Guazuma ulmifolia

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Related Links
G. ulmifolia is one of the most common trees in agricultural areas in Latin America found in fields, secondary vegetation and fencelines. It typically forms a small tree with a compact rounded crown as here in coastal Oaxaca, Mexico.
© Colin E. Hughes
G. ulmifolia managed by pollarding in live fences, near Los Santos, Panama.
© Colin E. Hughes
Leaves of G. ulmifolia provide a highly palatable, moderately nutritious livestock fodder, being fed to goats in coastal Oaxaca, Mexico.
© Colin E. Hughes
Immature fruit and foliage on trees in three-year old trial at Choluteca, Honduras
© Anthony Simons
Trial planting: Three-year-old trial planting of G. ulmifolia at Chitre, Panama. The trees are virtually leafless during the mid-dry season and there is a heavy litter layer.
© Colin Hughes
Flowers and fruits: Flowers (pale greenish yellow, axillary and scented), and fruits, unripe (green) and ripe (black). Fruits are blackish, woody, globular, 5-celled capsules (Bolivar, Colombia).
© Colin Hughes

Local names:
Bengali (nipaltunth), English (bastard cedar,bay cedar,pigeon wood,West Indian elm), French (bois de hêtre,bois d'homme,bois d'orme), Portuguese (fruta-de-macaco,embira,mutamba,orme d'Amérique,pojó,bois d'orme), Spanish (guácima,coco,contamal,cualote,gua

Guazuma ulmifolia grows to 30 m in height and 30-40 cm in diameter with a rounded crown. Young twigs covered with rust-brown or light grey star-shaped hairs. Bark grey or grey-brown becoming furrowed and rough or slightly shaggy.

Leaves alternate in 2 rows in flattened arrangement, ovate to lance-shaped, 6-13 cm long, 2.5-6 cm wide, long-pointed, finely saw-toothed, with 3 or sometimes 5 main veins from rounded or notched unequal-sided base, thin, nearly hairless or sometimes densely hairy, green upper surface, paler underneath; at night hanging vertically. Leaf stalks slender, 6-12 mm long, covered with tiny star-shaped hairs.

Flower clusters (panicles) branched, 2.5-5 cm long, at the base of leaves. Flowers many, short stalked, small, brownish-yellow, with 5 parts, about 1 cm long and half as broad, spreading, slightly fragrant. Calyx with 2-3 lobes, with rusty brown or light grey hairs, turned back, and then greenish; 5 yellow petals, each 2-forked; a yellowish stamen column with about 15 anthers surrounding the pistil, which has a hairy, light-green 5-celled ovary, style and 5 united stigmas.

Fruit round to elliptical capsules, very warty, hard, black, 15-25 mm long, 5-celled, opening at tip or irregularly by pores. Seeds many, egg-shaped, 3 mm long, grey.

The specific epithet alludes to its elm-like leaves.


G. ulmifolia is widely adapted, growing in alluvial and clay soils, and in humid and dry climates. A pioneer species that grows best in full sunlight, it colonizes recently disturbed areas and is also found growing along stream banks and in pastures. It is a common species in secondary forest.

Native range
Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Montserrat, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Virgin Islands (US)

Tree management

Regular pruning can increase the fodder yield. In a study in Honduras, G. ulmifolia pruned 4 times in a year produced 10 kg/tree dry matter (leaves and young stems).

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox. There are 100 000-225 000 seeds/kg.

G. ulmifolia is widely adapted, growing in alluvial and clay soils, and in humid and dry climates. A pioneer species that grows best in full sunlight, it colonizes recently disturbed areas and is also found growing along stream banks and in pastures. It is a common species in secondary forest.

G. ulmifolia can be established by direct seeding or by planting cuttings, root stumps or bare-root seedlings. Seeds require scarification before planting. Pour boiling water over the seeds, let them soak for 30 seconds and then drain. With fresh seed, germination occurs in 7-14 days at a rate of 60-80%. Seedlings are ready for out-planting when they reach a height of 30-40 cm (about 15 weeks). With root stumps, plants are left in the nursery for 5-8 months or until they reach a stem diameter of 1.5-2.5 cm.

 The seeds are edible, fresh or cooked.

Fodder: In dry areas throughout its native range, G. ulmifolia is an important source of fodder for livestock, particularly at the end of the dry season when pasture grasses are not available. Immature fruit and leaves are fed to horses and cattle, and fruits are fed to hogs. Farmers feed the leaves and fruit to cattle, usually during the dry season. Crude protein content of young leaves ranges from 16 to 23% and of stems 7 to 8%. In vitro dry matter digestibility for young leaves ranges from 56 to 58% and of stems 31 to 36%. Basal leaves contain 2.4% tannins (dry matter). 

Apiculture: Honeybees forage on the flowers.

G. ulmifolia can be used for firewood and charcoal.

Fibre: The tough, fibrous bark and young stems are used to make rope and twine.

Timber: The wood is used for posts, interior carpentry, light construction, boxes and crates, shoe horns and tool handles. The sapwood is light brown and the heartwood pinkish to brownish. The wood is easy to work, with a specific gravity of 550-570 kg/cubic m.

Shade or shelter: Naturally regenerated trees are left scattered in pastures to provide shade.

Medicine: An infusion of crushed seed soaked in water is used to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, colds, coughs and venereal diseases. It is also used as a diuretic and astringent.