Photo: R. Pérez
Description: A medium-sized tree with a straight trunk. Smaller trees unbranches, but larger ones sometimes branch once or twice. A single layer of leaves right at the top of the tree. The leaves are very large, composed of 8-10 leaflets which are arranged in a ring (palmately compound). The underside of leaves is a deep brown color, and often visible at great distance when the sun is shining and breezes turn leaves upside down.
photos: tree form... leaf... leaf-flower... flower... leaf-fruit... leaf-fruit... bark... trunk... leaf-flower... seedling... seedling... seedling...
Drawing: R. Pérez
Flowers and fruits: Flowers are small, but produced in large clusters right on the top of the tree during the early wet season. Fruits, produced toward the middle or end of the wet season, are small berries that eaten by many birds.
Distribution: Abundant roadside tree throughout the area, from Pacific to Caribbean. Common in towns, gardens, farmland. Can be numerous in young secondary forest, and is visible on many hillsides between Gamboa and Panama City when dry season winds flip the leaves. Essentially absent in old-growth forest, although could occur in large enough clearings.
How to recognize: There is no other native species in this area with leaves at all similar to Schefflera's. All other palmately-compound leaves are much smaller, and lacking the deep brown underside (see especially Bombacaceae). Several Schefflera species are widely planted as ornamentals in many parts of the world - often as house plants - so there might be one seen in Panama City. But the ornamental Schefflera have green leaf undersides, not brown.
Uses: The long, stiff leaf petioles are sometimes used for buidling bird cages.