Oil species

Edible and/or finishing oils

Macaw palm, Acrocomia vinifera /aculeata

Family: Arecaceae

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

Habitat: Barren lands, semi deciduous open forests. Fertile soils in valleys & on lower hill slopes.

Ecological value: Attracts pollinating insects. Slow growing, fairly fire tolerant.

Material uses: Oil for biodiesel, soap. The nut, while very hard, can be carved. Fiber for twine & cordage.

Edible: Starch from pith of trunk and wood. Pith can be fermented into an alcoholic drink. Fruit cooked but eaten in times of scarcity. Seed roasted. Oil from seed (high quality), young leaves cooked.  

Medicinal value: The saponin-rich roots are used to heal contusions and angina, boiled bark to heal scorpion bites.

Other: Roots used to treat a variety of ailments.

Research: Hyunjung Kim/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Acrocomia+aculeata

Image Credit/Source: Carla Antonini, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Acrocomia_totai_fruits.jpeg

Burkhart, Albizia niopoides

Family: Fabaceae.

Native to: Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, the

Guyanas; Costa Rica to Mexico; Caribbean.

Habitat: Semi deciduous forests, where it is found in both dense primary formations and in secondary growth. Dry tropical forests at elevations up to 1,000 meters. Occasionally found on coastal sands.

Ecological value: A very wind-tolerant species, able to withstand hurricane-grade winds. Established plants are drought tolerant. Fast growing tree, easily reaching a height of 4 meters within 2 years from seed. Plants can recover after a forest fire. A natural pioneer species, it grows quickly and also fixes atmospheric nitrogen. It can be used in reforestation projects. The tree is used to provide shade in coffee plantations.

Material uses: Roots are rich in saponins, oil used as soap ingredient. Mixed reports about quality of wood, sometimes used for small objects.

Edible: Stems can be steamed or boiled once stems are peeled. The tap roots can be eaten cooked on young plants that have not yet flowered . 

Medicinal value: The saponin-rich roots are used to heal contusions and angina, boiled bark to heal scorpion bites.

Other: Beautiful tree, grows wild but also planted in parks and communities as ornament. Wood also used for fuel. 

Wild cashew, Anacardium excelsum

Family: Anacardiaceae

Native to: Northern South America through Central America.

Habitat: Along river banks. 

Ecological value: Fruit-eating bats pick the wild cashew and transport it to their feeding places where they eat only the exterior part. The nuts are dropped onto the forest floor which later germinate. 

Material uses: Fiber known as mijuga is obtained from the bark. The wood is also moderately resistant to fungi and dry wood termites. The wood has many uses including for tools. Furniture, kitchen utensils and boxes. It can be used as a substitute for mahogany, it is used traditionally for making dugout canoes.

Edible: Stems can be steamed or boiled once stems are peeled. The tap roots can be eaten cooked on young plants that have not yet flowered . 

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

Research: Michael Sanchez/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Anacardium+excelsum

Image Credit/Source: Franz Xaver, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anacardium_excelsum_1.jpg

Soncoya, Annona purpurea

Family: Annonaceae.

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

Habitat: Found in hot and humid climates below 4,000 feet, in second growth or thickets.

Research: Peaches Harrison/Christine Facella


1. Trade Winds Fruit. (2013) “Soncoya, Annona purpurea”  

2. Purdue University. “Soncoya”. Purdue.edu

3. Morton, Julia. (1987)“Soncoya”. Fruits of Warm Cilmates

Image Credit/Source: Ll1324, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sincuya_El_Salvador_2012.jpg

Ecological value: Seed extract is poisonous and can be used as insecticide especially with fleas.

Material uses: Oil can be extracted from seed. Can be used as an insecticide

Edible: Pulp is eaten raw or strained for juice. Pulp is similar in color, aroma, and taste to mango. 

Medicinal value: Remedy for fever and chills, relieves Jaundice. Bark is given as a tea and is effective against Dysentery.

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



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

3. http://ctfs.si.edu/webatlas/findinfo.php?leng=spanish&specid=413

4. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Apeiba+membranacea

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

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


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

Gumbolimbo, Bursera simaruba


Family: Burseraceae

Native to: Florida, West Indies, Mexico, Central America and northern South America.

