Ceiba pentandra is a tropical tree of the order Malvales and the family Malvaceae (previously separated in the family Bombacaceae), native to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, northern South America, and (as the variety C. pentandra var. guineensis) to tropical west Africa. A somewhat smaller variety is found throughout southern Asia and the East Indies. Kapok is a name used in English speaking countries for both the tree and the cotton-like fluff obtained from its seed pods. In Spanish speaking countries the tree is commonly known as "ceiba". The tree is cultivated for the seed fibre, particularly in south-east Asia, and is also known as the Java cotton, Java kapok, silk-cotton, samauma, or ceiba.
|Kapok planted in Honolulu, Hawai'i|
|Scientific classification |
The tree grows to 240 ft (73 m), as confirmed by climbing and tape drop with reports of Kapoks up to 252 feet (77 meters) Trunks can often be up to 3 m (9.8 ft) in diameter above the extensive buttress roots. The very largest individuals, however, can be 19 feet (5.8 meters) thick or more above the buttresses.
The buttress roots can be clearly seen in photographs extending 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters) up the trunk of some specimens and extending out from the trunk as much as 65 feet (20 meters) and then continuing below ground to a total length of 165 feet (50 meters)
The trunk and many of the larger branches are often crowded with large simple thorns. These major branches, usually 4 to 6 in number, can be up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) thick and form a crown of foliage as much as 201 feet (61 meters) in width. The palmate leaves are composed of 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20 cm (7.9 in) long.
The referenced reports make it clear that C. pentandra is among the largest trees in the world.
Bats are the primary pollinators of the night-blooming flowers.
The fibre is light, very buoyant, resilient, resistant to water, but it is very flammable. The process of harvesting and separating the fibre is labour-intensive and manual. It is difficult to spin, but is used as an alternative to down as filling in mattresses, pillows, upholstery, zafus, and stuffed toys such as teddy bears, and for insulation. It was previously much used in life jackets and similar devices until synthetic materials largely replaced the fibre. The seeds produce an oil that is used locally in soap and can be used as fertilizer.
Ceiba pentandra bark decoction has been used as a diuretic, aphrodisiac, and to treat headache, as well as type II diabetes. It is used as an additive in some versions of the psychedelic drink Ayahuasca.
A vegetable oil can be pressed from the seeds. The oil has a yellow colour and a pleasant, mild odour and taste, resembling cottonseed oil. It becomes rancid quickly when exposed to air. Kapok oil is produced in India, Indonesia and Malaysia. It has an iodine value of 85–100; this makes it a nondrying oil, which means that it does not dry out significantly when exposed to air. The oil has some potential as a biofuel and in paint preparation.
Religion and folklore
The tree is a sacred symbol in Maya mythology.
According to the folklore of Trinidad and Tobago, the Castle of the Devil is a huge C. pentandra growing deep in the forest in which Bazil the demon of death was imprisoned by a carpenter. The carpenter tricked the devil into entering the tree in which he carved seven rooms, one above the other, into the trunk. Folklore claims that Bazil still resides in that tree.
Most masks coming from Burkina Faso, especially those of Bobo and Mossi people, are carved from C. pentandra timber.
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|Wikispecies has information related to Ceiba pentandra|
- Kapok Fibers
- Seed Fibers
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Ceiba pentandra
- Ceiba pentandra in Brunken, U., Schmidt, M., Dressler, S., Janssen, T., Thombiano, A. & Zizka, G. 2008. West African plants – A Photo Guide. Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Frankfurt/Main.