Sterculiaceae

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Chocolate Family

Sterculia costaricana Pittier, a canopy tree in the Sterculiaceae. Note the palmate venation of the leaf bases. Un árbol del dosel. Note las venas palmadas en las bases de las hojas.


Description: In this region, Sterculiaceae are all trees and shrubs except for the liana genus Byttneria. Most of them are easy to identify to order Malvales by their 3-veined leaves with stellate trichomes and double-pulvinar petioles, but in some cases familial assignment is almost impossible without first identifying the genus. All of the Sterculiaceae trees here have entire leaf margins. The leaves of Theobroma are simple, Sterculia entire or palmately lobed, and Herrania palmately compound. Byttneria is a spiny liana of river edges and disturbed sites, and Melochia is an understory shrub.

Economic uses: Theobroma cacao is the source of chocolate. Before La Selva was established as a research station, cacao was one of the main crops cultivated on the property. The plants can still occasionally be found in the understory of the forest.


Descripción: Aparte del genero de bejucos Byttneria, todas las Sterculiaceas de esta zona son árboles o arbustos. Es fácil identificar las Sterculiaceas hasta el orden Malvales, porque todas tienen hojas con tres venas principales en la base, pelos estrellados, y pecíolos pulvinulados en los dos extremos, pero a veces es casi imposible reconocer la familia sin saber el género. Aquí, todos los árboles de las Sterculiaceas tienen las márgenes enteras. Las hojas de Theobroma son simples, las de Sterculia enteras o palmatilobuladas, y las de Herrania palmaticompuestas. Byttneria es un bejuco espinoso de potreros, márgenes de quebradas, y otros sitios perturbados. Melochia es un arbusto del sotobosque.

Usos económicos: Theobroma cacao es el fuente de chocolate. Antes de que se estableciera la Estación Biológica La Selva, en este sitio existian amplias extensiones de cacaotales. Todavía se puede encontrar plantas de cacao dentro del bosque.


Genera/species at La Selva: 5/7: Shrubs: Melochia (1) Lianas: Byttneria (1) Trees: Herrania (1), Sterculia (1), Theobroma (3).


FIELD MARKS – All 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, monadelphus stamens.


Theobroma cacao – simple leaves, understory tree, small white cauliflorous fls and football shaped fruits.

Theobroma cacao trees arch over the STR trail bearing witness to past use of the forest for Cacao cultivation. Small scraggily trees bearing pods the size and shape of a small football can readily be identified as Cacao.
Theobroma cacao trees arch over the STR trail bearing witness to past use of the forest for Cacao cultivation. Small scraggily trees bearing pods the size and shape of a small football can readily be identified as Cacao.
Fruits of Theobroma cacao in the dark understory hint at the past history of the forest as cacao plantation.
Leaves of Theobroma cacao and a chocolate-loving Wheaton student.


Guazuma ulmifolia – alternate leaves with serrate margins and uneven bases (like in an elm!), stellate brown hairs, free stipules (black), some mucilage, fruit a capsule that resembles a dried up blackberry. Guazuma is a common tree in the seasonally dry forests of Guanacaste.


Guazuma ulmifolia branches showing differences between upper and lower leaf surfaces.
Guazuma ulmifolia showing, flowers, fruit, and lower leaf surface covered with brown hairs. Note uneven leaf bases, serrate margins, and palmate venation at base of leaf.
Guazuma ulmifolia ripe fruits.
Cauliflorous fruits of Theobroma cacao are the source of chocolate.


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Next family: Tiliaceae > >
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