85. Mata-ratón, mother-of-cocoa
Gliricidia sepium (Jacq.) Kunth ex Griseb*
Mata-ratón, a small introduced tree commonly planted in fence rows and for ornament, is distinguished by: (1) odd pinnate leaves 6-16 inches long with 7-17 ovate, elliptic, or lance-shaped leaflets; (2) numerous showy whitish-pink or purplish-tinged pea-shaped flowers about ¾ inch long in lateral clusters along old branches when leafless or along branches back of leaves; and (3) flat blackish pods 4-6 inches long.
A small deciduous tree or shrub, becoming 25 feet tall and 8 inches in trunk diameter, with irregular spreading crown of thin foliage. The bark is gray or light brown, smoothish to slightly fissured. Inner bark is whitish and almost tasteless. Young twigs are light green and finely hairy, the older twigs light brown.
The alternate leaves have slender yellow-green finely hairy axes. Leaflets, paired except the terminal one, have hairy stalks about 3/16 inch long. The thin leaflet blades are 1¼-2½ inches long and 5/8 - 1¼ inches wide, short-to long-pointed at apex, rounded or short-pointed at base, not toothed at edges, dull green above, and gray green and slightly hairy beneath.
The numerous lateral flower clusters (racemes) 2-5 inches long are many flowered. The attractive flowers have a slender green stalk and a bellshaped light green calyx tinged with red, ¼ inch long and broad, minutely 5-toothed at apex; the butterfly-shaped corolla about 5/8 inch long consists of 5 whitish-pink or purplish-tinged petals, the broad standard turned back and yellowish near base, 2 oblong curved wings, and 2 united petals forming a keel; 10 whitish stamens inch long, 9 united in a tube and 1 separate; and pistil 5/8 inch long, with stalked narrow red ovary and whitish bent style.
The pods are yellow green when immature, turning blackish, ½ - 5/8 inch wide, short-stalked at base and short-pointed at apex, splitting open at maturity. There are 3-8 flat, elliptic, shiny, blackish seeds 3/8 inch long (2,000 to a pound). Flowering in winter and spring (December to May), the fruit maturing from winter to summer.
The sapwood is light brown and the heartwood dark brown, turning reddish brown on exposure. The wood is hard, heavy, strong, and considered durable in the ground as posts. It is used chiefly for this purpose in Puerto Rico because promptly set posts generally sprout and take root, lasting indefinitely. Elsewhere the wood has been employed for railroad ties and heavy construction. Pretty and taking a good polish, it should be suitable for furniture and small articles.
This tree is a popular ornamental or hedge plant, being readily propagated from cuttings as well as seed and growing rapidly. However, an objection to further planting of this species in Puerto Rico is that the foliage often is attacked by an aphid or plant louse. These tiny insects spread and multiply rapidly, secreting a sweet liquid which attracts ants and causes growth of a black fungus or sooty mold over the leaves. Many blackened leaves fall, and automobiles parked beneath the trees may be damaged by the liquid.
As the common name mata-ratón (mouse killer) suggests, the toxic seeds, bark, leaves, and roots are used to poison rats, mice, and other rodents. Another use of the freshly crushed leaves is in poultices in home remedies. The leaves are reported to be nutritious for cattle and also to be poisonous for horses and dogs. The flowers, though not fragrant, are visited by bees and are a source of honey. In a few countries the flowers are fried or boiled and eaten.
The names madre de cacao and mother-of-cocoa, applied to this species is some areas, indicate that the trees are grown also as shade trees in cacao plantations. Before the Spanish conquest, the Aztec Indians of Mexico had observed that cacao grew well under these trees, which they named cacahuanantl or mother of cacao. These trees have nodules on their roots containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria which enrich the soil.
Another use of mata-raton is support for vanilla vines. In a few countries the trees, though not evergreen, have been planted for coffee shade.
In Puerto Rico this species is common along roads, in fence rows and as an ornamental in the moist and dry coastal regions, the moist limestone region, and lower mountain regions. It may be naturalized locally. Also planted occasionally in St. Croix, St. Thomas, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda.
RANGE. - Native from Mexico to Colombia, Venezuela, and Guianas. Introduced and becoming naturalized in West Indies from Cuba and Jamaica to Lesser Antilles, Trinidad, and Curaçao. Planted also in southern Florida and in South America. south to Brazil. Also introduced into the Old World tropics, including Africa and southern Asia and recorded as naturalized in the Philippine Islands.
OTHER COMMON NAMES. - madre de cacao (Puerto Rico); pea-tree (Virgin Islands); mata-ratón, madre de cacao (Spanish); piñón de Cuba (Dominican Republic); piñón amoroso, piñón florido, bien vestida, piñón violento (Cuba); cacahuananche, cocoite (Mexico); madera negra (Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama); madriado, madrial, cacaguance, cacagua (Honduras); palo de hierro, cacahuanance (El Salvador); madriado (Nicaragua); bala, balo (Panama); St. Vincent plum, quick-stick (Jamaica); Nicaragua cocoa-shade, madura (Trinidad); quick-stick (British Guiana); lilas étranger (Haiti); gliricidia, gliceridia (Guadeloupe); yerba di tonka, mataratón, ratonera (Dutch West Indies).
BOTANICAL SYNONYM. - Gliricidia maculata (H. B. K.) Steud.