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Baobob Family

Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn., a canopy emergent in the Bombacaceae. Note the palmately compound leaves. Ceiba is common along watercourses, where it can grow to an enormous height. Un árbol emergente. Note las hojas palmaticompuestas. Ceiba es común en los bordes de cuerpos de agua, donde puede alcanzar una altura enorme.

Description: All of the Bombacaceae are trees, and most of them are large emergents with columnar trunks (i.e., not buttressed) and flat, spreading branches. Some have spiny trunks. The leaves are 3-veined (i.e., with three palmate veins at the base), palmately lobed, or palmately compound. The 3-veined genera (here, Quararibea) are difficult to separate from Malvaceae by vegetative characters. Fruit or flowers may be necessary for a positive identification. Bombacaceae almost all have large, white, night-blooming flowers that are pollinated by bats.

Economic uses: The abundant wind-dispersed seeds of Ceiba pentandra (kapok) were once a common stuffing material for life jackets. Ochroma pyramidale is the source of balsa wood, and balsa rafts are widely used for transportation in the Amazon.

Descripción: Todas las Bombacaceas son árboles, y muchas son emergentes con troncos columnares (es decir, sin gambas), y ramas que se extienden lateralmente. Algunos tienen corteza espinosa. Las hojas tienen tres venas principales en la base, o son palmatilobuladas o palmaticompuestas. Los géneros con hojas enteras (aquí, Quararibea) son difíciles de distinguir de las Malvaceas sin caracteres reproductivos. Son necesarios frutos o flores para determinarlas. Casi todas las Bombacaceas tienen flores grandes y blancas que abren por la noche y son polinizadas por murciélagos.

Usos económicos: Las semillas abundantes de Ceiba pentandra, dispersadas por el viento, presentan pelos sedosos que en el pasado se usaban para rellenar los chalecos salvavidas. La madera ligera de Ochroma pyramidale se usa en Amazonas para construir balsas, una manera de transporte muy común en esta zona.

Genera/species at La Selva: 5/11 (all trees/ todos árboles): Ceiba (1), Ochroma (1), Pachira (1), Pseudobombax (1), Quararibea (7).

FIELD MARKS – All tend to have traits found in the large Malvaceae sensu lato, including alternate leaves, 3 main veins originating from base of leaf, serrate leaf margins, stellate hairs, mucilage, bark peeling in long strings, flowers with monadelphus stamens (fused along filaments).

Ceiba pentandra “kapok” – palmately compound leaves, swollen trunk similar in shape to a baobab, well developed buttresses, usually with spines on trunk, huge trees!

Palmately compound leaves of Ceiba pentandra.
Medium-sized Ceiba pentandra tree in cattle pasture showing swollen trunk and some spines, but lacking buttress.
Medium-sized Ceiba pentandra tree in cattle pasture showing swollen trunk and some spines, but lacking buttress.
Base of large Ceiba pentandra tree with well-developed buttress (and Dr. Humberto Jimenez-Saa).
Trunk and spines of a young Ceiba pentandra tree.
Palmately compound leaf of Ceiba pentandra.
The epiphyte-laden spreading crown of a large Ceiba tree is visible along the STR trail.

Ochroma pyramidale “balsa” – huge cordate leaves, large stipules shaped like the seat of a racing bicycle, very short internodes (leaves closely spaced), stringy mucilage, stellate hairs, huge white flowers

Cordate leaf of Ochroma pyramidale.
“Bicycle seat” stipules of Ochroma pyramidale.
Balsa tree.
Ochroma is a fast-growing tree that produces light-weight wood.
Ochroma with large palmately veined leaves and prominent stipules.
Balsa flowers open at night and are pollinated by bats. The creamy white flowers are the size and shape of the bell of a clarinet. Soon after pollination, they fall to the ground and quickly fade to tan.

Pachira aquatica “provision tree” – tree to 20 m tall, palmate leaves, large flowers with showy red stamens, fruit a large capsule.

Pachira aquatica with palmate leaves and cannonball sized fruits. Most of the leaves in this photo belong to epiphytic bromeliads.
Pachira aquatica with palmate leaves (if you can see past the epiphytes) and cannonball sized fruits.
Palmately compound leaf of Pachira.


  • Dick, C. W., Bermingham, E., Lemes, M. R., & Gribel, R. (2007). Extreme long-distance dispersal of the lowland tropical rainforest tree Ceiba pentandra L. (Malvaceae) in Africa and the Neotropics. Molecular Ecology, 16, 3039-3049.
  • Gribel, R., Gibbs, P. E., & Queiroz, A. L. (1999). Flowering phenology and pollination biology of Ceiba pentandra in Central Amazonia. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 15, 247-263.
  • Lobo, J., Quesada, M., & Stoner, K. E. (2005). Effects of pollination by bats on the mating system of Ceiba pentandra (Bombacaceae) populations in two tropical life zones in Costa Rica. American Journal of Botany 92: 370-376.
  • Quesada, M., Stoner, K. E., Lobo, J. A., Herrerias-Diego, Y., Palacios-Guevara, C., Munguia-Rosas, M. A., et al. (2004). Effects of forest fragmentation on pollinator activity and consequences for plant reproductive success and mating patterns in bat-pollinated Bombacaceous trees. Biotropica 36: 131-138.
  • Marenco R. A., J. F. De C. Goncalves, and G. Vieira. 2001. Photosynthesis and leaf nutrient contents in Ochroma pyramidale (Bombacaceae). Photosynthetica 39:539-543.
  • Mora J. M., V. V. Mendez, and L. D. Gomez. 1999. White-nosed coati Nasua narica (Carnivora: Procyonidae) as a potential pollinator of Ochroma pyramidale (Bombacaceae). Rev. Biol.Trop. 47:719-721.
  • O'Dowd D. J. 1979. Foliar nectar production and ant activity on a neotropical tree, Ochroma pyramidale. Oecologia 43:233-248.

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Next family: Boraginaceae > >
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