Facts about Spanish Elm

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Spanish elm Quick Facts
Name: Spanish elm
Scientific Name: Cordia alliodora
Origin Mexico and the Antilles to Brazil and Bolivia
Shapes Oblong, one-seeded, ellipsoid nutlet, 4.5-8 mm long and 1-2.5 mm wide, completely enveloped by the persistent corolla and calyx
Health benefits Support catarrh, various lung ailments, wounds, edema, acne, burns, rashes, rheumatism, abscesses, tumors, tooth aches, bruises, swellings, myalgia, sciatica, asthma and tuberculosis
Spanish elm scientifically known as Cordia alliodora is a species of flowering tree in the borage family, Boraginaceae. The plant is native to dry and wet forest from Mexico and the Antilles to Brazil and Bolivia. It is now widely distributed in tropical America from northern Argentina to central Mexico and in the Caribbean islands. It has been introduced to Africa, Asia (Nepal, Sabah and Sri Lanka) and the Pacific region (Hawaii, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu). It is commonly known as Ecuador laurel, Spanish elm, cypre, laurel, salmwood, Onion Cordia, Laurel Blanco, Ecuador laurel, cordia, Brown silverballi, Satin wood, Silverballi, Manjack, Capá Prieto and pepino. The generic name honors a 16th century German botanist, Valerius Cordus. The species is named alliodora because of the garlic odor that the leaves emit when they are crushed.

The tree is harvested from the wild for its use in traditional medicine, and for its edible fruit. One of the most important timber trees in the areas where it grows, it is often cultivated in plantations. It is also occasionally grown as a shade tree for coffee and cocoa plantations and occasionally as a fruit crop. It is planted as an ornamental and street because of its abundant, attractive, white, fragrant flowers. Cordia alliodora has a large native distribution and is not under any specific major threat. It is planted for use in construction and agroforestry, and it grows naturally inside protected areas. The plant is classified as ‘Least Concern’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

The leaves are used medicinally particularly in the treatment of catarrh and various lung ailments. Seeds are pulverized and used as treatment for skin conditions. Cypre is wind resistant and readily inhabits bare soil making it an ideal pioneer species. The wood is moderately durable, resistant to fungus and termites attacks, and produces an attractive finish. It has been used in sculptures, turned articles, exterior and interior construction, tool handles; carpentry in the form of rungs, batten and boards, fine furniture, flooring, doors, toys, wainscoting, auto/truck body, bridges, desk articles, rafters, sports equipment, posts, luxury furniture, oars, vessels, cooperage, cabinets, parquet, toys, baseboards, plywood, decorative veneer, musical instruments, or parts of these.

Outside of its indigenous range, it has been identified as a problematic invasive species. For example, a timber-focused planting program of the species in Vanuatu during the mid-1970s has over time proved disruptive to native ecosystems and communities. The species has been described as a severe environmental nuisance, as it has overtaken natural forests by multiplying at a faster rate than being harvested, and has become susceptible to outbreaks of a form of root rot known as Phellinus noxius.

