Cecropia peltata L. (Cecropiaceae)

Short-lived light demanding tree from tropical America introduced to African and Malaysian botanical gardens or as a shade tree in Ivory Coast. Spreading in disturbed areas, lava flows and forest gaps without displacing native equivalents.

Species characteristics

Life form, size, lifespan

Tree to 20 m high with a lifespan of 20-30 years. It has large leaves and a small crown.

Taxonomy, variation and plasticity

The current work on the taxonomy of the genus Cecropia suggest that C. peltata L. (central America), C. pachystachya Trécul (southern America) and C. concolor Willd (Amazon basin) should be regarded as part of the C. peltata complex as they have strong morphological similarities (specimen of unknown origin can not be adequately defined) but have somewhat distinct geographical and/or ecological ranges. Usually evergreen but may be deciduous in areas with a pronounced dry season.

Reproductive biology

C. peltata is dioecious and becomes sexually mature in 3 to 5 years. The minute flowers are clustered on 5 to 10 cm long spikes and are wind-pollinated. On female individuals the minute one-seeded fruits form large fruit clusters which appear to take around a month to mature. A spike contains around 800 viable seeds which are about 1.9 mm long and weigh 1.6 mg. In Trinidad bats eat large quantities of the succulent fruits, thus are the main seed disperser although birds also distribute the seeds. In Costa Rica a similar amount of fruits are consumed during the day, mainly by monkeys, and at night by bats and arboreal mammals. A large and persistent seedbank is formed in the forest soil. In Costa Rica flowering and fruiting are seasonal lasting about 9 months with a peak of 4 months during the early part of the wet season.

Resilience and resistance

In most of its native range C. peltata is inhabited by stinging ants which were thought to protect the tree from herbivory, however in Puerto Rico, where ants are not associated with the species, trees thrive. C. peltata coppices freely following cutting.

Environmental requirements and successional status

Shade intolerant species which dominates early succession.

Products and uses

The light wood variously used for matchsticks, boxes and crates, interior boarding and paper pulp. Hollow branches and trunks are used to make floats, gutters and trumpets. In places the leaves, latex or bark are employed in medicinal remedies.

Status in native range

Range and abundance

The three sub-species of the C. peltata complex are distributed as follows: C. peltata in Central America, northern South America and some Caribbean islands, C. pachystachya from central and eastern Brazil to northern Argentina and C. concolor in the Amazon basin. In Puerto Rico C. peltata is one of the most abundant trees. In many parts of its range the species abundance has increased following human related disturbance. In natural forests it is common but patchily distributed.


Moist tropical and sub-tropical regions, but is absent from dry coastal and dry limestone areas.

Site requirements

Regenerates freely as soon as open areas are formed. In natural forests it only becomes established in large gaps and often fails to reach sexual maturity in gaps <150 m2.


It is abundant in open areas and in logged and natural forests throughout Puerto Rico and is generally considered to be a weed tree.

Pests and diseases

It is attacked by Historis spp. and various moth species.

Status in invaded regions

History of introductions and intensity of invasions

The tree was introduced to a number of botanical gardens in Cameroon (Limbe formerly Victoria: early 20th century), Zaire (Eala, 1911) and Java (Bogor). In 1953 a trial plot was set up in Malaysia using seeds from Bogor and the species was introduced to Ivory Coast in 1910 as a shade tree in coffee plantations. In 1953 trial plantations were set up in Malaysia. Since the Eala and Bogor material originated from Brazil they would therefore appear to be C. pachystachya, whereas the identity of the Cameroon and Ivory Coast plants is unclear as their origin is unknown.

Patterns of invasion and time-lag

In the three African regions where C. peltata was introduced, the species has been spreading in disturbed areas in competition with native 'pioneer' species. In Cameroon C. peltata has spread into the gaps of a natural forests where its native equivalent Musanga cecropioides is still 2.5% more common. It has also been recorded as colonizing old lava flows on Mt Cameroon. Along roadsides pure stands may be encountered. In most regions the tree started to spread soon after the introduction. However, in the Ivory Coast the rate of spread was very slow for the first six decades and only after the destruction of most the forest cover did the speed of its spread increase markedly.

Site and climate

Lowland disturbed forests or deforested areas in moist tropical areas. Climate is often seasonal.

Floristic region and vegetation types

Found in a variety of floristic regions.

Pests and diseases

Sometimes the tree is extensively defoliated in Cameroon.

Impact on ecosystem

Competes with or appear to displace native pioneer trees. Impact on vegetation succession unknown.

Impact on humans and related activities

No reports have been made. The tree would probably be regarded as another weedy species without any particularly obnoxious features.


Control of C. peltata has not been reported.

Ecological differences

Existence of ecological equivalent species and competitive interactions in invaded regions

In tropical Africa C. peltata appear to be displacing or at least competing with an ecologically equivalent tree Musanga cecropioides R. Br. ex Tedlie. Both trees are taxonomically related and morphologically similar. C. peltata appears to grow faster and is more commonly found on exhausted agricultural soils. Under greenhouse conditions seed germination of the native species is much harder to achieve than that of the exotic. In Malaysia native pioneer species regenerate in smaller forest gaps, produce larger seeds, grow slower in full sunlight and suffer from higher leaf loss rates than C. peltata.

Differences in status and ecology between invaded and native ranges

No obvious differences between the successional status, habitat requirements or susceptibility to herbivores between the native and invaded regions are noticeable.

Selected references

* Ake Assi, L. (1979) Cecropia peltata L. (Moracées): ses origines, introduction et expansion dans l'est de la Côte d'Ivoire. In Kunkel, G. (ed.) Taxonomic aspects of African economic botany, pp. 140-145.
* Bouharmont, J. (1954) Recherches sur les parasoliers congolais (Musanga cecropioides R.Br. et Cecropia leucocoma Miq.). 1. Les conditions favorable à la germination. Agricultura (Louvain) sér. 2, 83-107.
• • Brokaw, N.V.L. (1998) Cecropia schreberiana in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico. Bot. Rev. 64, 91-120.
• • Fleming, T.H. & Williams, C.F. (1990) Phenology, seed dispersal, and recruitment in Cecropia peltata (Moraceae) in Costa Rican tropical dry forest. J. Trop. Ecol. 6, 163-178.
* Léonard, J. (1951) Note systématique sur les parasoliers au Congo belge (Musanga et Cecropia - Moracées). Bull. agric. Congo Belge 42, 951-964.
* McKey, D. (1988) Cecropia peltata, an introduced neotropical pioneer tree, is replacing Musanga cecropioides in south-western Cameroon. Biotropica 20, 262-264.
• Putz, F.E. (1983) Treefall pits and mounds, buried seeds, and the importance of soil disturbance to pioneer trees on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Ecology 64, 1069-1074.
* Putz, F.E. & Holbrook, N.M. (1988) Further observations on the dissolution of mutualism between Cecropia and its ants: the Malaysian case. Oikos 53, 121-125.
#• Silander, S.R. & Lugo, A.E. (1990) Cecropia peltata L. - Yagrumo Hembra, trumpet-tree. US Dept Agric., Agric. Handb. 654, 244-249.
* Wetterer, J.K. (1997) Ants on Cecropia in Hawaii. Biotropica 29, 128-132.

Pierre Binggeli

September 1999