Devil’s Hand Tree

Chiranthodendron pentadactylon

Other Names: Árbol de la manita, Camxóchitl, Mano de dragon, Palo de mecate

Family: Malvaceae

Natural Range: Guatemala and Mexico

IUCN Conservation Status

Vulnerable (VU)

The Devil’s hand tree is best known for its striking bright red and yellow ‘five-fingered’ flowers.  The tree has large leaves that are dark green on the upper face and pale brown on the lower face. It is a typical species of Guatemalan and Mexican cloud forests but it also found in oak forest and pine-oak forest at elevations of between 1,830 and 2,740 m.

The red flowers are used medicinally as a traditional remedy for some heart diseases. The bark is used as rope and the large leaves are used to wrap food. The tree also had religious significance to the pre-Columbian Aztec people.

27-by-G.-Ibarra-Manríquez

Striking red flowers of the devil’s hand tree (credit: G.Ibarra-Manríquez).

The species is popular in cultivation as an ornamental tree.  It has also been used as the iconic symbol of the Botanical Society of Mexico since the 1940s.

The species native cloud forest habitat is threatened by extremely high deforestation rates.  Like other cloud forest trees, the Devil’s hand tree may also become increasingly threatened by climate change.  As temperatures rise, cloud forest trees will be forced to migrate up mountains slopes to find favourable conditions, leading to a gradual decline in available habitat.

Restoring populations with planted seedlings and saplings offers some hope for the species. Seeds must be collected from slightly open fruits on the distal parts of the branches of the tree.  The seeds may remain viable for up to seven months at 4°C and less than 12% relative humidity. Seedlings can also be obtained from seeds placed on damp soil beds with a thin litter cover.

Selected References González-Espinosa, M.,Meave, J. A, Lorea-Hernández, F. G., Ibarra-Manríquez, G. and Newton, A. (2011) The Red List of Mexican Cloud Forest Trees. Global Trees Campaign/Fauna & Flora International, Cambridge UK.

Osuna-Fernández R., Laguna-Hernández G., Brechú-Franco A. and Orozco-Segovia A. (1997) Germinación de Chiranthodendron pentadactylon Larr. (Sterculiaceae) en respuesta a la escarificación, temperatura y luz. Boletín de la Sociedad Botánica de México, 60, 5–14.

Photos: G. Ibarra-Manríquez and N. Ramírez-Marcial

Did you know?

Dayak people believe the Bornean ironwood protects them from dangerous animals, offering their own explanation for the lack of elephants and tigers on Borneo.