Also known as the Brazilian fire tree, the guapuruvu tree (Schizolobium parahyba) is a magnificent, fast-growing tree with large, feathery leaves and spectacular yellow flowers (5) (6) (7). The guapuruvu tree has a straight trunk, sometimes with small buttresses at the base, and its bark is pale grey (2) (4) (5). Adult trees have a wide, open crown, but in younger individuals the trunk is unbranched (4) and the large leaves emerge from the top of the trunk, giving the young tree the appearance of a tree fern (5) (7).
The leaves of young guapuruvu trees are particularly long, measuring up to 2 metres in length (4) (5), whereas the leaves of older individuals typically reach only 30 to 50 centimetres (2) (3) (4). The leaves grow at alternating points along the branches (3) (4) and are pinnate, consisting of opposite pairs of ‘pinnae’, each of which bears 12 to 22 pairs of leaflets (4). The individual leaflets measure up to three centimetres in length and are oblong in shape (3) (4).
The guapuruvu tree is particularly conspicuous when flowering (7), when it is covered in masses of large, yellow blooms which grow in long clusters up to 30 centimetres in length (2) (3) (4) (6). Each flower consists of five petals (2) (4) (6) and has a pleasant scent (2) (4).
The fruit of the guapuruvu tree is a dry, flattened pod with a brown, leathery surface (3) (4) (6) (7). Each pod measures up to 12 centimetres in length (4) (5) and is teardrop-shaped, with a pointed base and a wide, rounded end (2) (4) (5) (6) (7). When mature, each of the guapuruvu tree’s pods opens to release a single brown seed, which is flat and rounded (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The name of the genus Schizolobium comes from Greek words meaning ‘divide’ and ‘pod’, referring to the way the inner and outer layers of the pod separate when the pod is mature (6).
Two varieties of guapuruvu tree are recognised, Schizolobium parahyba var. parahyba and Schizolobium parahyba var. amazonicum (1).
- Also known as
- Brazilian fern tree, Brazilian fire tree, Brazilian firetree, tower tree.
- Caesalpinia parahyba, Cassia parahyba, Schizolobium amazonicum, Schizolobium excelsum, Schizolobium glutinosum, Schizolobium kellermanii.
- Height: up to 35 m (2) (3)
- Trunk diameter: up to 1 m (2) (3)
- Leaf length: up to 2 m (4) (5)
Guapuruvu tree biology
An extremely fast-growing tree (2) (5) (6), the guapuruvu tree can reach heights of seven to eight metres in its first three years of life (6). This species is deciduous, losing its leaves during the dry season (2) (3), and flowering occurs while the tree is leafless (2) (3) (4) (6), making the spectacular yellow blooms even more conspicuous (3). In Central America, the guapuruvu tree flowers from about November or December to March (3) (4) (5) (7).
The flowers of the guapuruvu tree are hermaphroditic, meaning that each flower contains both male and female reproductive parts (6). This species’ pods typically appear between February and May in Central America (3) (5), and start to open from April onwards (3). The guapuruvu tree starts growing its new set of leaves at the end of the flowering period (3).
Although the guapuruvu tree has a rapid growth rate, it is relatively short-lived (3).
Guapuruvu tree range
The guapuruvu tree is native to Central and South America, occurring from Mexico south to Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (2) (4) (5) (6). It has also been widely grown in cultivation in other parts of the world, including the United States (4) (6), Indonesia and Kenya (6).
The scientific name of the guapuruvu tree, parahyba, comes from the Parahyba River in Brazil (6).
Guapuruvu tree habitat
The guapuruvu tree typically grows in lowland forest (4) (5) and is often found on floodplains or hillsides (3) (6). This species usually prefers deep, fertile, moist soils which are well drained (3) (6), although it is reported to adapt well to different soil types (5).
The guapuruvu tree is common in secondary forest (3) (4) (5) and is known as a ‘pioneer species’, as it is one of the first plants to colonise areas which have been disturbed or damaged (4) (6).
