Cecropia

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Cecropia

 

a genus of plants of the family Moraceae. (The genus is sometimes assigned to the family Urticaceae.) The plants are mostly rapidly growing evergreen trees with hollow stems and, sometimes, with subcortex roots. The large leaves, which are shield-shaped and usually palmatilobate, are borne by long petioles. The small, plain, dioecious flowers are in dense spicate inflorescences gathered into clusters on common stalks in the leaf axils. The fruits are monospermous and numerous.

There are more than 70 species, distributed mainly in the tropical rain forests of Central and South America. Some species are characterized by myrmecophily. Fertilized female ants of the genus Azteca gnaw through the wall of the hollow stem (which is thinnest at the apex of the internode), and lay their eggs inside the stem. The ants feed on special processes that form on the inside of the inflated bases of the leaf petioles. It is believed that these ants protect Cecropia from attack by leaf-cutting ants of the genera Atta and Aeromyrmex. C. peltata, called trumpetwood because the Indians made wind instruments from its hollow stems, is a myrmecophile. Its trunks are split in half for use as gutters.