Native Trees of Costa Rica A-Z
Aceituno Simaruba glauca DC. Not to be confused with aceituna (olive), it is a medium-sized tree with smooth bark. They were once exported to the USA to produce molds, but have since been replaced by white pine.. For more Information: Click here.
Almendro de montaña Andira inermis Kunth ex DC.A popular shade and ornamental tree. The wood is unusually hard and the fruit and seeds are edible. The young saplings are a favorite to ants. The fruits and bark are toxic. We understand that this species is quite scarce.
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Almendro de playa Terminalia catappaA popular shade and ornamental tree. The wood is unusually hard and the fruit and seeds are edible. The young saplings are a favorite to ants. The fruits and bark are toxic. We understand that this species is quite scarce. For more Information: Click here.
Balsa Ochroma pyramidale Also known as balso, it's a medium sized, straight tree. The wood has been used due to its strength and lightness. It's been used for model airplanes, floats and dental molds. The Indigenous use it to craft their masks. It was even used for British bombers in the Second World War. For more Information: Click here.
Bálsamo Myroxylon balsamumAlso known as sandalo, this large tree has been used for shade for coffee and pharmaceuticals. In Costa Rica, its use is more common for floors due to its strength and color. For more Information: Click here.
Casco de venado Bauhinia variegata, Bauhinia monandraTranslated as "Deer hooves", the name comes from the leaves which partially split into two look like hooves. There are several different varieties. It's a small to medium sized tree good for shade. The ants like this one too. For more Information: Click here.
Caña fistula Cassia fistulaA small to medium sized tree with beautiful yellow flowers. Originally from Asia, these are now quite common in Costa Rica and like drier climates. Also known as "Cassia llunia de oro" (Golden shower cassia), it is considered one of the more beautiful flowering trees in the world. For more Information: Click here.
Cedro amargo Cedrela odorataA large tree which produces valuable wood. The pleasant odor makes it naturally highly resistant to insects. For more Information: Click here.
Cedro dulce Cedrela tonduzii C. DC.Also a large tree, this species is softer and more difficult to work with. It is not insect resistant, at least not as a sapling. For more Information: Click here.
Cenízaro amarillo Abarema acreana (J.F. Macbr) L. RicoAlso called Ajillo, arenillo, cenízaro macho, cola de pavo, guavo de montaña, ojo de gringo, and Gringo's eye wood.
CocoboloA small to medium sized tree with beautiful dark-green leaves. The beautiful wood is so beautiful and popular among artisans that it quite valuable and very scarce. It needs to be protected.
Cornizuelo Acacia collinsiiThe Cornizuelo is one of the more easily identifiable trees due to its thorns in the form of horns. Ants live in these horns and the tree and ants depend on each other. The ants protect the tree from climbing vines and competitors while the tree provides shelter and sugary secretions from the tree. For more Information: Click here.
Cortez Amarillo (Yellow bark)Grows to medium size. It is one of the more common and popular flowering trees. The wood is dark, heavy, durable and resistant.
Coyol Acrocomia aculeataThe Coyol is a common pasture palm that can survive fires and cattle. It grows to 10m tall and has a spiny trunk and leaves.Leaves are pinnately compound up to 3 m long. The fruit and the heart of the seed are edible. For more Information: Click here.
CristóbalThis tree is in danger of extinction! It grows very slowly. The wood is attractive for furniture and in high demand. It's a favorite for marimba keys due to the resonant sound.
GallinazoThese grow fast and tall, and have noticeable purple-blue flowers. They are commonly found in secondary forests and do best in low, humid climates. Its wood was at one time exported to the US.
GuanacasteThis is Costa Rica’s national tree and grows to an enormous size (up to 2.5 meters in diameter!). There are various varieties and uses vary from food and shade trees for cattle to wood for building.
GuarumoThese can also grow quite tall. Their large leaves have been used in building materials, table ornaments and for a variety of medicinal purposes including weight loss. Some varieties have seeds that attract birds. Others are popular habitats for ants. (Just cut off a branch and watch them fall out!)
Ciprés (Cipress)These have been introduced primarily in high altitude areas as ornamental trees and for wind protection. The wood is good for construction and furniture, but the tree is most popularly known for its use as Christmas trees.
Elequeme (Poró)There are several varieties of Poro with slender, orange flowers. The bean-like seeds have a strong red color. Commonly used as live fence (cerca viva).
