This site assembles the descriptions of some tropical plants from Western Panama. The original work was done by Mary Farmer, and the site is now being maintained by Gordon Bakke. Where possible, Mary went through the identification process, feature by feature, and have photographed the distinctive characteristics of these plants.

How to use this site

Search for a Specific Plant:

If you are looking for information on a plant you have identified, type its name in the Search box near the top of the right-hand column. The scientific name will always bring up the plant if it is mentioned here. The common name might or might not bring up the plant, depending on whether the name is used locally in Panama (and whether I know that name!)

Browse by Family:

Thirty-two plant families are represented. The List of Families arranges all species   discussed here by family. Sometimes Mary wrote about the same plant more than once. Links to every post about every plant she wrote about are here. Twenty-four of the families are briefly described in the Descriptions of Families page.

Browse by Leaf Arrangement:

If you approach this site having found a tropical plant that you don’t recognize, you may try your hand at identifying it through the Leaf Arrangement section. There Mary  grouped the plants she studied by whether their leaves are simple or compound, whether opposite or alternate in their arrangement along the stem. For convenience, she included the definitions of these terms in that section. A thumbnail image is given next to the link to each plant.


The area where these studies was done is a savanna. It’s most likely a savanna that resulted from human activities – first the trees were cut down, then agriculture came in (in this area it could have been sugar cane fields or pasture land), and then the agriculture was abandoned. Mary made an early attempt to describe the neotropical ecosystem, and another attempt to try to explain why Panama has the weather it does. She have left those notes in place should you care to peruse them.


Mary also provided lists of the resources she used to identify plants. When she first started, she could not find a single field-guide type book that covered the plants in this area, so she cobbled together various handbooks of tropical plants and some internet resources. Now there are excellent books and on-line guides available, and they are listed in the References section of this site.

Learning a savanna in Panama, plant by plant