Photo by Jenn Sinasac
The Cuipo is a huge emergent tree of the lowland rainforests from Nicaragua to Peru. A member of the family Malvaceae (which includes the majestic baobab trees of Africa), this species is easily recognizable by its immense size, growing up to 60 meters tall. The tall straight trunk can grow to 2.5 meters in diameter, and has smooth gray or reddish bark with distinct circular rings every few meters. It is swollen at the base but has no buttress roots. The crown of the Cuipo tree is relatively flat at the base and nicely rounded on the top, and usually emerges above the forest canopy. Leaves are round in mature trees and square-shaped in young trees; however, the Cuipo can be without leaves for up to 11 months of the year, an adaption for water conservation during the dry season. This tree flowers then fruits between March and May. Flowers are reddish-brown and form on the ends of branches. Fruits are large, oblong green pods, 15 cm long, with five “wings” for dispersal; they turn a brilliant pink over time. The seeds are edible and taste like peanuts! The Guna people of Panama believe that the Cuipo can be a cure for underweight conditions, and its rubbery resin is used to heal infected wounds. The soft wood is used for house construction and dugout canoes. The Cuipo tree is considered near-threatened, primarily due to habitat destruction, and they are very important as this species is one of the few large emergent trees that Harpy Eagles use for nest sites. Cuipo trees can be found from Nicaragua to Peru. These fantastic trees can be found around the Canopy Tower, and the world’s largest remaining population of Cuipo trees is found in Darién.
Cool Fact! The Cuipo has the softest wood ever recorded—a Janka Hardness of 22 lbf.