EspavelThe fruit is like a small marañon and sweet and delicious. The bark is used to intoxicate fish for consumption. The tree is very tall and commonly found by rivers in low, hot climates.
Eucalipto (Eucalyptus)There are different varieties but they are not native to the Americas. The delicious smelling leaves are used for ornaments and infusions.
Fruta de pan (Bread Fruit)Found in low climates, they do well in both dry and wet areas. The large, elliptical fruits are great for slicing up and frying!
Guayacán, Guayacán carboncillo Acosmium panamenseThe guayacan is a medium-sized tree with 7-13 leaflets per odd pinnate, alternate leaf. The tree is found in low areas, dry and humid. For more Information: Click here.
Güititi (pronounced Witite)Another common tree, the güitite has a corky, spongy bark which makes it ideal for your orquides and other epiphytes. It can be propagated with branch cuttings. The yellow fruits attract birds. For more Information: Click here.
Higo (Fig)This bush-sized tree is not native to Costa Rica but has been planted in gardens for its leaves and fruit. Sweet, dried figs can sometimes be found in markets. The leaves are sometimes used to make “chiverre”, giving it pleasing taste and aroma.
Indio Denudo (Naked Indian)This is one of the easiest trees to identify with its reddish, peeling bark. It is commonly used for live fences. In Mexico, its wood has been used to make matches, in Costa Rica for weight loss.
ItaboUsed to as an ornamental plant/tree to prevent erosion. Its flower is edible and considered by some as a delicacy in salads or with tuna. Be careful to only cook the flower petals. Other parts will make the food very bitter.
Jacaranda(Remember, J´s in Spanish are pronounced like H´s) - It’s actually native to Argentina but now commonly found in Costa Rica as an ornamental tree. A row of Jacarandas can be seen lining the road on the south end of La Sabana Park in San Jose.
JicaroA good shade tree, these do well in dry climates. The large, green, hard-shelled fruits serve for many purposes from food and juice to containers, bowls and spoons, as well as artistic ornaments.
JoboThe young leaves are edible and if you happen to have a nearby monkey population, the small fruits a favorite.
JocoteCommonly used for live fences due to their fast growth, their fruits are popular and are sold in the markets. The fruit can be used to make a marmalade called “Jocotada”.
Lagarto and LargartilloThese come in a variety of species, some medium and some tall. Some have thorns and some do not. Some have thorns only when the tree is young. We have not yet been able to identify our young tree, but it does provide small fruits which attract lots of birds.
Laurel de la IndiaThis is one of the more common trees and certainly one of the easiest to identify. The leaves are dark and green all year round and are commonly seen trimmed into various shapes. Be careful when planting these near any construction such as a road or a pool because the roots are known lift up the cement. It is a great shade tree.
Laurel Negro (Laurel del campo)The wood from this tree is very resistant to insects. It has been commonly used for shade trees on coffee plantations and for reforestation. The tree often has growths on its branches which house ants.
Limon acido (Limon agrio)There are different species of limon acido but only one of the limon dulce. Limon dulce is commonly eaten like an orange. But it is the limon acido varieties that are used for juices, fish, party beverages, cooking, etc. It is actually native to Indonesia. Ants love citrus tree leaves so you should take some preventative measures.
Llama del bosqueThis a hardy tree which does well in dry and wet climates as well as high and low altitudes. Its beautiful red-orange flowers make it a favorite! Although it grows fast, it is supposed to have a relatively short life and it's a bit weak so shouldn't be planted by buildings.
LoritoThere are several species of Lorito. One is easy to recognize because it is the only native species in rainy, middle altitudes that has bipinnate leaves. But it is small and has no economic value. The tall species of Lorito (also known as Ardillo) has an excellent quality wood used for floors, doors and furniture. In the Osa Peninsula, you can find then up to 2m in diameter. The third species is medium in height and its wood is light, hard and used for furniture and building details.
MaderonNegroIt is commonly used for live fences, coffee plantation shade trees, and bases for small constructions. The wood is very hard and resistant to rotting.
MadroñoThis is Nicaragua´s national tree. It produces a fine wood, its bark is used to treat stomach ulcers, and its flowers are used to make a tea to treat for diahrrea.
MalincheThis tree is native to Madagascar but is now popular in Costa Rica for its red-orange flowers. Its light brown seeds have been used for making necklaces and bracelets.
