Tall, erect trees, up to 30 m (100 ft), bark gray; leaves 3-lobed and glabrous, up to 30 cm wide (12 in); fruit globular, light brown, with tough, woody shell, about 10 cm across (4 in); seeds numerous, large, each with long, wide wing; dry, ripe fruit split open, releasing winged seeds from cup-like shell; seeds flat, square-to-oblong, about 2 cm (0.8 in) without wing, wing about 4-6 cm long (1.6-2.3 in); fruiting in dry season (February-March).
Sterculia is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. It was previously placed in the now obsolete Sterculiaceae. Members of the genus are colloquially known as tropical chestnuts. The scientific name is taken from Sterculius of Roman mythology, who was the god of manure; this is in reference to the unpleasant aroma of the flowers of this genus (e.g., Sterculia foetida).
Sterculia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the leaf-miner Bucculatrix xenaula, which feeds exclusively on the genus.
Gum karaya is extracted from Sterculia species, and is used as a thickener and emulsifier in foods, as a laxative, and as a denture adhesive.