Textiles, cordage, fiber

Cotton alternatives

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

Wild pineapple, Aechmea magdalenae


Family: Bromeliaceae

Native to: Panama to Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador

Habitat: In forests, generally abundant. 500 m. above sea level and below (Guatemala).

Material uses: High quality fiber from leaves used for twine, rope and string, hammocks and bags. 

Edible: Sweet fruit. Can be eaten raw or cooked, made into beverage.

Research: Christine Facella/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Aechmea+magdalenae

Image credit/Source: Andreas Kai, https://hiveminer.com/Tags/aechmeamagdalenae%2Cbromeliaceae

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

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

Apeiba tibourbou


Family: Malvaceae

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).

Image credit/Source:  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Apeiba_tibourbou_-_tree.jpg

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


1. https://biogeodb.stri.si.edu/bioinformatics/croat/specie/Arrabidaea%20corallina,e,n

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

3. Image credit/Source: Dick Culbert,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fridericia_dichotoma_(as_Arrabidaea_corallina)_(14092859767).jpg

Tucum-rasteiro, Astrocaryum campestre


Family: Arecaceae

Native to: S. America - central, eastern and northern Brazil, Bolivia. 

Habitat:  Open savannah and agricultural fields, grows in deep,  dry soils like semi-desert areas, at elevations up to 1,200 meters. 

Material uses: Leaves from the palm are used for their fibers for netting and other objects.  

Edible:  Fruit, leaves cooked and palm heart ('bud'). Harvesting the apical bud will lead to death of the plant. 

Other:  The plant belongs to a genus of about 36-40 palm species native to Central and South America. The seeds and fruit of several species are used as fruit, fish bait and oil production. 

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

Achiote, Bixa orellana


Family: Bixaceae

Native to:  American tropics, coastal South America

Habitat: Naturally found in grasslands, shrub-lands and forests. Cultivated in urban areas and supervised plantations. From sea level up to 2200 m in elevation.

Ecological value:  Pollinated by bees.

Material uses: Natural colorant used to red and yellow pigment. Used in cooking, 

cosmetic and pharmaceutical situations. Color fades when exposed to light and air. Gum from bark. Fiber for cord from bark. Dye is rich in carotenoid pigments. 80% consists of bixin (red) and norbixin/orelline (yellow). 

Edible: Used in food coloring for its flavorless profile and intense color pay-off. 

Medicinal value: Rich in Vitamin C and anti-oxidants. Used in indigenous medicine to treat a plethora of ailments related to stomach, viral, skin and heart issues in addition to snake bites. Bixin from seed shell used as an insect repellent.

Other: Also grown as ornamental. Can be heavily pruned therefore suitable as a hedge or live fence. Used as body and hair paint amongst indigenous tribes. 

Panama hat plant / Toquilla palm, Carludovica palmata


Family: Cyclanthaceae

Native to: From southern Mexico and Central America to Bolivia and Perú.

Habitat: Moist, mixed, mountain rainforests or lowlands, especially in open places and areas of secondary growth, at elevations below 800 meters.

Ecological value: Its female flowers (mature first) have large stigmas, and its male flowers (mature later) have a lot of pollen. They reproduce vegetatively because they do not produce viable seeds. Prefers shade, pollen dispersed by beetles.

Material uses: Fiber from stems. Notable for its strength, durability, and flexibility. Used to weave Panama hats, baskets, mats and brooms. The leaves can be used as emergency umbrellas and as roof thatching.

Edible: Leaves, shoot tips and roots eaten raw or cooked.  The fruit produces a sensation of small needles stuck to the skin.

Other: Leaves ready to harvest at 7 years. Suckered leaves at 18 months. Despite it's name, Panama hats are made in Ecuador. Often grown as an ornamental species.

Research: Harry Gomez Moron/Christine Facella


1. Wikipedia- Carludovica Palmata

2. Carludovica Palmata- Plants For A Future by Ruiz & Pav. 2012.

3. Panama Hat Plant- Canopy Tower National Park Soberanía.

4. www.plantnetproject.org

Image Credit/Source: Dave Paul, https://cubits.org/tropicalplantphotodict/thread/view/4472/

Panama rubber tree, Castilla elastica

Family: Moraceae

Native to: Tropical areas of Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.

Habitat: Grows in well-developed but disturbed gallery forest, rain forest regrowth and on old farmland.

Ecological value: Ruderal species, fast growing. Rich source of nectar for honey bees, wool-carder bees and lepidoptera. Birds such as goldfinches, linnets and greenfinches feed on seeds.

Material uses: This tree was the main source of latex for Mesoamerican cultures in pre-Columbian times and is still used for this purpose today. Mature tree of 8-10 years old, can product up to 25 kg of latex per year. Latex can be used as/in bouncing balls, waterproofing fabrics etc. Can be tinted with natural dyes. Bark is fibrous, used to make cord, mats, blankets and clothing. Wood, light in weight, mainly used for fuel. 

Edible: The Gum tree does grow sweet fruit but is not know for it.

Medicinal value: Treats rheumatic joints, bleeding piles, sore jaws.