Native to northern South America, the mamon has been planted in Costa Rica for its shade and fruit. Green mamon stays green even in relatively dry climates. Mamon Chino is commonly found in local market and is grown in low, humid climates. Both have small sweet fruits to suck on. The name comes from the word "mamar" which means to suck. Supposedly, the seed can also be toasted and eaten.
MangoThis fruit tree is originally from SE Asia but has become part of the traditional food culture of Costa Rica. It has been produced principally in the Pacific zones for export and local consumption. There are many varieties including manga, el criollo, and el anis.
Manzana de aguaKnown for its juicy, red, spongy fruits, which are commonly found at local farmers´ markets and roadside stands. Our trees produce flowers and fruits biannually.
Manzana rosaThe fruits of this tree are appreciated or their delicate taste and aroma. This tree grows in almost any soil and can be planted from seeds or cuttings. The leaf is used for eye infections, fever and rheumatism. The roots have been used for epilepsy.
MarañonThe single seed (cashew) from each fruit is toasted. But locally, the fruit is eaten or the juice sucked out and the seed thrown away. Beware because the juice leaves permanent stains.
Naranja agria (sour oranges) It is used for everything from making juice and marmalade to cleaning chickens. It is also used as the base for grafting sweet lemons (limon dulce).
Naranja or Naranja dulce (sweet orange)The fruit is similar to the naranja agria but more yellow, with a solid center and a sweet pulp. A variety of this, the Washington, is from Brazil and has no seeds.
NisperoThe wild Níspero has smaller fruits than the commercial variety which has larger, very sweet fruits. Its wood is used in docks due to its resistance to marine organisms.
NogalOriginally from the Old World, these trees grow very large and produce edible, but hard to crack nuts.
PapayaThis tree is exceptionally valuable in the tropics for its nutritional value and continuous production. You can buy them at any local market and plant the seeds. Be choosy and wait until you find one that is to your liking before planting. There is an insect which injects its eggs into the fruit. The larva later causes it to rot inside. We use the insecticide, Basudin, every few weeks (more frequently in the rainy season) with good results.
Peine de Mico (Comb of the Monkey)The edible fruits resemble a comb. The seeds contain oil which can be used to treat rheumatism. The bark fiber has been used to make rope.
Pejibaye (peach palm)The fruits are boiled, pealed and eaten with mayonnaise. The trees are quite tall and the bark is covered with nasty sharp thorns.
Pino aguja (Needle Pine)These have been introduced primarily in high altitude areas as ornamental trees and for wind protection. The wood is good for construction and furniture, but the tree is most popularly known for its use as Christmas trees.
Poro PoroThis tree has noting in common with the Poró. It is a small to medium height tree with beautiful yellow flowers. It is found in medium and low altitudes and does well in both dry and humid climate. The wood is soft and not particularly useful although it has been said that the bark is used for making rope and "chicha".
Roble de sabanaThis is the national tree of El Salvador and is appreciated for its explosive flowering in the dry season. It sheds its leaves and its crown fills with white and pink flowers. The wood is clear and its appearance is similar to that of the Quercus Roble, hence, that is where it gets its name.
Ron-ronThis is an endangered tree! Its wood is highly value due to its heaviness, resistance to rotting, and beautiful coloring. Found in both dry and humid climates. It is easily identifiable due to its pleasant smelling, reddish leaves.
SaragundiIt is identifiable by it oblong leaves in 2 to 12 pairs and 10cm long. They are most commonly found in low, humid climates. They are often used for temporary shade for young trees and nurseries. The leaves close at night. The leaves are used as a popular medicine for arthritis.
TamarindoThe tree grows to a large size. The leaves come with 10 to 18 pairs of leaflets. The pulp is used to make a poplar fruit drink and easy to conserve and also available in most stores all year. Found in low elevations of both dry and humid climates.
TempisqueThis is another scarce and threatened species and found mostly in northeast Guanacaste and Puntarenas. It can also be found in Santa Ana and Ciudad Colon, but with less frequency. The wood is hard and resistant to decay. It has been used for fence posts, construction and wood crafting. The fruit is edible.
VainilloThese are perhaps the most common and hardy of the dry climate trees. They seem to be able to grow anywhere and in the dry season, there is an abundance of beautiful yellow flowers. You won't likely have to buy these…they are found everywhere. They have been used for firewood, live fences and shade trees for coffee.
Text, research and pictures by Bruce Jacob, Ciudad Colón Costa Rica.