Spanish Elm Facts

Name Spanish elm
Scientific Name Cordia alliodora
Native Dry and wet forest from Mexico and the Antilles to Brazil and Bolivia. It is now widely distributed in tropical America from northern Argentina to central Mexico and in the Caribbean islands. It has been introduced to Africa, Asia (Nepal, Sabah and Sri Lanka) and the Pacific region (Hawaii, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu)
Common Names Ecuador laurel, Spanish elm, cypre, laurel, salmwood, Onion Cordia, Laurel Blanco, Ecuador laurel, cordia, Brown silverballi, Satin wood, Silverballi, Manjack, Capá Prieto, pepino
Name in Other Languages Belize: Bohun, corallilo, laurel blanco, salaam, salmwood
Bolivia: Ajo, auxemma, lanza blanca, partago, picana, picana negra
Brazil: Louro, louro amarello, uruazeiro
Central America: Laurel
Chinese: Suàn yè pò bù mù (算叶破布木)
Colombia: Canalete de humo, laurel negro, moho, nogal, nogal cafetero, solera
Costa Rica: Dze-u’, laurel negro
Cuba: Var’a, var’a amarilla, var’a colorada, var’a prieta
Dominica: Laurier
Dominican Republic: Capá, capá de olor, capá de sabana, capá prieto, guacimilla
Dutch: Knoflookboom
Ecuador: Chaquine, laurel, laurel de monte, laurel de puna, laurel macho, laurel negro, laurel prieto, uurushi numi
English: Brown silverballi, Salmwood, Satin wood, Silverballi, Spanish elm, Cypre, Manjack, Laurel, Capá Prieto, pepino, Ecuador laurel, onion cordia  
French:  Bois de Chypre, Bois de Rhodes, Bois de rose, Bois saumée, Bois soumis, Chêne caparo, Cordie faux-bois-de-rose, Pardillo, cèdre Sam, burel blanco,  cordia, onion cordia, salmwood, arbre à l’ail, sébestier à odeur d’oignon
German: Lauch-Kordie
Guadeloupe: Bois de Rhodes, bois de rose, bojon
Guatemala: Chevel
Guyana: Brown silver balli
Haiti: Bois soumis, chne caparo
Honduras: Laurel negro
Jamaica: Smokewood, Spanish elm
Martinique: Bois cypre, bois et roge
Mexico: Aguardientillo, amapa, amapa asta (amapa hasta), amapa blanca, amapa bola, asca, boj—n, botoncillo, d’ou lemon, hochi, hormiguero, momiguilla, soleria (solerillo), solerito, suchil, suchil sabanero, tambor hormiguero
Nicaragua: Cinchado, laurel macho, laurel negro
Peru: Ajahatsa (ahahsatsa), anallo caspi, bolaina, chullachaqui blanco, tama palo santo
Portuguese: Falso-louro, Freijó-branco, freijó preto, Lourinho, Louro-alho, Louro-amarelo, Louro-branco,  Louro-negro, Teijo, Urazeiro, Uruá, Uruazeiro, Freijó, freijorge, loureiro-amarelo
Puerto Rico: Cayly, cypre, mu–eco
Quechua: Ahus k’aspi
Russian:  Kordiia lukopakhnushchaia (Кордия лукопахнущая)
Samoan: Kotia
Spanish:  Ajo ajo, Alatrique, Arbol del ajo, Baría aguacate, Baría amarilla, Baría colorada, Canalete, Capá, Capá de olor, Capá de sabana, Capá prieta, Capá prieto, Caparó, Guacimilla, capa prieto; cypre; laurel, Laurel blanco, Laurel de costa, Laurel de savana, Laurel hembra, Laurel hormiguero, Laurel macho, Laurel negro, Nogal cafetero, Nogal de cafelatés, Nogal de cafetal, Nogal de cafetales, Nogal de cafetero, Nogal de capelates, Palo de rosa del país, Picana negra, Poma rosa, Popocotle, Tambor hormiguero, Varía, Varía aguacate, Varía blanca, Varía colorada, Varía prieta
Swedish: Salmträd
Tongan: Kotia
Trinidad and Tobago: Cyp, cypre, cypress
Venezuela: Mataatiyo, pardillo, tacura’, utaatigo
Plant Growth Habit Small or medium-sized, fast-growing tropical semi-evergreen tree
Growing Climates Lowland to highland forests, dry forests, forest edges, gaps, thickets and occasionally in wet, mixed forest or along roadsides
Soil Grows best on well-drained, medium-textured soils and does not tolerate either poor internal drainage or water-logging. It is particularly suitable for calcareous soils in the more humid tropics. It is not exacting in nutrient requirements, adapting well to degraded and abandoned areas once used for row crops, pasture, or shifting cultivation
Plant Size Height of over 40 m, and a diameter at breast height (dbh) of over 1 m at over maturity, although diameters of around 50 cm are more usual for mature trees. In seasonally dry deciduous and semi-deciduous forest, it is smaller and more poorly formed, rarely reaching more than 20 m in height and 30 cm dbh
Root Develop a strong taproot. Later, spreading roots also develop which may grow into buttresses
Bark Bark of young trees smooth and greenish, becoming greenish-black and sometimes narrowly fissured with age. Although in drier regions it tends to be more fissured. In many cases the light color is enhanced by the presence of lichens on the bark, such that from a distance the tree has a striking white trunk
Twigs Twigs stellate-pubescent when young, ending in obovoid ant domatia
Leaf Leaves are simple, petiolate, and alternate, up to 18 cm in length and 5 cm in width, short or long-pointed at the base. Leaf blades are oblong or lance-shaped (lanceolate) to oval (elliptic). Upper leaf surface may have scattered hairs when young, but is smooth at maturity, lower leaf surface covered with stellate hairs.
Flowering season
  • In Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean: starts about December and may extend through to April
  • Southern end: starts in January
Flower Flowers are hermaphroditic, unspecialized, about 1 cm in length and wide, white. Calyx is tubular, 4-6 mm long, grey-green, 10(-12)-ribbed, 4-6 toothed, densely stellate hairy. Corolla is tubular, 4-6 lobed, up to 14 mm long, white, tube up to 8.5 mm long, lobes oblong and rounded, spreading, up to 8.5 mm long
Fruit Shape & Size Oblong, one-seeded, ellipsoid nutlet, 4.5-8 mm long and 1-2.5 mm wide, completely enveloped by the persistent corolla and calyx
Propagation By seed or by stem cuttings
Season September to April
Culinary Uses
  • The bark is used as a condiment.

