Guanacaste Tree (Elephant Ear)

This tropical tree has an enormous crown, with far-reaching branches that form a nearly perfect half-circle. It has smooth grey bark with reddish fissures. Elephant ear tree's or Guanacaste tree's [Enterolobium cyclocarpum] tend to stand out in the landscape – usually you will see only one specimen growing in a sunny, open field.

Leaves of this tree grow in feathery formations, with pairs of leaves on either side of a long stem. The elephant ear tree sheds its leaves once a year, during dry season. From January to May the tree also produces spherical clusters of white flowers. These flowers attract moths and beetles, until the flowers make way for ear-shaped green fruits.

These green fruits are seed-filled pods that eventually drop to the ground. Cattle help spread the seeds by puncturing the pods with their hooves and releasing the seeds within. It can be difficult for the elephant ear tree to reproduce – it’s not easy for the seeds to escape, and the spiny pocket mouse likes to eat the elephant ear tree's saplings.

Humans value the elephant ear tree for its lumber. It is durable and fungus resistant. Both the sap and the fruit of the elephant ear tree are used in folk medicine.