Construction and furniture

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

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,

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,

Propeller tree, Gyrocarpus americanus

Family: Hernandiaceae

Native to:  Central and South America, tropical Africa, tropical Asia

Habitat: Deciduous tree grown in dry and hot lowland forests, and secondary grassland.

Material uses: The bole is used for canoes. The seeds are used for jewelry purposes. The wood is soft and light. It is used for toys, light furniture, insulation, crates, veneer, pulpwood, plywood, and firewood.

Edible: Drink made out of the bark.

Medicinal: The bark is used to treat swelling after childbirth, stomach aches, and filariasis.   The decoction of the root is used to wash wounds and the powder is used to cover wounds.

Other: Sap may cause blindness.

Research: Senna Lau / Alex Anez Folla/Christine Facella


1. Prota. N/A. Gyrocarpus americanus Jacq. Bell. L. A. 1981. Plant Fibers for Papermaking. Liliaceae Press (accessed on 5 October 2017). 

2. Fern, Ken. 2014. Gyrocarpus americanus. (accessed on 5 October 2017). 

3. Gillespe, Thomas. N/A. Dry Forest Trees, Shrubs, and Lianas of Fiji. (accessed on 5 October 2017).

4. Lim, T.K. 2014. Edible Medicinal and Non Medicinal Plants. New York: Springer. pg.14

Image Credit/Source: Lee Parmenter,

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, plywood. 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,

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,

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.

Pinus oocarpa


Family: Pinaceae

Native to: Mexico and Central America. National tree of Honduras.

Habitat: An average temperature of 15 - 24 °C, annual rainfall of 1,000–1,900mm. Elevation: 900–2,400 m (3,000–7,900 ft) above sea level. Grows on mountain slopes and plains.

Ecological value: Pinus oocarpa has semi-serotinous cones and is adapted to fire, at least at natural frequencies. Pioneer species- Rapidly colonizes left from fire or erosion. Will easily re-sprout at base.

Material uses: It is used for construction, boxes, poles, posts, handles, popsicle sticks, railway sleepers and plywood. It is also suitable for framing, flooring, joinery, piles and particle board. The wood is furthermore used as pulpwood, fuel wood and for the production of charcoal. Oleoresin, obtained from the bark, and firewood are the main products in Central America. Wood is resistant to white-rot fungus. Bark used for kindling.

Edible: Vanilla substitute from pulpwood

Medicinal value: Resin antiseptic, diuretic. Beneficial to respiratory system. 

Other: Slow initial growth, poor wind firmness. Susceptible to nutrient deficiencies and needle diseases, allows for a weedy under-story to develop which can cause fires- this not a plantation species. Needles contain terpene which can have a negative affect on the germination of other species. Can be planted as a live fence (via seed sapling).

Research: Jiahuan Cheng/Christine Facella


1. “Pinus oocarpa .” Pinus oocarpa (Egg-cone Pine). Accessed September 05, 2017.

2. “Pinus oocarpa (PROTA).” Pinus oocarpa (PROTA) - PlantUse. Accessed September 05, 2017.

Image Credit/Source: Miguel Angel Sicilia Manzo,

Mountain trumpet, Schefflera morototoni


Family: Araliaceae

Native to: South America and Central America.

Habitat:  Wet tropical forests, open woodlands, savanna. Areas with abundant of sunlight.

Ecological value: A fast-growing tree that is a natural pioneer, tolerant of a wide range of habitats, and is a good source of food for the native fauna. It makes an excellent pioneer species for re-establishing woodland. Reaches 3-4m within two years from seed. Coppices easily. Flowers year round.

Material uses: Where the trees are more abundant and larger in size, uses include general carpentry, interior construction, boxes, matchsticks and matchboxes. Other possible uses are utility grade plywood, toys, and as a substitute for heavier grades of balsa. It is increasingly being used in the pulp and paper industry.

Medicinal value: Treats malaria. Sap treats abscesses.

Research: Adrian Chiu/Christine Facella



Image Credit/Source: Chnelsons,

Camibar, Prioria copaifera


Family: Fabaceae

Native to: Northern S. America - Colombia; C. America - Panama to Nicaragua; Caribbean - Trinidad.

Habitat:  Lowland plant, often found along swaps and sides of rivers up to 40 m above sea level and up to 150 m inland. 

Ecological value: Resin is collected by Euglossine bees for constructing their nests. 

Material uses: The bark can be used for making cord.  Resin can be made from the wood. The wood itself is non-durable, but can be used for interior trim, cabinet work, joinery, plywood, and veneer. 

Edible: The large seeds of the plant are edible and typically sold under the name 'cativa'. 

Medicinal value: The resin from the wood is used as medicine for cuts and bites by Native Americans. 

Other: Heavily harvested in Panama. Belongs to Fabaceae family - fixes atmospheric nitrogen.

Research: Paige Katona/Christine Facella


1. “Prioria copaifera,” Tropical Plants Database,

2.  R. Pérez; Center for Tropical Forest Science, “Close-up of the flowers,”

Image Credit/Source: Chnelsons,

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