Resin, gum, varnish
Cashew, Anacardium occidentale
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 .
Other: Cannot withstand frost. Oil used in the manufacturing of plastics.
Research: Sam Schillinger/Christine Facella
Image credit/Source: Eric Gaba,
Native to: South and Central America
Habitat: Common in dense forests that are either moist or dry. Often found in formerly cultivated land. Elevations up to 1200 meters.
Ecological value: Fast growth (pioneer) – can reach 4 meters within 2 years from seed.
Material uses: Coarse ropes, woven mats, and other related products can be made from the fiber obtained from the bark of the tree. The tree's wood, which has low durability, is appropriate for insulating panels, packaging, and crating. Local communities use the wood for making rafts and small boats.
Edible: Both fruits and seeds are edible (seeds MUST be roasted as they contain blistering agent killed by heat).
Medicinal value: Flowers are used to relieve muscle spasms. Leaves and bark contain mucilage which can be used in various medications.
Other: On average, grows up to 15 meters tall. However, grows up to 25 meters tall in Guyana. Wood used as fuel.
Research: Alyssa Achacoso/Christine Facella
1. “Biodiversity Heritage Library." Biodiversity Heritage Library. biodiversitylibrary.org.
2. Eleanor Bolza et al., South American Timbers: The Characteristics, Properties and Uses of 190 Species, (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, 1979).
3. Harry Lorenzi, Brazilian Trees, 4th ed., vol. 1 (Brazil: Instituto Plantarum De Estudos Da Flora, 2002.
4. Paul Carpenter Standley, Trees and Shrubs of Mexico, vol. 23 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1926).
Gumbolimbo, Bursera simaruba
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,
Carao, Cassia grandis
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,
Spanish cedar, Cedrela odorata
Native to: Tropical America, Mexico to Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, French Guyana, the Caribbean
Habitat: Widely distributed in wet, primary and secondary evergreen to semi-deciduous lowland or rainforest. Sea level to 1900m.
Ecological value: Acts as wind breaker (but has shallow roots - caution advised) shade shelter, visited by insects including honey bees for flower’s nectar, tolerates seasonal droughts but not flooding. Pioneer.
Material uses: Contains an aromatic and insect-repelling resin. Works easily and makes excellent plywood and veneer. Used for guitars, storage furniture, construction. Light-weight wood.
Edible: Some natives chew on young leaves.
Medicinal value: Root and trunk bark is used to reduce fever and pain; the trunk is harvested to prepare a decoction for abortion. Seeds believed to have vermifugal properties.
Other: This species thrives in most environments and is invasive in many regions of the world. It shades other species with it’s thick leaves. Over-exploited in wild. Used as firewood. Excellent choice for reforestation schemes.
Research: Alex Anez Folla/Christine Facella
Image credit/Source: Mauro Halpern, https://www.flickr.com/photos/41597043@N00/48827224566
Brazilian rose, Cochlospermum vitifolium
Native to: S. America - C. America
Habitat: Tropical dry forests and savannahs.
Ecological value: Fast growing pioneer good for restoring native wood lands. Attracts pollinators such as bees and other insects. Drought tolerant.
Material uses: Floss from seed as stuffing material, utilized in pillows which are said to induce sleep. Fibre obtained from bark used as cordage. Gum from the inner bark. The light brown wood is straight-grained, soft, spongy and lightweight. It's not suitable for carpentry but can be used for papermaking.
Edible: Beverage similar to beer made from juice of plant.
Other: Used as a living fence. Aggressive pioneer specie that produces flowers by its second year and can take hold quickly in other disturbed habitats.
Research: Maria Camila Misle/Christine Facella
Image Credit/Source: Oldcrookedjaw, http://tropical.theferns.info/image.php?id=Cochlospermum+vitifolium
Devil's ear, Enterolobium cyclocarpum
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
Associated plant community: Ideal shade tree for coffee plant.
Other: Fixes atmospheric nitrogen. National tree of Costa Rica.
Research: Hyunjung Kim/Christine Facella
Image Credit/Source: Rolando Pérez, Smithsonian,
Guabino, Enterolobium schomburgkii
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.
Associated plant community: Ferns.
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.
