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Basswood Family

Apeiba membranacea Spruce ex Benth., a low canopy tree in the Tiliaceae. The venation patterns are very typical of the family, but other Malvales can look very similar. Un árbol del bajo dosel. Los patrones de las venas son característicos de esta familia; sin embargo, otros grupos en las Malvales tienen patrones similares.

Description: Tiliaceae are mainly canopy trees, especially prevalent in second-growth forest. Most of them have yellow flowers with many free stamens, and each genus has a distinctive and often bizarre-looking fruit (e.g. the “sea urchin” fruit of Apeiba membranacea). Vegetatively, Tiliaceae are hard to distinguish from other Malvalean families. Several leaf characters are important for identification. The genera here have leaves that are always simple and unlobed, and usually serrate. Most of them have a contrasting leaf underside (whitish or brownish).

Economic uses: In the temperate zone, the linden or plane tree (Tilia americana) is frequently planted as a shade tree.

Descripción: La mayoría de las Tiliaceas son árboles de dosel, muy comunes en bosque secundario. Muchas tienen flores amarillas con muchos estambres libres, y cada género tiene un fruto distintivo y usualmente de forma particular (p. ej. el fruto de Apeiba membranacea, que parece un erizo del mar). Por lo general, es difícil distinguir las Tiliaceas de otras familias de Malvales. Varias características de la hoja son útiles para identificación: los géneros de esta área tienen hojas simples, sin lóbulos, y usualmente con la margen serrada. Muchas tienen un contraste entre el haz y el envés (con el envés blancuzco o castaño).

Usos económicos: En las zonas templadas, se siembran muchos árboles de Tilia americana como sombrio.

Genera/species at La Selva: 7/7 (all trees/ todos árboles): Apeiba, Goethalsia, Heliocarpus, Luehea, Mortoniodendron, Triumfetta, Trichospermum.

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 that peels in long strings, monadelphus stamens

Genera are best determined by their fruits.

Apeiba membranacea – fruits resemble a sea urchin with a dense coating of short spines.

Apeiba membranacea with palmate venation and rusty undersides due to a coating of stellate hairs. Apeiba is common in the swamp forests of La Selva.
The fruit of Apeiba membranacea resembles a sea urchin.
Apeiba membranacea leaf and old fruit. Note swollen petiole (pulvinus) where it meets the leaf blade.
Flower of Apeiba membranacea.
Apeiba trunk.
Close up of Apeiba trunk showing flaky bark.
Comparison of leaves of Apeiba membranaceae and Goethalsia meiantha. Note differences in pulvinus, angles of palmately arranged veins, shape of the leaf tip, and overall leaf shape.

Goethalsia meiantha

Goethalsia has alternate finely toothed leaves with palmate venation, swollen petioles, and elongate tips.
Goethalsia leaf showing palmate venation and swollen petiole common in Malvales.
Flowering branch of Goethalsia meiantha. This is one of the most common tree species at La Selva. Photo by R. Aguilar courtesy of La Flora Digital de la Selva.
The trunk of Goethalsia is light in color, buttressed, and fluted.
Goethalsia trunk with buttresses that grade into a fluted trunk. Note the smooth light colored bark.

Luehea seemannii

Luehea seemannii with alternate leaves with toothed margins, palmate venation, and prominent stipules
Luehea seemannii with alternate leaves with tan undersides, toothed margins, palmate venation, and prominent stipules.
Luehea seemannii showing short petioles, alternate leaves with palmate venation, serrate margins, and prominent stipules.
Hairy stems and leaves of Luehea seemannii.

Trichospermum – fruit is a capsule containing flattened seeds with hairs.

Fruit and seed of Trichospermum.


  • Erwin, T.L. 1982. Tropical Forests: Their Richness in Coleoptera and Other Arthropod Species. The Coleopterists Bulletin 36: 74-75.

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Next family: Ulmaceae > >
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