Trees, Shrubs, and Palms of Panama

Trees, Shrubs, and Palms of Panama

Pseudobombax septenatum (Jacq.) Dugand

Family: Malvaceae

Common names: barrigon

Photo: R. Pérez

Description: A large tree with a tall straight trunk which is usually swollen at the base, with small buttresses below. The bark has vertical green lines, especially prominent in juveniles, but usually still visible even in large trees. Like the other Bombacaceae, the crown is concentrated at the top of the tree, and the trunk is unbranched for most of its length. Leaves are palmately compound, usually with 7 leaflets.

photos: trunk... leaf... tree form... young leaf... fruit... bark... flower... flower... trunk... leaf... seedling... seedling... bark... seedling...

drawings: leaf-flower...

Drawing: R. Pérez

Flowers and fruits: A highly deciduous species, dropping all its leaves in December and regrowing them with the rains in April or May. Like several Bombacaceae, the trunk stores water during the dry season, and this is used to fill flowers and fruits. Flowers are very distinctive, a ball of white stamen that looks like a cheerleader's pom-pom. They open at night, are pollinated by bats, and fall to the ground the next morning, so during the early dry season, big Pseudobombax usually have white pom-poms beneath them. Various mammals eat the flowers. The fruits are pods with green or brown lines, maturing at the end of the dry season, when they break open to produce tiny seeds with cottony filaments.

Distribution: A tree of secondary forest throughout the area, occasionally along roads and on farmland. It is common in secondary forest near Panama City, and on the limestone rock near Madden Dam, somewhat less common in the secondary woods around Gamboa and at Pipeline Rd. Scarce as a few large trees in old growth of Barro Colorado and Soberania, and rare on the Caribbean side. Like the other large Bombacaceae ( ceibpe Ceiba and cavapl Cavanillesia ), this species does not produce saplings within forest, and juveniles are seldom seen anywhere.

How to recognize: Ceiba pentandra, Pachira quinata, and Pachira sessilis are the most similar species. None of them have the green lines in the bark like Pseudobombax. Pseudobombax has wider, more oval leaflets than Ceiba, and much smaller buttresses. As a juvenile, Pseudobombax has conspicuous green lines on the trunk and no spines; Pachira sessilis is also spineless but has no green lines. See also Jacaratia spinosa, which has palmate leaves like these four Bombacaceae, but never has buttresses.

Uses: This species occasionally appears in living fences in Panama's interior. The cotton-like seed filaments are used for pillows, as in Ceiba, the kapok tree.