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.
Tree to 20 m high with a lifespan of 20-30 years. It has large leaves and a small crown.
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.
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.
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.
Shade intolerant species which dominates early succession.
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.
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.
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.
It is attacked by Historis spp. and various moth species.
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.
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.
Lowland disturbed forests or deforested areas in moist tropical areas. Climate is often seasonal.
Found in a variety of floristic regions.
Sometimes the tree is extensively defoliated in Cameroon.
Competes with or appear to displace native pioneer trees. Impact on vegetation succession unknown.
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.
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.
No obvious differences between the successional status, habitat requirements or susceptibility to herbivores between the native and invaded regions are noticeable.