Habitat: Humid, tropical climate. High drought tolerance. Tolerates salty calcareous soils. Under-story tree elevation up to 900 m. 

Ecological value: Live fence.  Rapid growth 2m per year. Important food source for birds - very good to use to attract birds for bird watching. Shade tolerant. Supports soil microbial life. Controls soil erosion. 

Material uses: Resin is taken from trunk to make glue, varnish, water repellent coatings and incense. Moderately strong wood. Light furniture, toys, paper, and pulp. Oil from seed: contains 60-70% oil suitable for edible/ non-edible purpose, including fuel oil, and soap. 

People used to make drums. Wood is easily carved. 

Edible: Fruits are eaten by birds. Beverages and jam from fruit. 

Medicinal value: Reduces inflammation, kills bacteria, relieves pain, stops bleeding, increases urination, cleanses blood, increases perspiration, heals wounds, neutralizes venom, reduces fever, and expectorates. The bark is used to treat skin sores, measles, sunburns, insect bites, and rashes. 

Other: Thrives with little to no care. Hurricane resistant: withstands wind gusts of 150-330 km/hr- can serve as wind protection for crops and roads starters tree in reforestation scheme. Fuel wood. Each tree yields 15-30 kg nutlets equivalent to 2.5-5kg oil. Press cake as green manure or fodder. 

Research: Jennifer Yaing/Christine Facella


1. Christman, Steve. “Bursera simaruba Plant Profile.” FloriData. May 14, 2004.

2. Taylor, Leslie. “Gumbolimbo.” Tropical Plant Database. December 17, 2012.

Image Credit/Source: Vihelik, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bursera_simaruba_2.JPG

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. 

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, http://www.caymanflora.org/QEIIflora/indi/c/celtis_igua.html

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


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?

2. id=Ceiba+pentandrahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceiba_pentandra

Image Credit/Source: Phil Stone, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kapok-Ceiba_pentandra_03.JPG

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: Liqorice 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


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Crescentia+alata

Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crescentia_alata_14zz.jpg

Palma negrita aceitera / American oil palm, Palm elaeis oleifera

Family: Arecacaeae

Native to: South and Central America throughout Honduras to Brazil.

Habitat: Wet, swampy coastal environments such as rivers and streams. 510 meters above sea level.

Ecological value: Can provide disease resistance to surrounding plants, slow growth, fruits at 3 years of age. 

Material uses: Used to produce palm oil, now used in soap and cosmetics.

Edible: Edible oil from seed and kernal. 

Medicinal value: Contains Vitamin A + E, oil treats rheumatism, dandruff, repels insects.

Other: It's orange fruits clustered at the base of the leaves is boiled to produce the oil.

Research: Ellen Rust/Christine Facella


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

Image Credit/Source: Anonyme973, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elaeis_oleifera.jpg

Bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria


Family: Cucurbitaceae

Native to: Asia or Africa. Evidence of cultivation dating back as far as 13,000 BC in Peru

Habitat: Moist lowland tropics and subtropics (up to 1600m). Economic crops produced below 500 meters.

Ecological value: Pollinated by moths and other insects. Fast growing: 60 cm in 24hours. Individual plants yield around 10-15 fruits,or 20-30 tons per hectare. Disease and pest-free, possibly connected to musky smell of leaves.

Material uses: Shells of ripened fruit used as storage containers, instruments, beehives, brewing barrels, cups, ladles etc. 

Edible: Fruit - cooked and used as a vegetable. Seed - edible, cooked, rich in oil (used for cooking. Leaves - used as potherbs. The pulp is purgative (should not be eaten).

Medicinal value: Leaves are used for foot-bath remedy for those who are infected with fungal infections and microfilaria worms. Crushed leaves are used to treat swelling and headaches. Flowers are antidote to treat poison. Fruit juice is used in the treatment of used in the treatment of typhus, stomach acidity, indigestion and ulcers.

Other: Some cultures are used as rootstock for grafting melons and cucumbers to 

control soil-borne diseases.

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.

Fritsch / Zapote, Licania platypus

Family: Chrysobalanaceae

Native to: Northern South America - Columbia and Central America - Panama to southern Mexico.