Research: Ellen Rust/Christine Facella
Image Credit/Source: Vojtěch Zavadil,
Roughbark, Guaiacum officinale
Native to: The Caribbean and the northern coast of South America
Habitat: Lowland dry forests, woodlands and thickets, coastland areas.
Ecological value: This small tree is very slow growing, reaching about 10 m in height with a trunk diameter of 60 cm. The tree is essentially evergreen throughout most of its native range. Drought tolerant (up to 6 months of dry periods). Attracts bees. Tolerant of salty winds, and moderate levels of salt in soil.
Material uses: Guaiac, a natural resin extracted from the wood, is a colorless compound that turns blue when placed in contact with substances that have peroxidase activity and then are exposed to hydrogen peroxide. Very hard wood, used in ship propellers.
Medicinal value: Guaiac cards are impregnated with the resin and are used in determining whether stool contains blood. The heme portion of hemoglobin contains peroxidase and will catalyze the oxidation of guaiaconic acid when hydrogen peroxide is placed on the Guaiac card if blood is present in the stool.
Other: It is the official national flower of Jamaica. Ornamental. Endangered from over-exploitation. Expensive and valuable timber.
Research: Marian Farrell/Christine Facella
1. Americas Regional Workshop (Conservation & Sustainable Management of Trees, Costa Rica, November 1996). 1998.
2. Guaiacum officinale. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 1998: e.T33701A9802341.
Image Credit/Source: Dinesh Valke, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinesh_valke/2477708305/in/photostream/
Native to: Southern Florida, the Bahamas, and Greater Antilles
Habitat: Dry coastal areas.
Ecological value: Salt, wind, and drought resistant. Slow growing tree.
Material uses: It is the hardest, densest commercially used wood, which makes it an incredible material to use in anything that requires strength and durability. Historically used for propellers. Leaves can be used as a substitute for soap.
Medicinal value: Resins in the wood have been medicinally used in the past to treat a variety of ailments such as arthritis, gout, rheumatism.
Other: It is an endangered species. Lignum vitae wood - only two species this type of heartwood. Can collect high prices for wood. Plant as a means of conservation.
Research: Zac Pepere/Christine Facella
Image Credit/Source: David J. Stang, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guaiacum_sanctum_23zz.jpg
Leadtree, Leucaena collinsii
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 (http://www.worldagroforestry.org/sites/treedbs/treedatabases.asp)
Image Credit/Source: Scott Bauer,
Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua
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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liquidambar_styraciflua_20131017a.jpg
Caribbean pine, Pinus caribaea
Family: Pinaceae. Synonym: Pinus elliottii.
Native to: Central America, Caribbean.
Habitat: Hillsides and plains at low elevations from sea level to 600 m. large, dry tropical forests, as well as lowland savannas
Ecological value: Fast growing (15 to 20 years). It's population is controlled by regular forest fires, is highly adapted to colonize new environments and can become invasive. Sometimes grown as an ornamental. Provides shelter, re-establishes woodland and protects the soil. Pioneer. Used as erosion control - only species so far to successfully clothe barren eroded and denuded lands with tree cover.
Material uses: Caribbean Pine is a soft wood and can be logged for construction. Locally used for boat building and charcoal. Can be tapped for oleoresin and gum rosin, the latter used in the production of paper, soap and glue.
Edible: Seeds raw or cooked. Vanillin flavoring from resins.
Medicinal value: Leaf oil used for medicinal baths. Turpentine from resin of all pine trees is an antiseptic, diuretic, rubefacient and vermifuge. Treats a variety of skin ailments.
Other: Many pine species are heavily exploited due to their fast growing nature. they are easily harvested into lumber for cheap building materials. Contains terpene which is released when rain washes over the needles. this may have a negative effect on the germination of some plants.
Research: Liam Pitts/Christine Facella
Image Credit/Source: Christine Facella, La Yeguada Panama
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,
Native to: Belize; El Salvador; Guatemala; Honduras; Mexico (Chiapas, Oaxaca); Nicaragua
Habitat: 1. High elevation- areas with greater than 1500 mm of annual rainfall
2. Low elevation- grow in areas with 1000 to 1800 mm annual precipitation
in association with Pinus oocarpa.
Ecological value: Growth rate is fast- 2.5 meters per year in first 8 years.
