued timber in Jamaica. It is used for furniture, flooring, doors, beds, interior finish, carriage building, posts. The wood is used chiefly for posts. 

Other:  The tree makes an attractive ornamental.

Research: Adrian Chiu/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source:  P. Acevedo,

Tapica, Crataeva tapia

Family: Capparaceae

Native to: Central and South America

Habitat: Low elevations in dry or wet forests, common in grassland and dry areas and also found in swampy flooded locations and flooded 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”  


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

Image Credit/Source: Christopher Hu,

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,

Dragons 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,

2. "Croton Draco". Useful Tropical Plants,

3. "Croton". Wikipedia,

Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang,

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




Image Credit/Source: Edgarhernanlaragarcia,

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 Face



Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang,

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




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

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

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

Research: Hyunjung Kim/Christine Facella



2 .

Image Credit/Source: Rolando Pérez, Smithsonian,

Guabino, Enterolobium schomburgkii


Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Surinam; C. America - Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, southern Mexico

Habitat: In dense sub-canopy's of trees in the rainforest, in dry lowland forests, hillsides, 300 m and below sealevel.

Ecological value: Has a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil. The roots and the bacteria form atmospheric nitrogen which can be used by nearby plants, fast growing and attracts bees.

Material uses: Light weight and good resistance to rot, termites and fungi It's heartwood can be harvested for furniture, cabinets, floors, doors, frames, bark, gum and fruit can be used in soaps, or paper or fuel wood.

Edible: young seeds can be cooked and roasted.

Medicinal value: syrup from bark can treat colds.

Other: Ideal shade tree in agroforestry systems, live fence species, tolerates coppicing, seeds ignored by fauna, believed to have been food source of Pleistocene megafauna now extinct, such as ground sloths and giant bison. 

Heusito jazmin, Faramea occidentalis

Family: Rubiaceae

Native to: Brazil, Bolivia and Peru,  Central America,  Caribbean

Habitat: Canopy species, mostly found in the Guatemala lowlands and thick mixed forests up to 1500 m above sea level.  

Ecological value: Most likely pollinated by moths.

Material uses: The wood is close-grained; hard; moderately heavy; very tough. Takes to polish. The straight stems can be used in house building and carpentry, and the making of tool handles and other small objects.

Other: The wood is used for fuel.

Research: Paige Katona/Christine Facella


1. Tropical Plants Database, “ Faramea occidentalis,”

2. Indiana Coronado,  Immature Fruits, Tropical Plants Database, “ Faramea occidentalis,”

Image Credit/Source: Reinaldo Aguilar.

Ficus yoponenisis

Family: Moraceae

Native to: Central and South America.

Habitat: Often found in fields, forest margins, along roads and in disturbed soils. Sea level to 1,600 meters, mainly between 500-1,2000. Common in younger forests. Moist ravines, wet forests, river edges.

Ecological value: Location of pollination for wasps. Source of vitamin C for Spider Monkeys. Bats and certain species of ants eat the leaves and fruits. Decomposed leaves create food and habitat for wildlife.

Material uses: Wood is used for fence posts. 

Edible: Fig fruits consumed by animals and potentially humans.

Medicinal value: Fresh latex ingested to treat diarrhea and worms.

Other: Milky latex flows from incisions in plant. 

Research: Marian Farrell/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: Katrin Heer,

Quickstick, Gliricidia sepium

Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Central America.

Habitat: Sand dunes, riverbanks, flood plains. Could be planted up to 1000m to 1500m above sea level.

Ecological value: Easy to establish by cuttings. Fast growing, can be aggressive pioneer species, can be coppiced, Fixes nitrogen, used for erosion control.

Material uses: Timber. Important fuelwood.

Edible: Flowers, cooked.

Medicinal value: Anti-fungal, used in various folk-medicines.

Other: Live fence, fodder, green manure, shade tree for cocoa crops, honey production, firewood, ornamental. 

Research: Adrian Chiu/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: Forest & Kim Starr,

West indian elm, Guazuma ulmifolia

Family: Malvaceae

Native to: Caribbean, Mexico, South/Central America.

Habitat:  Common in secondary forests and along stream banks. Tolerant in humid and dry climates. 

Ecological value: Food source for local fauna. Fast growing. 

Material uses: The bark and stem can be used as rope or twine. The sap can be used in sugar fabrication. The wood can be used light construction, it is not durable. The charcoal from the tree is high quality. 

Edible:  Seeds are edible. The fruits have a honey scent and can be eaten raw or cooked. 

Medicinal value: The plant is antibacterial, anti inflammatory, anti-fungal, astringent, diuretic, and febrifuge. The bark is a source of tannin and antioxidant chemicals (proanthocyanidins and kaurenoic). The leaves contain caffeine. The bark is used to induce perspiration, as a tonic, and blood cleanser.  The tree can treat elephantiasis.