Other: Thrives in nitrogen-rich soil. Erosion Control - 2’ taproot. Lateral roots make it difficult to grow other crops under tree. 

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. 

Trumpet tree, Cecropia peltata


Family: Urticaceae 

Native to: Mexico through Central America to northern South America, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.

Habitat: Moist limestone, cleaned land/pastures or secondary growth. Prefers a clay-loam texture soil. 900 m or less.

Ecological value: Mutually beneficial relationship with a species of ant. The ant cleanses the tree and protects it from other insects in return for food and shelter. Succeeds in poor and eroded soils. Seeds dispersed by birds and bats. Can recover devastated primary forests.  Fast growing (20 years for full growth), and grows back when cut.

Material uses: Wood combined with cement to make insulation boards. Paper pulp, matchsticks and toys. Good tinder. Sap used as crude latex rubber. Leaves as sandpaper, hollow stems into life preservers, bottle corks, straws, instruments. Fiber used in rope. Soft wood doesn’t varnish well. 

Edible:  Young buds as cooked vegetable. Fruit eaten raw. Young buds as pot herb.

Medicinal value: Latex used to treat warts, calluses, herpes, ulcers, dysentery and venereal diseases. Tea made from the leaves can treat asthma, liver disorders, Parkinson’s and relieve cardiovascular problems, snake bites, pain of childbirth and menstrual issues.

Other: The species has been listed as one of the hundred worst invasive alien species by the Invasive Species Specialist Group.  Pioneer species- ideal for initial stages of reforestation as they provide shade for new seedlings. 

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 choose 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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Starr_030807-0045_Cedrela_odorata.jpg

Pochote, Ceiba aesculifolia


Family: Malvaceae

Native to: Central America

Habitat: Dry plains or hillsides, elevations up to 1500m.

Material uses: Seed pods contain floss-like fiber that has traditionally been used for stuffing material in pillows etc. Excellent fire tinder material. Now it used primarily for insulation.

Edible: Young ripe fruits are cooked or stewed. Young leaves are cooked and seeds are often roasted.

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

Brazilian rose, Cochlospermum vitifolium


Family: Bixaceae

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. 

Bejuco colorado, Cydista aequinoctialis 


Family: Bignoniaceae

Native to: Tropical America, Guatemala

Habitat: Evergreen climber, moist or wet thickets, tropical habitat.

Ecological value: Attaches to other plants via tendrils, flowers twice a year during the spring and fall. Ornamental plant. Flowers start dark purple and turn lighter overtime.

Material uses: Plant harvested for fiber, basket making and fish tackling material.

Medicinal value: Stem, bark, and leaves used to treat sore knees.

Other: Prefers a sandy, well draining light soil.

Research: Sam Schillinger/Christine Facella


1. "Cydista Aequinoctialis" https://www.rareflora.com/cydistaaec.htm 

2. "Bignonia Aequinoctialis" http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Bignonia+aequinoctialis

Image Credit/Source: Evelyn Avila, https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynrssg/2763600749/

Ficus glaucescens/ Ficus maxima


Family: Moraceae

Native to: S. America - Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, north through the Caribbean, Central America to Mexico.

Habitat: Grown along streams, found in seasonally dry area with lower elevation, up to 1000 meters.

Ecological value: Fruit and leaves provide as food source for variety of birds and mammals. Bark is also used as firewood. Fig trees rely on a specialized species of wasp for pollination.

Material uses: Fiber in the bark is used to make mats and cloth. The latex is used to create cal, an abode cement. Bark used as firewood. 

Edible: Flowers are cooked and eaten as a form of vegetable and fruit.  

Medicinal value: Latex is used to treat rheumatism in the back. The leaves are used to treat snakebites, internal inflammations, gingivitis, intestinal parasites.

Research: Jennifer Yaing/Christine Facella


1. “Ficus Maxima.” Useful Tropical Plants. September 28, 2017.

Image Credit/Source: Gerrit Davidse,  http://images.mobot.org/tropicosimages3/detailimages/TropicosImages2/213/EDB330B5-8E7A-4F76-A48C-9F5C17B7CDBA.jpg

Genipa americana


Family: Rubiaceae

Native to: Northern South America, the Caribbean, Southern Mexico

Habitat:  Often found in fields, forest margins, and cultivated farms, flood prone forests, including seasonal swamps

Ecological value: The tree grows very quickly (fruits in 3 years), which makes it a very sustainable source of nourishment for surrounding wildlife. Attracts hummingbirds, bats, bees. Heavy leaf-fall improves surrounding soil.

Material uses: Contains tannins, a blue-black dye from the fruit’s pulp, used for dying clothes and pottery. Fiber from bark to make rough clothing. Wood hard and strong, not durable- prone to termites. Used for light construction, such as furniture.

Edible: Produces a sweet fruit, which can be made into drinks, jelly etc. 

Medicinal value: Known for curing candiru (fish) attacks, while the juice of the fruit is known to have helpful astringent effects. Brewed into tea as a remedy for bronchitis. 

Other: Fruit juice stains the skin black, so natives used to use it for going into battle and for decoration purposes. Tree can be inter-cropped with cassara or cotton as shade tree. Wood can be used for fuel. Ornamental.

