Fabaceae: Caesalpinioideae

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Pea Family – Caesalpinoid Subfamily

For additional information see Fabaceae.

Bauhinia guianensis Aubl., a canopy liana in the Caesalpiniodoideae. Note the bifid leaves, characteristic of the genus. Un bejuco que crece en el dosel. Note las hojas bífidas, una característica del genero.


Description: the Caesalpinioideae of this region are all woody, either trees or lianas. Leaf shape in this subfamily is variable. All even-pinnate legumes without glands on the leaves are Caesalpinioideae (even-pinnate means that the compound leaf lacks a terminal leaflet). Caesalpinioid leaves can also be bifid (e.g., Bauhinia) or bipinnately compound (though none of the genera in this area are). The flowers of Caesalpinioideae are generally only subtly asymmetrical.

Economic uses: Delonix regia, native to Madagascar, is a popular ornamental in tropical areas worldwide. Some Neotropical Caesalpinioideae are also cultivated for their showy flowers, and others are important timber trees.


Descripción: las Caesalpinioideae de esta zona son leñosas, árboles o bejucos. La forma de la hoja puede variar. Todas las Fabaceas con hojas paripinnadas sin glándulas son Caesalpinioideae (hojas paripinnadas son las hojas pinnaticompuestas que carecen de un foliolo terminal). Las hojas también pueden ser bífidas (p. ej. Bauhinia) o bipinnadas (aunque los géneros de La Selva no lo son). Las flores de las Caesalpinioideae usualmente son sutilmente asimétricas.

Usos económicos: Delonix regia, originalmente de Madagascar, es un árbol ornamental que se cultiva en todas las zonas tropicales. Algunas Caesalpinioideae de este hemisfério también se cultiva por sus flores llamativas. Otras son maderables.


Genera/species at La Selva: 8/13: Lianas: Bauhinia (2) Trees: Brownea (1), Cassia (1), Macrolobium (1), Prioria (1), Senna (5), Sclerolobium (1), Tachigali (1).


FIELD MARKS – alternate, simple, bifoliate, paripinnate (usually), or bipinnate leaves, conspicuous part of flower the petals, flowers more or less radially symmetrical, seeds normally stacked transversely like a roll of life-savers. No nectaries, except in some Senna and Cassia.


Senna alata showing paripinnate leaves with nectaries between leaflets.
Senna fruticosa showing protuberant horn-like nectary (very different from the discoid nectaries of Inga).
Cassia grandis showing paripinnate leaves (even number of leaflets occurring in pairs).
Senna alata showing paripinnate leaves with nectaries between leaflets.


Bauhiniasimple bilobed leaves resembling the split hoof of a cow, lianas with undulating stems have earned the common name “monkey ladder”.


Bauhinia liana at La Selva.
Monkey ladder lianas growing in the seasonally dry forest of Lomas Barbudal preserve in Guanacaste.
Monkey ladder lianas growing in the seasonally dry forest of Lomas Barbudal preserve in Guanacaste.
Delonix regia, or “flamboyant”, is a caesalipinoid native to Madagascar and widely cultivated for its striking orange flowers. It is unusual in having bipinnate leaves. The transverse arrangement of seeds is visible from the outside of the fruit.
The “split hoof” leaf shape is characteristic of the genus Bauhinia. Bauhinia outimouta is the less common of the two Monkey Ladder species found at La Selva.
Guide Fernando Cortéz holding a Monkey Ladder liana, Bauhinia outimouta.
Bauhinia variagata is commonly cultivated on the streets of San José. This species shows the characteristic leaf shape of the genus and flower type of the subfamily.
Bauhinia variagata is commonly cultivated on the streets of San José. This species shows the characteristic leaf shape of the genus and flower type of the subfamily.


For additional information see Fabaceae.


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