Cook Islands Biodiversity & Natural Heritage

Cecropia pachystachya



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General Information

COMMON NAMES: Cecropia, Pumpwood

TRADITIONAL NAMES: Rau-Māniota ???? (RR)

GLOBAL DISTRIBUTION: NATIVE Brazil - Paraquay - Argentina

COOK ISLANDS STATUS: Introduced - Recent, Naturalised; Land, lowlands - mountains (++++)

SIGNIFICANCE LIST: ; Invasive - serious (Rarotonga inland)

KEY FEATURES: Open-branching tree to 15m. BRANCHES hollow with septa. LEAVES terminal clusters, alternate, round to 50cmØ, very deeply dissected into 9-11 lobes; lobes to 30x9cm, with 1-few lateral lobelets; stalk 50cm. FLOWERS sexes on different trees, flowers minute on finger-like spikes; MALE spikes 5-10, to 12x0.6cm, pale yellow; FEMALE spikes 4-5, pale green, 7x0.7cm, expanding with fruit to 15x1.5cm. FRUIT countless, tiny, 3x1mm. SEED ovoid.


Enlarged Image of 'Cecropia pachystachya'

Cook Islands Distribution

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Southern Group: Present    Makatea: -

Northern Group: -

Key to Symbols

Scientific Taxonomy

Cecropia pachystachya Trecul, 1847
SYNONYMS: Cecropia peltata [mistaken GM95]; Cecropia palmata [mistaken, incl. GW]; Cecropia obtusifolia [mistaken of authors]; Cecropia adenopus Mart. ex. Miq.)

TAXONOMY: PLANTAE; ANTHOPHYTA (=Angiospermae); MAGNOLIOPSIDA (=Dicotyledones); HAMAMELIDAE; Urticales; CECROPIACEAE. COMMENT: If CECROPIACEAE is not recognised, then this genus is in MORACEAE.

More Information

NEGATIVE SIGNIFICANCE: Invasive - serious (Rarotonga inland). Comments: Widespread and common invasive in inland Rarotonga from inland valley floors to Cloud Zone. Rapidly colonised any open area. Not present in 1900 Cheeseman flora, and noted as an uncommon tree in the 1920s Wilder survey. No control programme. Finger-like spikes of small flowers and fruits are a favorite food of Pacific Pigeon and Pacific Fruit-bat, which probably assist in its dispersal.

IDENTIFICATION: An open-branching tree to 15m. BRANCHES with core of hollow cylindrical capsules. LEAVES terminal clusters, alternate, ~round, large, to 50cmØ; divided almost to the leaf-base into 9-11(-13) finger-like lobes, central lobe to 30x9cm with 1-3 sub-lobes each side; above green with minute bristles; below downy, pale green; stalk long, to 50cm. FLOWERS unisexual trees; flowers minute on finger-like spikes; MALE spikes, pale yellow, usually 5-6 (4-10), to 12x0.6cmØ, spathe 13cm, stalk 13cm; FEMALE spikes, pale green, usually 4 (3-5), 7x0.7cmØ, spathe 9cm, stalk 9cm; expanding with fruit to 14x1.5cmØ and green. FRUIT tiny, ovoid, 3x1mm. SEED one, ovoid, 2x1mm. In HAWAI‘I obtusifolia differs in having leaf-stalks and veins very dark; MALE spikes longer and more slender (to 18x0.4cmØ, spathe to 20cm); and FEMALE spikes longer and more slender (to 30x0.5cmØ, expanding to 0.9cmØ in fruit, spathe 16-20cm)

GENERAL NOTE: The more than 100 species of Cecropia of Central and South America are famous for supporting colonies of aggressive stinging ants of the genus Azteca. The trees grow one section, called an internode, and then develops another leaf. The lengthening internode has a soft pith surrounded by very hard capsule of sclerenchyma. The pith is withdrawn to leave a hollow cylindrical capsule with a little pith on the walls, and woody tissue grows on the outside of the capsule. The founding queen ant lands on a young sappling and eats through a special structure, the prostoma, to enter and seal herself inside the hollow internodal capsule. Sealed inside she raises her first batch of worker ants. The workers reopen the door and spend their lives gathering the glycogen food beads produced by a special structure, the trichilium, at the base of young leaves. The relationship looks like mutualism, although there is some debate. In some cases the ants prevent the growth of vines and reduce the activity of herbivorous insects, but at other times the tree does not appear to benefit. The ants clearly benefit by having a secure home and a source of food. [adapted from John T. Longino, The Cecropia-Azteca association in Costa Rica, 12/1997, Internet]

Vouchers & References

Rarotonga: specimen, Philipson 10145-US, ID by C.C.Berg as Cecropia pachystachya, MS Cecropia Berg & Rosselli, pers.comm. 5/2003.

p.530-obtus Wagner et al.- Flowering Plants of Hawaii
p.315-obtus Neal - In Gardens of Hawaii
p.238 Hortus 3rd
p.224 Royal Hort. Soc. Index of Garden Plants
p.648 Tropica
p.40 R Wilder - Flora of Rarotonga
p.375b Whistler - Ethnobotany of the Cook Islands
p.98 McCormack/Kunzle - Rarotonga's Mountain Tracks and Plants

Data Update History (information):
zTX, zB02, zupB03a, zM03a, zD03a

Web Resources

Citation Information

McCormack, Gerald (2007) Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Rarotonga. Online at Copy citation to system clipboard
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