Plant Description

Spanish elm is a small or medium-sized, fast-growing, tropical semi-evergreen tree that normally grows over 40 m, and a diameter at breast height (dbh) of over 1 m at over maturity, although diameters of around 50 cm are more usual for mature trees. In seasonally dry deciduous and semi-deciduous forest, it is smaller and more poorly formed, rarely reaching more than 20 m in height and 30 cm dbh. The plant is found growing in lowland to highland forests, dry forests, forest edges, gaps, thickets and occasionally in wet, mixed forest or along roadsides. The plant grows best on well-drained, medium-textured soils and does not tolerate either poor internal drainage or water-logging. It is particularly suitable for calcareous soils in the more humid tropics. It is not exacting in nutrient requirements, adapting well to degraded and abandoned areas once used for row crops, pasture, or shifting cultivation.

The plant develops a strong taproot. Later, spreading roots also develop which may grow into buttresses. It has a compact crown and straight stem, and is capable of self-pruning. The trunk is smooth and light coloured. Outer bark of young trees is smooth and greenish, becoming greenish-black and sometimes narrowly fissured with age. Although in drier regions it tends to be more fissured. In many cases the light color is enhanced by the presence of lichens on the bark, such that from a distance the tree has a striking white trunk. Inner bark is light brown, fibrous, and tasteless. It gives off a slight odor of garlic, a fact that promoted its scientific name.

Leaves

Leaves are simple, petiolate, and alternate, up to 18 cm in length and 5 cm in width, short or long-pointed at the base. Leaf blades are oblong or lance-shaped (lanceolate) to oval (elliptic). Upper leaf surface may have scattered hairs when young, but is smooth at maturity, lower leaf surface covered with stellate hairs. Petioles are 1-2 cm long, slender, sparsely hairy, like the greenish twigs.  

Flowers

Flowers are perfect and crowded on a widely branched terminal panicle 10 to 30 cm (3.9 to 11.8 in) across, branches usually densely stellate-pubescent; pedicel up to 1.5 mm long. Auxiliary terminal inflorescence has flowers as few as 50 up to as many as 3000.

Flowers are hermaphroditic, unspecialized, about 1 cm in length and wide, white. Calyx is tubular, 4-6 mm long, grey-green, 10(-12)-ribbed, 4-6 toothed, densely stellate hairy. Corolla is tubular, 4-6 lobed, up to 14 mm long, white, tube up to 8.5 mm long, lobes oblong and rounded, spreading, up to 8.5 mm long. There are five white stamens that are erect and protrude well beyond the exserted style, which is two-forked, each fork having two broad stigmas.

Fruits

Fertile flowers are followed by ellipsoid nutlet, 4.5-8 mm long and 1-2.5 mm wide, completely enveloped by the persistent corolla and calyx, the wall thin and fibrous. The fruit ripen within 1 to 2 months after flowering commences. Nutlets are oblong, one-seeded, about 6 mm (0.25 in) long. Seeds are wind dispersed, yet they can persist on the trees a few weeks after ripening. Seed fall is usually quite variable since laurel flowers throughout the year. In Central America maximum seed fall is usually in April and May.

