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Helicostylis tomentosa - (Poepp. & Endl.) Rusby

Common Name Letterhout, Letter Wood
Family Moraceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards The latex of this tree is considered to be toxic when ingested[697 ].
Habitats A canopy tree in rainforests at elevations from sea level to 1,600 metres[338 , 625 ].
Range S. America - Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, the Guyanas; C. America - Panama.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Helicostylis tomentosa Letterhout, Letter Wood

Helicostylis tomentosa Letterhout, Letter Wood
Alex Popovkin wikimedia


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Native to Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname, Helicostylis tomentosa is an evergreen tree of up to 26 m in height with a straight and cylindrical trunk of up to 50 cm in diameter. The crown is narrow and elongated. The fruit is yellow and globose, with a delicious flavor. It is usually eaten raw. Medicinally, the bark is used as a remedy for stomach cramps and pain accompanying a high fever. Bark extracts have been pharmaceutically evaluated and are reported to show depressant effects on the central nervous system. The tree yields yellow latex. The wood is moderately heavy, durable, and resistant to insect attacks. It is easy to work and ideal for general construction, lathe work, and furniture.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Helicostylis tomentosa is an evergreen Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) by 20 m (65ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.


Greeneina affinis (Steud. ex Tr?cul) Kuntze Greeneina poeppigiana (Mart.) Kuntze Helicostylis affini


Edible Uses

Fruit - raw. A delicious flavour[625 ]. The yellow, more or less globose fruit can be around 3cm in diameter[625 ].

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

The red, milky sap from the bark is drunk as an hallucinogen in order to contact the spirits[348 ]. The rasped bark, mixed with alcohol, is used as a remedy for stomach cramps and pain accompanying a high fever[348 ]. Extracts prepared from the inner bark have been pharmacologically evaluated and are reported to elicit central nervous system depressant effects; and certain of the effects are described as being similar to those expected with Cannabis sativa. Because of the close taxonomic relationship of this species to Cannabis, one might expect similar types of chemical constituents in both genera. Whether or not the effects are due to the presence of cannabinoids remains to be determined[630 ].

Other Uses

Other Uses: The tree contains a yellow latex[625 ]. The heartwood is dark brown, somewhat streaked or variegated with black and yellow; it is sharply demarcated from the wide band of golden, lustrous sapwood. Lustre is medium in the heartwood; texture medium; grain straight to roey; without distinctive odour or taste. The wood is moderately heavy, with very good mechanical properties, durable and resistant to wood-eating insects. It is rated fair to good in all machining operations but does cause excessive dulling of cutting edges; takes a high natural polish. Easy to work, it is used in general construction for purposes such as scantlings, beams, door and window frames, floors etc; also for lathe work and making furniture[316 , 625 ].

Cultivation details

Young plants require the dappled shade of the woodland, but become more tolerant of light as they grow larger, eventually accepting full sun[625 ]. A dioecious species, both male and female forms need to be grown if fruit and seed are required[625 ].


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Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a partially shaded position in a nursery seedbed. A low germination rate can generally be expected, with the seed sprouting within 40 - 60 days[625 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Letterhout, Letter Wood - Dutch (Suriname), Manletterhout - Dutch (Suriname), Amoro do mato, Jaquinha, Xopahi,

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Colombia; French Guiana; Guyana; Peru; Suriname; Brazil; Bolivia, Plurinational State of, Africa, Brazil, East Africa, French Guiana, Mozambique, South America, Suriname, Venezuela,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Status: Lower Risk/least concern

Related Plants


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(Poepp. & Endl.) Rusby

Botanical References


Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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