Habitat: Found in dense forests, often old, on well drained slopes.  Limited to low 

elevations up to 600m above sea-level.

Material uses: The heartwood is suitable for furniture and cabinetwork, but is seldom used. Not for outdoor use. The seeds yield oiticica oil which is similar to tung oil.

Edible: The fruit is eaten raw but has the reputation of potentially causing fevers.

Wildlife: Fruit is an important food source.

Other: Cultivated as an ornamental shade tree throughout Central America. Related species provide charcoal. Several species in this family have declined due to deforestation. L. caldasiana, native to Columbia, has reportedly gone extinct. 

Research: Tresha Naharwar/Christine Facella


1. No Record - Useful Tropical Plants. Accessed September 06, 2018. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Licania platypus.

2.  “Sansapote.” Triticale. Accessed September 06, 2018. https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/sansapote.html.

Image Credit/Source: http://www.tradewindsfruit.com/content/sunsapote.htm

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.

Temple tree, Plumeria rubra​

Family: Apocynaceae 

Native to: Mexico to Panama

Habitat: Dry, hot areas in rocky lowland, rocky mountain and mountain slopes. Elevation 500-1500 meters.

Ecological value: attracts pollinators, including moths. Seeds consumed by small birds and mammals. Slow but easy to grow. Tolerant of salty winds.

Material uses: oil from flowers, used to scent coconut oil. The tree produces rubber. Mostly the plant is used as an ornamental. Wood used in turnery but in small amounts.

Edible:  Flowers to sweetmeats for consumption.

Medicinal value: Juice of bark treats gonorrhea and venereal sores. The bark can also be used to treat scabies and wounds from poisonous fish, and juice of bark can be used to treat amoebic dysentery. Muscular swelling, rheumatic pain, clean wounds and relieve toothache. The sap is used to treat wasp and bee stings and centipede bites.  These medicinal treatments are used all over the world.

Other: Freshly snapped off branches easily propagate. The white, milky sap is toxic and can irritate the skin.

Red mamey, Pouteria sapota


Family: Sapotaceae

Native to: Native to low elevation areas b/w southern Mexico and northern South America. It is now extensively cultivated in Central America, the Caribbean, and South Florida.

Habitat: Humid lowland woodland. Up to 1400 meter elevation. 

Ecological value: Easy maintenance. Grown in soil that is not very fertile. 

Material uses: Heartwood used in construction and for making carts and furniture. The seeds contain a white semi-solid oil called sapuyulo or zapoyola, which was formerly used to fix paintings on gourds and other handicrafts. Seed kernel yields 45-60% Vaseline - like oil, which is edible.  It can be used for timber construction, or fuel wood, but is rarely cut down as its a valued cropper.

Edible: The smooth, slightly chewy flesh of the fruit is eaten fresh out of the hand, or spooned out of the firm rind, often after adding a few drops of lemon juice. It is preserved in various ways and makes very good ice cream and sherbets. In Mexico the seeds are milled and used in a number of confectioneries and, alone or with cacao, to prepare a bitter chocolate. Prolific cropper- 200-500 fruit per year. 

Medicinal value: The seed kernel oil has been used by several different countries as a hair or skin product to either prevent hair loss, remove warts, fungal skin infections and also help digestion. It is still used as a sedative in ear and eye ailments. The oil is said to have potential in the soap industry and in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. The seed residue is used as a poultice on skin afflictions.

Other: Seed has stupefying properties. Grows to 15-45m tall. Used as shade tree for coffee

Research: Jennifer Yaing/Christine Facella


1. H.E. Moore & Stearn. “Sapote.” Hort Purdue.

2. “Mamey Sapote - Pouteria sapota.” Trades Winds Fruit.

3. Oyen, L.P.A. “Pouteria sapota (PROSEA).” PlantUse. February 6, 2016.

Image Credit/Source: Afifa Afrin, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pouteria_sapota_(Naseberry)_leaves_in_RDA,_Bogra_02.jpg

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

Rosita de cacao, Quararibea funebris


Family: Boraginaceae

Native to: Central America and Caribbean

Habitat: Moist to wet lowland and highland forests, up to 1600m sea level.

