Rubber latex 

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. 

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. 

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,

Sapodilla, Manilkara zapota

Family: Sapotaceae

Native to: Southern Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean

Habitat: Tropical forests. Can also thrive in poor, wind-swept areas but grows better in fertile conditions.

Ecological value: Provides fruit for wildlife. Shade tree.

Material uses: Wood is strong and durable. Used as lintels and supporting beams in Mayan temples. Sap from the tree can be turned to latex used in chewing gum, but also transmission belts and as a substitute for guta-percha in dentistry (used in fillings). The tough, dense wood is resistant to insects. Not easy to work with but suitable for construction, railway ties, furniture, joinery and handles.

Edible:  After 5-8 years the sapododilla tree will begin to bear large pale brown berries. Ripened berries are sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked. Has a high yield of fruit, 2500-3000 per year in its life time of about 30 years.

Medicinal value: Young fruits are boiled and the decoction taken to stop diarrhea. An infusion of the young fruits and the flowers is drunk to relieve pulmonary complaints. A decoction of old, yellowed leaves is drunk as a remedy for coughs, colds and diarrhea.

Other:  Flowers year round. Large hook-like seeds could get stuck in throat.

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.

Canistel, Pouteria campechiana

Family: Sapotaceae

Native to: Native to Southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador. Cultivated in Florida, Central America and throughout the West Indies.

Habitat: Tolerant of a wide variety of soils, and can grow in poor soil. Grow in part-shade or full sun. Elevations up to 1400 m. Tolerant of maritime conditions.

Ecological value: The canistel is productive on soils considered too shallow and poor for most other fruit trees. On poor soils the trees bear heavy crops of fairly uniform, small fruits. Pollinated by insects. Fast growing.

Material uses: Used in home gardens in wet and intermediate zones in Sri Lanka. Latex extracted from tee has been used to alleviate chicle in Central America. Timber is fine grained, compact, strong, moderately to very heavy hard, and is valued, especially for planks and rafters in construction. 

Edible: Fruits may be eaten fresh, although it is more commonly used to make milkshakes, custards, or ice cream. Fruit is high in potassium and vitamins, The flesh can be dehydrated, powdered and employed as a rich food additive. Fruiting begins at 5-7 years. Produces fruit year round. 

Medicinal value: A decoction of astringent bark is taken as a febrifuge in Mexico and is applied on skin eruptions in Cuba. Preparations from seeds has been used as remedy for ulcers.

Other: Tree is vigorous and healthy. Few pests and diseases. Good wind resistance. Can become invasive. 

© 2021 MODEST