Other: Grows in rich, medium moisture, well drained soil.  Often planted as a shade tree. Colonizes recently disturbed areas. 

Research: Senna Lau/Christine Facella


1. Fern, Ken. 2014. Guazuma ulmifolia. (accessed on 21 September 2017). 

2. Missouri Botanical Garden. Na. Guazuma ulmifolia. (accessed on 21 September 2017). 

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,

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. 2018-09-18. <>

Image Credit/Source: Tarciso Leão,

West Indian locust, Hymenaea courbaril


Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

Habitat: Dry and wet tropical forests.

Ecological value: Slow growing, attracts pollinators, including bats.

Material uses: The roots and trunk yield a resin-like gum known as ‘South American copal’. Timber used for furniture, cabinetry, construction, heavy duty flooring, ship building, light weight canoes, carving, turnery, tool handles. Tannins for leather.

Edible: Fruit eaten raw or used in deserts. High protein content, good source of calories due to high starch content. Popular tea from bark, consumed by Brazilian lumberjacks as an energy tonic.

Medicinal value: Used for centuries as a tonic for urinary and respiratory system. Leaves used to treat diabetes, fruit as laxative.

Other: Drought tolerant; tolerates 4 months of drought. Produces around 100 fruit per year, coppices well. Might fix nitrogen. Source of fuelwood.

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. 2018-09-06. <>

2. Montoso Gardens "Inga Spectabilis". (2007) <>

Image Credit/Source: Reyes Carranza,

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. 2018-09-05. <>

2. World of Forestry. “Inga Vera”. Agroforestry Database 4.0 (Orwa et al. 2009) <>

Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang,

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,

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,

Licania arborea


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: Dense foliage houses wildlife. Flowers are pollinated by bees and other insects.

Material uses: The tree is cultivated for its seed, which contains oil that we use for making paints. The trees wood is durable and is thus used for rural construction, such as houses and fences etc. Oil is also used to make soap and candles.

Medicinal value: The bark and leaves are used in folk medicine to cure hemorrhoids and kidney problems.

Other: Seeds contain up to 30% oil, and burn easily. Disagreeable flavor, color, and oder.

Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua

Family: Hamamelidaceae

Native to: Central America, North America, southern Mexico

Habitat: Grows in rich moist soil but tolerates a variety of conditions. Grows best in a well drained habitat. Grows in bottom land sites that provide space for root development.

Ecological value: Eaten by eastern goldfinches, purple finches, sparrows, mourning doves, northern bobwhites, wild turkeys, chipmunks, and squirrels. Pollinated by bees. Fast growing pioneer and long lived. Controls erosion. 

Material uses: Used for lumber, veneer, plywood, railroad ties, fuel, and pulpwood.  Resin can be used in perfumery, soap, and as an adhesive. Wood also used locally as fuel wood.  

Edible: Chewing gum resin.

Medicinal value: The gum resin can treat rheumatic pain. When the sap is boiled and cooled it creates a balm that treats skin problems. 

Other: Used as a windbreak because of its rapid growth and tolerance. Potential to be used as a pioneer species for reforestation programs. 

Research: Senna Lau/Christine Facella


1. Gilman, Edward. 1993. Liquidambar Styraciflua Sweetgum. (accessed on 08 September 2017).

2. USDA NRCS National Plant Materials Center. N/A.  Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua L.. (accessed on 08 September 2017).

3. Gilani, Natasha. N/A. Uses for a Sweet Gum Tree. (accessed on 08 September 2017).

4. USDA NRCS National Plant Materials Center. N/A.  Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua L.. (accessed on 08 September 2017).

Image Credit/Source: Luis Fernández García,

Escribano, Lindackeria laurina


Family: Achariaceae

Native to: South America - Colombia, Venezuela and Central America - Panama to Guatemala.

Habitat: Understory tree in open primary forest; forest edges and clearings.  Found in tropical wet forests in Panama.

Ecological value: Attracts pollinators.

Material uses: The heartwood is close grained, takes a fairly good polish and is considered excellent timber and is used in roof construction in Panama.  The wood can be used to make charcoal.

Medicinal value: Leaves used to cure snakebites .

Other: Fruits mature in early dry season. The foliage sticks to clothing. 

Research: Tresha Naharwar/Christine Facella


1.Tropical Plants Database, Ken Fern. 2018-09-06. <>

2. “Tropicos | Image -.” Tropicos | Name - Stenochlaena Tenuifolia (Desv.) T. Moore. Accessed September 06, 2018.

3. Stri. “Lindackeria Laurina.” Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute-Scientific Databases. Accessed September 06, 2018. laurina,e,n.

Image Credit/Source: Steven Paton,

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.