Material uses: A number of processing studies in various countries have indicated that the wood is very acceptable for pulp, paper and solid wood products.
Edible: Vanilla flavor from pulp wood.
Medicinal value: Resin antiseptic. Beneficial to respiratory system
Associated plant community: P. oocarpa/ P. maximinoi/ P. pseudostrobus/ P. ayacahuite.
Other: Pinus tecunumanii is an important timber tree in Central America, where it can grow a straight bole with large dimensions. The root of Pinus tecunumanii is so weak that slight wind or even the force of gravity are enough to cause breaks to the steam. Listed as vulnerable: Declined 40% due to exploitation. Needles contain terpene which may effect germination of other plants.
Research: Jiahuan Cheng/Christine Facella
1. Dvorak, W. S., G. R. Hodge, E. A. Gutiérrez, L. F. Osorio, F. S. Malan and T. K. Stanger. 2000. Pinus tecunumanii. In: Conservation and Testing of Tropical and Subtropical Forest Species by the CAMCORE Cooperative. College of Natural Resources, NCSU. Raleigh, NC. USA. pp: 188-209.
2. “Pinus tecunumanii .” Pinus tecunumanii (Schwerdtfeger’s Pine, Tecun Uman Pine). Accessed September 05, 2017.
3. Dvorak, W. S., and Jeffrey K. Donahue. Pinus maximinoi seed collections in Mexico and Central America. Raleigh, NC: Central America and Mexico Coniferous Resources Cooperative, 1988.
Image Credit/Source: Can't find image source. Please get in touch if this image is yours!
Camibar, Prioria copaifera
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,
Rain Tree (Monkey Pod Tree), Samanea saman
Native to: Central America to South America from El Salvador to Venezuela
Habitat: Dry grassland and forest with low altitude. Moister evergreen woodland. Deciduous forest. From sea level to 1300 meters in elevation.
Ecological value: The tree can fold up/unfold its leaves to provide moisture for other plants under its canopy. At night/overcast days, branches hang low, resuming normal position in morning. Shade tree for tea, coffee, vanilla and animals. Has a beneficial relationship with soil bacteria, providing nitrogen into surrounding habitat. Tolerates waterlogged and infertile soils. Can become invasive. Slow growth first year, otherwise fast growing. Coppices well.
Yields up to 275 kg of seed pods annually from 15 years old and up. Attracts pollinators.
Material uses: Source of timber. Bark a source for gums and resins. Pods yield 1,150 liters of alcohol per year per hectare. Wood is light, soft, durable, and strong - shrinks slightly making it a good material for crafts, furniture, and other products.
Edible: Pods have sweet flavor. Used to make fruit drink. Durable against rot and termites. Used for veneer and plywood.
Medicinal value: bark and leaves used as a treatment for diarrhea, stomach-ache, skin problems, and sore throat.
Other: Source of fuel wood. Attractive pink flowers. A mature tree with a 15m crown can absorb 18.5 tons of CO2 annually.
Research: Emilyn Chang/Christine Facella
Image Credit/Source: Myaataro,
Purple mombin / Jocote , Spondias purpurea
Native to: American tropics.
Habitat: Open forests, pasture, common live fence, from sealevel to 1700m.
Material uses: Ash from wood used in soap making. White, soft wood, brittle, used for paper pulp, fuelwood. Produces a gum used as glue in Central America. Used as fence post in Panama.
Edible: Sweet fruit, can be eaten with salt and vinegar or lime juice when unripe , or red hot pepper sauce and "alhuaishte". New shoots and leaves are eaten as greens.
Medicinal value: Leaves have anti- bacterial properties. Used to treat sore throats and headaches. Fruit in heavy quantities will work as a laxative. Treats dysentery and diarrhea.
Associated plant community: cashew family, Anacardiaceae
Other: The fruit and sap cause allergic reaction if it is contact with skin. Starts fruiting around 4-5 years old. Used as live fence, planted thickly to create instant barriers.
Research: Mengmeng Chen / Maryangela S Rocca/Christine Facella
1. “Jocote: beneficios y propiedades del xocote”. Natursan. 2012-12-07. Retrieved 2016-06-15.
2. “Spondias purpurea”. Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
Image Credit/Source: Daderot,