This is the first study to determine the class of seed dormancy (or non-dormancy) of a large number of native tree species in a tropical forest, the seasonal moist tropical forest of the Panama Canal Watershed (PCW), or to test the relationships between class of dormancy (or non-dormancy) and various seed and ecological characteristics of the constituent species. Fresh seeds of 49 of 94 tree species were non-dormant (ND), and 45 were dormant (D). Seeds of 23 species had physiological dormancy (PD), 13 physical dormancy (PY), two morphological dormancy (MD), 7 morphophysiological dormancy (MPD) and none combinational dormancy (PY+PD). Seeds with PY were significantly smaller ( < 0.1 g) and drier (moisture content < 16%) at maturity than those that were ND or in the other D classes. Seeds of 62, 42 and 53% of species dispersed in the early rainy, late rainy (LRS) and dry seasons, respectively, were ND. The majority (61%) of species with PD seeds, but only 17% of those with PY seeds, were dispersed in the LRS. The proportion of species with ND seeds was higher in large-size (63%) than in mid-size (35%) and understorey (17%) trees, but differed only slightly between non-pioneers (58%) and pioneers (54%). The proportion of species with D seeds increased only slightly through a precipitation gradient of about 3100 to 1900 mm in the PCW; however, PY increased from 19 to 32% and PD decreased from 63 to 44%.