Amate as a medicinal plant

Some Ficus trees have medicinal properties, but the Ficus species are best known for the bark paper which is still produced today in several areas in Mexico. So this page introduces the fig trees for bark paper. We will cover medicinal uses in future projects.

Other trees besides amate are also suitable for bark paper

Lopez reports that Trema macrantha, jonote, also can produce paper. This tree also occurs in Guatemala and is used to make cordage (Parker 2008:928). Poulsenia armata is used to make bark paper by the Lacandon Maya of Lowland Chiapas (probably based on Fredrick 2004:24). A PhD dissertation lists Chichicastle, Urera species, as another potential source Maya 2011:143). If this is Chichicaste, it’s one of the most poisonous plants to bump into when hiking through the forests or fields of Mesoamerica.

Robles (2011:Cuadro-Anexo 2, page 216) gives a list of five Ficus species and eight other species, citing Lopez 2004 and AMACUP 1998. In addition to the fig trees the list includes

  • Brosimum alicastrum Swartz.
  • Morus celtidifolia H.B.K
  • Myriocarpa cordifolia Liebm.
  • Sapium aucuparium Jacq.
  • Trema macrantha (L.) Blume
  • Ulmus mexicana (Liebm) Planch
  • Urera caracasana (Jacq.)Griseb.
  • Her Cuardo 24 (page 76) gives additional plants “with fiber”
  • Heliocarpus donnell-smithii (E. Ex.)
  • Heliocarpus appendiculatus (E.ex.)
  • Sapium oligoneuron (R)
  • Triumfetta sp.(E. Ex.)
  • Trichospermum mexicanum (E. Ex.)

So far, not one single study of amate paper focuses on the Maya areas of Guatemala, Belize, or Honduras. A few studies do mention bark paper made by the Maya of Lowland Chiapas (the Lacandon Maya), but that is as close to Guatemala as anyone comes (The Lacandon live a few kilometers on the Mexican side of the Usumacinta River). So there is not yet (at least none that I have found) which lists which trees of Guatemala can produce amate paper.

So I made a tabulation of the Mexican trees and checked in the comprehensive “Trees of Guatemala” by Tracey Parker to see which of these trees could be found in Guatemala.

Altogether I have harvested the names of eight Ficus trees. But since the names of trees change every few years as new information is known about their DNA, its tough to know which names are just synonyms.

Scientific name

Local name


Other uses


Ficus calyculata


Not in Parker 2008


Ficus cotinifolia


Parker 2008:559

Also as medicine


Ficus goldmanii


Parker 2008:560


Ficus involuta


Not in Parker 2008


Ficus padifolia


Not in Parker 2008


Ficus pertusa

Amate, cush, matapalo, capulin

Parker 2008:563


Ficus ligustrino

Ficus petiolaris

amate amarillo

Not in Parker 2008


Ficus tolucensis


Not in Parker 2008


Brosimum alicastrum

Ramon, breadnut

Parker 2008:554

Edible fruit and seeds


Morus celtidifolia


Parker 2008:566

Edible fruit, mora


Myriocarpa cordifolia


Other species in Guatemala: P 2008:935


Poulsenia armata


Parker 2008:566,  usable for bark paper


Sapium aucuparium


Other species in Guatemala: P 2008:290


Trema macrantha


Another species in Parker 2008:928, for cordage


Ulmus mexicana

Duraznillo, Mescal, Muyaul

Parker 2008:929



Urera caracasana


Parker 2008:937

No useful info on any uses


Ulmus mexicana and Trema macrantha are in the same family Ulmaceae.

Brosimum alicastrum, Poulsenia armata,and Morus celtidifolia are in the same family as Ficus: Moraceae.

Myriocarpa longipes is called Chichicaste, same name as Urera caracasana. Both are in the same family: Urticaceae.

It is hardly a coincidence that Sapium trees are also called Amate and even matapalo, though Parker suggests these are erroneous. But if they share enough features to Ficus to make cloth, I wold no be surprised that local people would give them a similar name.

What is definitely needed is for a botanist or ethnobotanist to make a list of all Guatemalan species which are potentially usable to make bark paper, but which are not common in Mexico. Then do the same for Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and the rest of Mesoamerica, since this bark can also be used to make cloth-like material for clothing.

Our long range goal at FLAAR Mesoamerica is to assist local villages harvest Maya-related plants

Rather than chopping down all the trees to plant foreign teak or Brazilian rubber or African palm oil trees, it would be nice to save more of the seasonal rain forest by careful harvesting of indigenous natural products.

The production and sale of bark paper to tourists in Mexico is a “million-dollar industry.” There is zero harvest of bark paper anywhere that I have seen in Guatemala. Yet there are a dozen trees in Guatemala whose bark could be used.

An essential first step, before submitting a grant proposal, is to do initial research and prepare a project plan. So a first step is to make a list of the pertinent trees which potentially can produce bark paper. It turns out that none of the local trees are really used to make paper. At most some local people elsewhere in Central America may make cordage out of one or two of these trees.

So there is significant opportunity in Guatemala


A Bibliography is available on our Maya bibliography web site


First Posted February 2018


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