Edible: The entire flower of Quararibea funebris is edible. The stamen, pistil and petals may be easily pulled out of the sepal and eaten raw. This flower was traditionally eaten by itself as a tasty popcorn-like snack or even smoked with tobacco. They can be grounded down or blended and added to home-made chocolate bars, cacao (chocolate) drinks, desserts, and even to guacamole. The Aztecs used it for fishing: scented wood of this tree attracts fishes.

Material uses: Perfume from oil extracted from flowers. Timber: good quality, strong, easy to work. Not durable when exposed. 

Medicinal value: The flowers are mixed with chocolate and other ingredients to concoct Oaxacan cacao drink tejate, a spicy beverage with medicinal and religious significance. Used to control fevers. 

Other: This energy drink, "the drink of the gods" was originally served only to the ruling elite of Aztecs. They also used to drink cold chocolate mixed with corn and the Rosita de Cacao which they called Poyomatli. Rare species.

Research: Adrian Chiu/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: Daderot, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quararibea_funebris_-_Mounts_Botanical_Garden_-_Palm_Beach_County,_Florida_-_DSC03701.jpg

Bitterwood, Simarouba Glauca


Family: Simaroubaceae

Native to: Native to Florida in the United States, South and Central America, and the Lesser Antilles

Habitat: Humid, tropical climates. Sea level to 1000 m.

Ecological value: Oil from the tree is used to manufacture vanaspathi/ hydrogenated vegetable oil.  After oil is milled, it is used as cattle feed or fertilizer. Shells from the tree are used  for the cardboard industry.  Important food source for birds. Fast growth - 2 m per year.

Material uses: Produces edible oil quality soaps, lubricants, paints, polishes, pharmaceuticals, etc. 

Edible: Oil from the tree is used to manufacture vanaspathi/ hydrogenated vegetable oil. Juice is extracted from the tree and fruit used for the fermentation industry. Seeds yield 60-70% oil.

Medicinal value: Bark contains chemical viz. quassin which helps with curing amoebas, diarrhea, and malaria. 

Other: Common names include Paradise Tree, Aceituno, and Bitterwood. Inter-cropped with mango, avocado, royal palm and as shade tree for coffee. Does poorly in degraded sites, but is drought tolerant.

Research: Jennifer Yaing/Christine Facella


1. C P Bio Tech. “THE PARADISE TREE.” The Tree - Lakshmi Taru. 2012.

Image Credit/Source: Vinayaraj, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Simarouba_glauca.jpg

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

Panama tree, Sterculia apetala


Family: Malvaceae

Native to: Central and South America and on Caribbean islands.

Habitat: Secondary and old-growth forests, fertile, sandy and calcareous soils. 

Ecological value: Established plants are drought tolerant, fast growing. Good shade tree. 

Material uses: Oil from seed used in paints and lubricants. Soft, not durable wood. Distorts, but easy to work with. Used in canoes, coffins, furniture etc.

Edible: Seed raw or cooked.

Medicinal value: Treats catarrh. 

Other: Widely planted for seeds, timber and shade. Fruits take 12 months to mature - ornamental structures.  

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

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.

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

Monkey pepper, Xylopia aromatica.

Family: Annonaceae

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

Habitat: Scrubland. Low elevation in the tropics, often found in wet low land forest area,  up to 400 meters above sea level, but has been found up to 1500 meters as well.

Ecological value: Grows best in sunshine however it succeeds in poor, dry soils. Established plants are drought tolerant, slow growth rate, pioneer species, but not suitable for reforestation schemes.

Material uses: Essential oil can be obtained from the plant. Heartwood can be used for linings and manufacture of light boxes. The pale reddish brown wood is of low durability.

Edible: Seeds as a substitute for black pepper

Medicinal value: The flowers are arminative, the seeds, shoots and stem-bark are aromatic and tonic and a weak tea made from the plant is used as a diuretic to treat swelling in the legs. The fruit is also used to reduce fever (febrifuge)

Other: A possible pioneer species within its native range. 

Research: Tresha Naharwar/Christine Facella


1. Useful Tropical Plants. Accessed September 20, 2018. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Xylopia aromatica.

Image Credit/Source: Andrés Hernández, https://stricollections.org/portal/taxa/index.php?taxon=70963

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