Here we describe the seed shadow, seedling recruitment, ontogenetic structure and spatial distribution of Buchenavia capitata (an emergent canopy tree) in a 380-ha fragment of the Atlantic forest in northeast Brazil. In particular, we examine seed distribution around 10 parental trees and both seedling recruitment and mortality, during an 18 month period beneath and around parental trees. Moreover, we describe: (1) B. capitata occurrence within treefall gaps; (2) population structure in terms of ontogenetic stages for the whole site; and (3) spatial distribution of adults within an area of 51 hectares. 99% of seeds were found beneath parent crowns (n = 4,236) and seed density reached 14.6 +/- 29.9 seeds/m2 (0-140 seeds/m2). 49% of all seeds germinated but seedling mortality reached 100% after an 18 month period. In addition, saplings of B. capitata were not found in forest understory and within 30 treefall gaps (94-2,350 m2). The adults showed an average DBH of 69.3 +/- 22.1 cm, were 19.2 +/- 2.9 m tall and presented a clumped spatial distribution. B. capitata matched some of the features presented by shade intolerant trees or large-gap specialists, and we hypothesize that low rates or even lack of long distance seed dispersal events may be reducing the probability of B. capitata seeds reaching suitable habitats for successful seedling recruitment and growth. Because of that (1) seedlings face high levels of early mortality; (2) there is no sapling recruitment at the study site; and (3) local population faces senility and it is threatened by local extinction.