Traditional uses and benefits of Spanish Elm

  • The leaves are used medicinally particularly in the treatment of catarrh and various lung ailments.
  • The leaves are stimulant, stomachic and tonic.
  • An ointment made from the pulverized seeds is used in the treatment of skin diseases.
  • Its root is used as a medicinal plant by natives living in the Peruvian Amazon forest.
  • Roots are said to have substances which have anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.
  • Bark is used for wounds, edema, acne, burns, rashes, rheumatism, antispasmodic, as an emetic and diuretic.
  • Stalk is used in intestinal diseases, as an anti-inflammatory for abscesses and tumors, tooth aches.
  • Leaves are cooked to be used as tonics and stimulants, particularly for colds and lung problems.
  • Salves are produced from crushed seeds to cure skin diseases.
  • A paste of the leaves is applied topically to treat bruises and swellings.
  • In Ecuador, the young shoot paste is used as an antiseptic in wounds and sore.
  • In Latin America the alcoholic bark extract is used in the form of massage to release pain, myalgia and sciatica.
  • Leaf tea is used as a tonic in asthma and tuberculosis.

Different Products

  • Food: The fruits are edible but not very tasty.
  • Apiculture: Flowers are a major source of viscous, extra-white honey.
  • Timber: A renowned timber-producing species. The wood is usually straight grained, easy to work to a smooth finish, with little dulling of cutting edges. The wood is used for building construction, flooring, furniture and veneer manufacture, boat timbers, oars, rail sleepers, turnery, scientific equipment, and a wide variety of carvings and artists’ equipment. The wood is resistant to decay; it has some resistance to marine borers and is outstandingly resistant to termite attack.
  • Medicine: A decoction of the leaves is used as a tonic and a stimulant, especially in cases of catarrh and lung infection. Pulverized seeds are used in the treatment of cutaneous diseases.

Various Services

  • Shade or shelter: Grown as a shade tree for coffee and cocoa plantations and in pastures, often in combination with Erythrina poeppigiana. Plantations exposed to hurricanes and cyclones have shown above-average resistance to stem break and wind throw.
  • Soil improver: Improved nutrient recycling is brought about by growing C. alliodora in coffee plantations.
  • Ornamental: The tree is planted as an ornamental because of its attractive, abundant, white, fragrant flowers.
  • Intercropping: It is a good tree for combining with crops. It has been incorporated with pasture, often in mixture with woody species of Erythrina. It has also been grown with sugarcane.

Management of Spanish Elm

The precise management measures adopted for any plant invasion will depend upon factors such as the terrain, the cost and availability of labor, the severity of the infestation and the presence of other invasive species.

The best form of invasive species management is prevention. If prevention is no longer possible, it is best to treat the weed infestations when they are small to prevent them from establishing (early detection and rapid response). Controlling the weed before it seeds will reduce future problems. Control is generally best applied to the least infested areas before dense infestations are tackled. Consistent follow-up work is required for sustainable management.

Control is very difficult as plants sprout readily from cut stems. The editors could not find any information on chemical or biological control of this species.

Other Facts

  • The tree is planted as an ornamental because of its abundant, attractive, white, fragrant flowers.
  • It is wind resistant and readily inhabits bare soil making it an ideal pioneer species.
  • Wood is moderately durable, resistant to fungus and termites attacks, and produces an attractive finish.
  • The species frequently serves as shade for coffee trees and farm animals.
  • Wood is easy to work and the dark colored heartwood is a favorite of woodworkers for fine carpentry.
  • Wood is used in construction for making doors, window frames, paneling, flooring etc.; it is also used for furniture, cabinet work, turnery, carving, scientific instruments, boats (including bridge decking), oars, sleepers, veneer, fuel wood and charcoal.
  • Smaller branches are used for making barrel hoops.
  • The wood is used for fuel and making charcoal.
  • The crushed leaves and the fresh bark smell of garlic.
  • Its flowers are known to bee-keepers as a major source of nectar.
  • The weight of 1000 seeds is 15-50 g.
  • Flowering may start when the trees are only 2 years old, but more commonly between 5-10 years after planting.

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=31751#null

http://www.hear.org/pier/species/cordia_alliodora.htm

https://pfaf.org/User/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cordia+alliodora

https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/15353

http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-2736526

https://uses.plantnet-project.org/en/Cordia_alliodora_(PROSEA)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordia_alliodora

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/CRHAD

https://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Cordia+alliodora

https://apps.worldagroforestry.org/treedb/AFTPDFS/Cordia_alliodora.PDF

https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=COAL

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