Cecropia peltata (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Cecropia peltata L.

Protologue: Syst. nat. ed. 10, 2: 1286 (1759).
Family: Cecropiaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 28


Cecropia surinamensis Miq. (1853).

Vernacular names

  • Trumpet tree (En)
  • Indonesia: pohon daun payung (general).

Origin and geographic distribution

C. peltata is native to Central and South America, where it occurs from southern Mexico to Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, northern Brazil and Venezuela. It has been introduced in West and Central Africa, where it has naturalized and spread in some areas, e.g. in Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire. It was also introduced into the botanical gardens of Singapore (1902) and Bogor (Indonesia), and has since become naturalized and is expanding in western Java and Peninsular Malaysia.


The sap and leaves of C. peltata are used extensively in traditional medicine in tropical America. Sometimes bark, roots and fruits are also applied. The acrid, bitter and astringent sap is applied externally to treat snakebites, scorpion stings, ulcers, warts and other skin affections. Fresh or dried leaves are traded on the market, and used in decoctions, infusions or as a tincture to treat asthma, bronchitis, coughs, diabetes, diarrhoea, dysentery, fever, influenza, gonorrhoea, oedema, liver complaints, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, nervous disorders, toothache, sore throat, as a cardiac tonic and diuretic, and to expel the placenta after childbirth. The use of leaves in an infusion to treat asthma and rheumatism has been much advocated.

The wood is sometimes used, e.g. for the manufacture of local musical instruments, insulation board, boxes, crates, matchsticks and paper pulp. The infructescence is edible. Young buds are eaten as a cooked vegetable. The ripe fruit is edible.

Other Cecropia species are also used in traditional medicine in tropical America for similar purposes, e.g. C. obtusifolia Bertol., the leaves of which serve to treat diabetes and as an anti-inflammatory agent.


Proanthocyanidins and leucocyanidins have been found in C. peltata , but flavonols, flavones, ellagic acid, saponins and sapogenins seem to be absent. Extracts of C. peltata showed cytotoxic, antibacterial and antifungal activities. Tests with rats showed that an aqueous leaf extract of C. obtusifolia from Central America has a slight diuretic effect and distinct antihypertensive activity, and that this species has an evident hypoglycaemic action. A 95% ethanol extract exhibited spasmogenic activity on guinea-pig ileum at a concentration of 0.33 ml/l. A leaf extract of C. obtusifolia showed substantial central nervous system depressant, analgesic and muscle relaxant activities in different experimental models.

The wood is very light (specific gravity 0.29-0.35), and is not durable; it is susceptible to termite attack, and is very perishable when in contact with the soil. A satisfactory quality of unbleached pulp can be obtained from the wood.


A small to medium-sized dioecious tree up to 15(-20) m tall, often with prop or stilt roots; stem internodes hollow; watery sap turning blackish after exposure to the air present in terminal branchlets. Leaves arranged spirally, clustered at apices of branches, peltate, umbrella-shaped, 30-50(-90) cm in diameter, radially incised to at least halfway along the blade, with 7-10(-11) ovate, acuminate lobes; petiole long, with 1-2 patches of dense hairs at the base; stipules large, amplexicaul, connate. Inflorescence a pedunculate spike clustered digitately, initially enveloped by a closed spathe. Flowers with tubular perianth; male flowers with 2 stamens; female flowers with a superior, 1-celled ovary. Fruit achene-like, small, 1-seeded. Seed c. 2 mm long, brownish, with endosperm, cotyledons flat. Seedling with epigeal germination, first leaves lanceolate, unlobed and finely toothed.

Seedlings show rapid growth; they may grow to over 2 m in height in one year, occasionally up to 4 m on fertile soils in western Java. Growth in height remains rapid for 4-5 years (up to 2 m/year), but diameter growth is little during this period. Trees reach maximum height after about 10 years, and may survive for another 20 years. Trees in plantations reached an average height of 14 m and 25 cm in diameter after 21 years. They may produce flowers and fruits 3-6 years after germination, but this strongly depends on light conditions. They can be found flowering throughout the year, but peak flowering often occurs during the dry season. The flowers are probably wind-pollinated. Fruits take about 4 months to ripen after emergence of the inflorescence. The seeds are dispersed by animals, usually bats and birds, but they are also water-dispersed. In tropical America, many Cecropia species, including C. peltata , are associated with ants of the genus Azteca . These aggressive ants inhabit the hollow stems, and glycogen-containing food bodies are present in the pads of hairs at the bases of petioles.

Cecropia comprises about 65 species and occurs from Mexico through Central America, the West Indies and South America to Paraguay and Argentina. The major concentration of species is in the northern Andes. Few species have been introduced in other regions, of which C. peltata is the most important one. Cecropia has been classified in Moraceae or Urticaceae , but is now usually placed in the separate family Cecropiaceae , together with 2 other Neotropical genera, the African Musanga and Myrianthus and the Asian-Australian Poikilospermum .


Many Cecropia species are characteristic of early secondary regrowth in the forest, and are valuable in the regeneration of forest following disturbance. They are typically pioneer species growing in forest gaps, roadsides, landslides and plantations. C. peltata grows naturally under these conditions up to 1300 m altitude. In western Java, it grows at altitudes up to 1600 m, e.g. in graveyards and gullies. It prefers clayey or loamy soils. In Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire (Africa) C. peltata has spread extensively as a pioneer species, replacing the indigenous Musanga cecropioides R.Br. ex Tedlie.

Management There are about 2500 air-dried seeds per gram. Seeds require full sunlight for successful germination. In the nursery, seeds are usually germinated under light shade on a seedbed prepared from equal amounts of clay, sand and filter presscake. Under full light conditions the germination rate of seeds may be 90%. Seeds remain viable for 2-3 months on the forest floor, but for over 6 months when stored under optimal laboratory conditions.

Under natural conditions, seedling mortality may be extremely high (99% within the first year). In nursery experiments, seedlings showed 45% mortality during the first 9 months; seedlings planted out in the field when 25-60 cm tall showed a survival rate of up to 80%.

Genetic resources

In its natural area of distribution, C. peltata shows some variation in morphology and in the presence or absence of a symbiotic relation with ants. As a pioneer species with a fairly large area of distribution, it is not under pressure. It seems even capable of expanding rapidly after introduction, particularly in Africa.


C. peltata is interesting for its medicinal properties, and also for other uses (e.g. for pulp production). However, the prospects for South-East Asia are unclear because it has only recently obtained a foothold there. It is certainly capable of growing in this region, but the experiences in tropical Africa where it seems to supersede indigenous species, at least locally, should be a warning against introducing it unconditionally.


122, 431, 646.

Other selected sources

121, 459, 730.

Main genus page


J.W. Hildebrand