C e c r o p i a    T r e e

A tropical relative of the mulberry tree that is found in the understory and lower canopy layers of the forest, cecropia are relatively small, umbrella-shaped, quick-growing trees that can increase six feet in height each year. They are relatively short-lived (rarely exceeding 80 years), and are eventually replaced by other tree species that grow up beneath them and ultimately reach the canopy.

Cecropias are “pioneer” species that quickly invade and colonize forest clearings, riverbanks, roadsides, abandoned farmland, or other disturbed areas.

Cecropia trees have a hollow trunk and branches, which are divided into a series of chambers by partitions. The tree produces special structures in velvety-brown glandular patches under the leaf stems, providing nourishment for Azteca ants, which defend the leaves.

Their leaves are eaten by some animals (e.g. three-toed sloths), and their seeds are eaten by birds, bats, rodents like the agouti, and other animals. One study of cecropia showed 8 species of monkey, 12 species of bat, and 76 different bird species eating its dangling spike-like fruits. (See Program 1 for more on cecropia, including comments by cecropia enthusiast, Rita Mesquita.)