Guapuruvu tree status
The guapuruvu tree has yet to be classified on the IUCN Red List.
Guapuruvu tree threats
There are not known to be any major threats to the guapuruvu tree at present. This beautiful, fast-growing tree is popular as an ornamental plant (3) (5) (6), and the nectar from its flowers produces a fragrant honey (3) (5). The guapuruvu tree is commonly grown in plantations and in agroforestry associations with crops such as bananas and coffee (3) (6). Its wood has a variety of uses, including construction, plywood, and the making of toys, boxes and furniture (3) (5) (6), and this tree is also used for making paper pulp (3) (6).
The bark of the guapuruvu tree has been used in traditional medicine (3), while extracts from its leaves have been shown to neutralise snake venoms (8) (9).
Guapuruvu tree conservation
There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for the guapuruvu tree. However, this fast-growing ‘pioneer’ species is one of four tree species being used to help reforest the Atlantic forest of Brazil, as part of The Nature Conservancy’s ‘Plant a Billion Trees’ campaign. The Atlantic forest is one of the world’s most endangered tropical forest habitats, and the campaign aims to plant one billion trees by 2015, helping to restore around 2.5 million acres of degraded land and reconnecting isolated forest patches (10) (11) (12) (13).
Find out more
Find out more about conservation efforts in Brazil’s Atlantic forest:
More information on tree conservation:
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- A land use system that integrates trees or shrubs into the agricultural landscape and on farms for environmental and human benefit.
- Atlantic forest
- A highly biodiverse region found along the east coast of South America, comprising several different vegetation types, including high-altitude grassland, and lowland and montane forest.
- The flared base of certain tree trunks.
- A plant that sheds its leaves at the end of the growing season.
- A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Possessing both male and female sex organs.
- The individual ‘leaf-like’ parts of a compound leaf.
- In plants, a compound leaf where the leaflets (individual ‘leaves’) are found on either side of the central stalk.
- Secondary forest
- Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
- Tree fern
- A type of large, tropical fern with a tree-like appearance, bearing a crown of large fronds on a thick, woody, trunk-like stem.
- In taxonomy, the science of classifying organisms, variety is the rank below subspecies. Members of a variety differ from others of the same species in relatively minor ways.
Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (February, 2013)
Pennington, T.D. and Sarukhán, J. (2005) Árboles Tropicales de México. Manual para la Identificación de las Principales Especies. UNAM/FCE, Mexico.
Árboles de Centroamérica: un Manual para Extensionistas - Schizolobium parahyba (February, 2013)
Gargiullo, M.B., Magnuson, B. and Kimball, L. (2008) A Field Guide to the Plants of Costa Rica. Oxford University Press Inc., New York.
Salazar, R., Soihet, C. and Méndez, J.M. (2000) Manejo de Semillas de 100 Especies Forestales de América Latina. Volumen 1. Proyecto de Semillas Forestales, Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) and Danida Forest Seed Centre, Turrialba, Costa Rica.
World Agroforestry Centre: AgroForestryTree Database - Schizolobium parahyba (February, 2013)
Condit, R., Pérez, R. and Daguerre, N. (2011) Trees of Panama and Costa Rica. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Mendes, M.M. et al. (2008) Anti-snake venom properties of Schizolobium parahyba (Caesalpinoideae) aqueous leaves extract. Phytotherapy Research, 22(7): 859-866.
Vale, L.H.F. et al. (2011) Protective effect of Schizolobium parahyba flavonoids against snake venoms and isolated toxins. Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, 11(20): 2566-2577.
Hance, J. (2008) A billion trees to be planted in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest over the next 7 years. Mongabay, 22 April. Available at:
Plant a Billion Trees (February, 2013)
The Nature Conservancy (February, 2013)
The Nature Conservancy - Brazil Atlantic Forest (February, 2013)