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Sterculia apetala - Panama tree


Native to:



Central and southern Central America, central and northern South America, Florida.

Secondary and old-growth forests, fertile and sandy soils. 20 meters tall, up to 1100 meters above sea level.

Sterculia apetala - Panama tree

Ecological value:

Established plants are drought tolerant. Fast growing. Good shade tree. Leaves used for fodder. In Central Brazil, the endangered hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) almost exclusively makes their next in natural hollows of S. Apetala.

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, general carpentry, plywood and particleboard and interior construction.

Edible uses:

Seed raw or cooked. Resembles flavor of almond. Used to make a beverage. Edible oil can be pressed from seed. Fruit is edible.

Medicinal use:

Oil from seeds are used to treat skin ailments. Flowers are used prevent or relieve coughing.

Other details:

Widely planted for seeds, timber and shade. Fruits take 12 months to mature - ornamental structures. Prefers sandy, fertile and calcareous soils. Depending on where its grown, can flower once every two years, while in other places might flower twice per year.


Christine Facella


“Sterculia Apetala Var. Apetala | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science.” n.d. Plants of the World Online. Accessed November 18, 2023.
“Sterculia Apetala - Useful Tropical Plants.” n.d. Accessed November 18, 2023.
Mors W.B.; Rizzini C.T.; Pereira N.A. , ‘Medicinal Plants of Brazil’, Reference Publications; Michigan, 2000
Facciola. S., ‘Cornucopia II’, Kampong Publications, California, 1998
Lorenzi. H., ‘Brazilian Trees. Volume 2. 4th Edition’, Instituto Plantarum De Estudos Da Flora; Brazil, 2002
Roig, Juan Tomás, ‘Plantas medicinales, aromáticas o venenosas de Cuba’, Tomo I. Edition Científico-Ténica, 2016
Pizo et al, ”Conservation puzzle: Endangered hyacinth macaw depends on its nest predator for reproduction". Biological Conservation, 2008
Image source: Christian Pirkl.

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