The arboretum, located at STRI’s headquarters in Panama City, is home to a surprising range of ecological interactions.
Several trees, orchids, shrubs, epiphytes, cacti and fruit trees have been either planted or maintained at the arboretum. Besides humans, birds, butterflies and agoutis frequently visit the site.
These are just a couple of examples of what is found in the arboretum:
Common name: espavé
This one of the most abundant trees in the vicinity of Panama City and Gamboa, and can also be found on both sides of the Canal and in much of the country’s Pacific slope (It is much less common on the Atlantic). In some areas it forms nearly pure stands and it can be especially frequent along streams. No other huge tree in the area is as widespread as the espave, so it is easy to recognize its largish leaves, large trunk, dark bark, and lack of buttresses. In the forest, a useful trait is the heavy leaf fall under the crown, but in urban areas and farmland, it is also common as a juvenile and can be easily confused. Because of its abundance and large size, the timber of espave is frequently sold in markets in Panama and has many uses, including dugout canoes. The fruit, although resembling cashews, is not edible, but the nut is toasted and consumed locally. Many species in the family Anacardiaceae have toxic oils, and like cashews, uncooked nuts of the espave are poisonous, although its leaves are not.
Common name: corotú
The corotú is a very large pasture tree. On big individuals, the trunk often forks near the ground, so the immensely wide crown almost touches the ground. In pastures and grasslands in the Pacific slope of Panama , the corotu is the dominant large tree. It can also be a major component of secondary forests, in which the forest recently regenerated from pasture. This tree is very common around Panama City , Parque Metropolitano, and all along the Canal all the way to Gamboa. The wood is of fine quality and is used for furniture and giant trunks are used for making dugout canoes.
In 1992, STRI botanists identified some tree species in a small section of the former Hotel Tivoli and that is how the idea of developing an arboretum began. Ten years later, the arboretum is becoming an example of the richness of tropical environments in urban settings.