Photo: R. Pérez
Description: Tall forest tree with very straight trunk, branches only near the top. The trunk has an unusual form, not cylindrical, but rather flanged, sometimes nearly square in cross-section. At the base, the the flanges usually spread to form narrow, but tall buttresses. The bark peels off readily, leaving a very smooth, naked, light gray trunk, with irregular vertical greenish or dark gray bands. Branches emerge perpendicular to trunk, four from one spot (verticillate branching); each set of horizontal branches can form a distinct layer, separate from the next layer up. Leaves are alternate, oval, with three major veins emerging together from base. Leaf stalk swollen at both ends and scaly.
photos: leaf... tree form... fruit... fruit... fruit... trunk... leaf... leaf-fruit... leaf-fruit... leaf stalk... seedling... bark... flower... leaf-flower... venation... trunk... seedling... flower... leaf-flower...
drawings: tree form... leaf-flower...
Drawing: C. Pizano
Flowers and fruits: Produces yellowish-white flowers during the early part of the wet season; these fall abundantly on the ground below large trees. Fruits are large, eaten by many larger birds and mammals.
Distribution: One of the dominant canopy trees in the Barro Colorado old-growth, otherwise only found occasionally in the forest at Pipeline Rd. and the Fort Sherman area. Never seen in farmland or residential areas.
How to recognize: Medium-sized and large trees are readily recognized by the peculiar, smooth, flanged trunk. Guapira standleyanum on Barro Colorado has a ribbed trunk of the same size and shape as large Q. asterolepis, but it has brown bark, not like the smooth naked trunk of Quararibea. Small Q. asterolepis can easily be confused. Quararibea pterocalyx has similar leaves, lighter in color on the underside, and does not reach such a large size. Easy to confuse are species of Theobroma. One species known only from wet areas at Sherman and Santa Rita, T. bernoulli, has leaves quite like Q. asterolepis, but is just a small treelet. There are other Theobroma species, but only in upland areas and on the Santa Rita ridge.