The West Indian or bay cedar, (Guazuma ulmifolia Lam.) Is an arboreal species belonging to the Malvaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
G. ulmifolia species. The terms are synonymous:
– Guazuma guazuma (L.) Cockerell;
– Guazuma polybotrya Cav .;
– Guazuma tomentosa Kunth;
– Theobroma guazuma L ..
The term Guazuma comes from the vernacular name used in the West Indies.
The specific epithet ulmifolia, comes from the genus Ulmus and from folium leaf: with leaves similar to those of elms.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Guazuma ulmifolia is a species native to Central America and South America.
Its range of expansion is in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. We find it in the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Montserrat, countries Netherlands, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and the Virgin Islands (USA).
Its habitat is that of the disturbed pastures and forests of the dry and humid tropics, where it is found at altitudes of up to 1,200 meters.
Guazuma ulmifolia is a tree that grows up to 30 m in height and 30-40 cm in diameter and with a rounded crown.
The leaves, hairless and thin, are distributed in an alternate pattern with 2 rows assembled flat. They are ovate to lanceolate in shape, finely serrated and usually with a rough texture; they are 6–13 cm long and 2.5–6 cm in diameter. In them we can identify from three to five main veins deriving from the base; they are also darker in color in the upper part and lighter in the lower part. The leaves have slender stems, about 6-12 mm long, and are covered with small “star-shaped” hairs.
The flowers are gathered in panicles with a branched pattern of about 2.5–5 cm in length and are located in the lower part of the leaves. The numerous flowers have a short, small, yellow-brown stem in five parts, 1 cm long and have a small fragrance. The calyxes contained are lobed (2-3), have brown or light gray hair, as well as greenish. They have 5 petals with one stamen, 15 anthers per pistil, 5 stigmas (combined), lighter green colored ovary with hair and also contains a stylus.
The tree can flower all year round in the most equatorial part of its range, in particular from April to October.
The fruit is formed by round to elliptical capsules and has a length of 15-25 mm. inside we find many seeds that have the shape of eggs and are 3 mm long, gray in color.
Guazuma ulmifolia is an evergreen tree, except in areas with a long dry season.
This plant is harvested in its natural state for use in modern South American herbal medicine.
The plant is grown in India and Sri Lanka and is often planted as a shade and ornamental tree in other areas of the tropics.
It is a fast growing plant that grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are in the range of 22 – 32 ° C, but can tolerate 10 – 36 ° C.
It prefers average annual rainfall between 700 and 1,500 mm, but tolerates between 500 and 1,700 mm, being able to grow in areas with rainfall up to 2,500 mm of annual rainfall.
It prefers a sunny position and is adapted and grows in both alluvial and clayey soils. From a pedological point of view it grows on a variety of soils, but is more common where the pH is above 5.5, preferring a pH between 6 and 7, tolerating up to 7.5.
It is a plant that, under optimal conditions, can escape cultivation and become a weed in areas outside its native range.
Guazuma ulmifolia can be grown by directly planting seeds or cuttings of the plant, but also root stumps and bare root seedlings. Before planting the seeds, they must be soaked in boiling water for 30 seconds; the water should be drained afterwards. Germination occurs 7-14 days after the fresh seeds are planted, with a rate of 60-80%. When they reach a height of 30-40 cm, which is usually about 15 weeks later, the seedlings are prepared for transplant. When using root stumps as a propagation medium, they are planted in a nursery for some time until the diameter of the stem reaches 1.5-2.5 cm, which is usually about 5-8 months.
Customs and Traditions –
Guazuma ulmifolia is a plant with multiple uses, from food to medicinal and various other uses.
From the food point of view, its seeds can be eaten both fresh and cooked; the fruits are also edible and can be crushed and macerated in water to make a drink or used to flavor other foods. The fruits smell of honey.
From a medicinal point of view it is a plant with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antitussive, antiviral, astringent, blood purifying, cardiac, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, febrifugal, haemostatic, hypotensive, oxytocic, vulnerary properties.
The bark is a rich source of tannins and antioxidant chemicals called proanthocyanidins; among these in particular, procyanidin B-2, which has been shown in various studies to help promote hair growth and relieve baldness.
According to other studies, procyanidin B-2 also has anticancer effects (including against melanoma), lowers blood pressure and protects the kidneys.
The bark also contains a chemical called kaurenoic acid which has been documented with antibacterial and antifungal properties in many studies over the years.
The leaves contain caffeine which was not found in the bark of the tree.
Other studies have shown that the plant lowers heart rate and blood pressure, relaxes smooth muscle and stimulates the uterus. Other research on leaf and bark extracts has clinically demonstrated remarkable antibacterial activity against various pathogenic pathogens, including Bacillus, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, E. coli and Neisseria gonorrhea.
A recent study from 2003 also confirmed its antioxidant effects while another research also demonstrated antiviral activity.
The bark is the most used part of this plant for healing purposes. It is used to induce sweating, as a blood tonic and purifier and is used to treat a wide range of ailments including; digestive tract problems such as gastrointestinal pain, liver problems, diarrhea and dysentery; urinary and reproductive tract problems, kidney problems, uterine pain, prostate problems, STDs and help with childbirth; respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, cough and pneumonia, fevers and bleeding.
Other uses include agroforestry ones. It is in fact a pioneer plant that colonizes recently disturbed areas, is fast growing, tolerates full sunlight and provides food for native fauna. It can be used as a pioneer species during the restoration of native woods, but it is better not to use it outside its native range as it can become a pest.
The hard and fibrous bark of this plant is used and the young stems are used to make ropes and twine. Mucilaginous sap is sometimes used in the manufacture of sugar to clarify the syrup.
The heartwood, which ranges from pink to brownish, is not clearly delimited by the light brown sapwood. It has a coarse texture, with a straight and intertwined grain size and a medium luster; it has no distinctive taste or aroma. The wood is fibrous and light; it is not durable, being very susceptible to attack by termites when it becomes dry.
It is easy to work with and finish. It is used for poles, interior joinery, light construction, furniture, boxes and crates, shoe horns, tool handles etc.
The tree can be used as a fuel and to produce high-quality charcoal.
The plant is also a very important source of forage for livestock when the end of the dry season in the arid areas of the areas of origin approaches. In Jamaica it is the preferred tree for forage. The trees also serve to give shade to the pastures. The unripe fruits and leaves are fed to horses and cattle. The fruits are also given to pigs in Puerto Rico. The leaves and fruits are usually fed to livestock during the dry season.
Preparation Method –
The bark of Guazuma ulmifolia is applied externally and used to wet wounds, rashes and sores; to treat skin problems, including dermatosis, elephantiasis and leprosy; it is applied to the scalp to stop hair loss and fight parasites on the scalp.
In Mauritius the fruit, in Java, the toasted seeds and in India the bark are medicinal remedies against elephantiasis.
From the crushed seeds immersed in water, an infusion is prepared which is used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, colds, coughs and venereal diseases. It is also used as a diuretic and astringent.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.