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Trees or shrubs, terrestrial or hemi-epiphytic, dioecious, with watery sap turning black at the air. Leaves in spirals; stipules fully amplexicaul, connate; blade basally attached and entire or palmately incised or peltate and radially incised, venation pinnate, (sub)palmate, trinervate or radial. Inflorescences unisexual, pedunculate, branched, with the flowers solitary or clustered in heads or spikes, or unbranched with a single head or spike, bracteate or ebracteate. Staminate flowers with 4-2, free or connate tepals; stamens 4-1; pistillode absent. Pistillate flowers with 4-2, connate tepals; pistil 1, ovary free, unilocular, ovule 1, (sub)basally attached, stigma 1. Fruit an achene or more or less drupaceous, enveloped by a (slightly) enlarged, more or less fleshy perianth; seed small and with endosperm or large and without endosperm; embryo straight, cotyledons equal, flat or thickened.


Guianas present, Neotropics present, Pantropical present
Pantropical; 6 genera with approx. 180-200 species; in the Neotropics 3 genera with approx. 150-170 species; in the Guianas 25 species (and 4 additional ones expected to occur).


Based on wood anatomical characters, the Cecropiaceae belong to the Moraceae (Bonsen & ter Welle, 1983). It is not possible to identify the taxa of the Cecropiaceae among various taxa of the Moraceae. Latex tubes are common in the secondary xylem of most genera of the Moraceae and are also found in some species of Cecropia, Coussapoa and Pourouma.


Vessels diffuse, solitary and in radial multiples and irregular clusters, perforations simple, intervascular pits alternate, round or polygonal.
Rays uniseriate and 2-7-seriate, heterogeneous, cells sometimes containing rhombic crystals.
Parenchyma vasicentric-aliform, confluent or banded, bands irregular, wavy, usually 4-12 cells wide, cells often containing rhombic crystals. Fibres non-septate, with simple pits on the radial walls.


The indument is rather important for the distinction of the taxa. There are three common types of trichomes; (1) unicellular, rather thick, straight, curved, uncinate or more or less crinkled hairs; (2) unicellular, very thin, white or brownish, cobwebby (arachnoid) hairs; and (3) pluricellular hairs, moniliform or more or less contracted, brown or purplish, occurring on young parts, often very dense and in dried material appearing powdery.