Research: Zac Pepere/Christine Facella


1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Genipa+americana

Image Credit/Source: Alejandro Bayer Tamayo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jagua_(Genipa_americana)_(14557582148).jpg

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. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Guazuma+ulmifolia (accessed on 21 September 2017). 

2. Missouri Botanical Garden. Na. Guazuma ulmifolia. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=287260&isprofile=0& (accessed on 21 September 2017). 

Image Credit/Source: Franz Xaver, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guazuma_ulmifolia_4.jpg

Heteropsis oblongifolia

Family: Araceae

Native to: Central America, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil.

Habitat:  Prefers low-lying terrain and secondary forests. 

Material uses: This vine has extremely strong and flexible roots used as a fiber and string, used in basketry. 

Luehea candida


Family: Malvaceae

Native to: Colombia, Venezuela, Panama to Mexico.

Habitat: Chiefly on dry, brushy or wooded hillsides, ascending to about 1,800 meters, but more commonly below 900 meters. Often forming dense stands on rocky hillsides or along sandy and rocky stream beds. Dry tropical forests.

Material uses: The bark contains a tough fiber that can be removed in strips and is often used as temporary cordage. Wood density low, sometimes used for fence posts or small interior furniture.

Other: The large woody capsules are fastened to the end of a stick and used for beating chocolate into a froth. Large trees are showy when in flower because of the abundance of large, pure white blossoms.

Strawberry tree, Muntingia calabura


Family: Muntingiaceae

Native to: Southern Mexico to western South America.

Habitat: Lowland areas from sea level to 1000 m of elevation. Needs sheltered position - branches break easily in strong winds.

Ecological value: Thrives in poor soil, tolerates acidic and alkaline conditions and drought, but doesn’t grow on saline conditions. Pioneer - Potential as a useful species for restoration of disturbed areas and to stop soil erosion. Shelter and food source for wildlife ( ca. 60 species of birds and mammals). Attracts pollinators. Rapid growth.

Material uses: Wood for lumber. Fiber from bark for making ropes and baskets - not suitable for textiles. Wood valued in paper-making. Soft wood for general carpentry.

Edible: Edible berries, mostly consumed by native birds and bats. Can be grounded to jam and the leaves are used in tea. 

Medicinal value: leaves treat headaches, prostate problems, reduce gastric ulcers, bark used as antiseptic, flowers used as/for antiseptic, reducing swelling, antispasmodic and fruits  used to treat respiratory problem and diarrhea.

Other: Introduced and naturalized in Southeast Asia.

Sometimes grows as an ornamental or a shade tree. Can become invasive. Withstands air pollution in city. Soft wood is valued as fuel and lights fast. 

Balsa Tree, Ochroma pyramidale 


Family: Muntingiaceae

Native to: Southern Mexico to western South America.

Habitat: Lowland areas from sea level to 1000 m of elevation. Needs sheltered position - branches break easily in strong winds.

Ecological value: Habitat for bats, monkeys and other rainforest dwellers. Pollinated by birds, monkeys, kinkajos and olingos. Pioneer species. Fast growing but short lived; can reach 20m in 7 years. Mature at 12-15 years old. 

Material uses: Lumber and modeling material - lightest known commercial timber. Woody fiber used as stuffing material for pillows and mattresses. Fiber from bark used in ropes. Insulation against heat and sounds. Used in floats, buoys, life jackets and surf boards. Pulp and paper.

Edible: Edible berries, mostly consumed by native birds and bats. Can be grounded to jam and the leaves are used in tea. 

Medicinal value:  Root bark is emetic. 

Other: Sometimes planted as an ornamental. 90% of commercial supply is grown in Ecuador. 

Poulsenia, Poulsenia armata


Family:  Moraceae

Native to: Bolivia and Brazil to Ecuador and Venezuela, north through Central America to Mexico

Habitat: Wet forests, at or a little above sea level.

Ecological value: Fruit consumed by red spider monkeys from Mexico to Bolivia. Flowers and fruits throughout the year, especially during the dry and early rainy seasons. 

Material uses: The inner bark is very thick and composed of numerous layers of strong crossed fibers which can be used in hammocks, blankets, women’s clothes. 

Edible:  Ripe fruit. 

Other: The wood itself is not very strong. It is used for general interior construction work, crates and decorative veneer. High silica content (7.32 %).

Research: Jiahuan Cheng/Christine Facella


1.Croat, Thomas B. Poulsenia armata. Accessed September 05, 2017. http://biogeodb.stri.si.edu/bioinformatics/croat/specie/Poulsenia%20armata,e,n.

2. Standley P.C. & J. A. Steyermark. 1946-1976. Flora of Guatemala

3. Chudnoff. Martin. 1984. Tropical Timbers of the World. Ag. Handbook No. 607. Wisconsin: USDA Forest Service

Image Credit/Source: Tony Rebelo, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/20145275

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, http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Prioria+copaifera

2.  R. Pérez; Center for Tropical Forest Science, “Close-up of the flowers,” http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Prioria+copaifera

Image Credit/Source: Chnelsons, https://hiveminer.com/User/chnelsons/Recent

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