Ceiba pentandra

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.

Ceiba pentandra
Kapok planted in Honolulu, Hawai'i
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Ceiba
C. pentandra
Binomial name
Ceiba pentandra
  • Bombax cumanense Kunth
  • Bombax guineense Schum. & Thonn.
  • Bombax guineensis Schumach.
  • Bombax inerme L.
  • Bombax mompoxense Kunth
  • Bombax occidentale Spreng. [Illegitimate]
  • Bombax orientale Spreng.
  • Bombax pentandrum L.
  • Bombax pentandrum Jacq.
  • Ceiba anfractuosa (DC.) M.Gómez
  • Ceiba caribaea (DC.) A.Chev.
  • Ceiba casearia Medik.
  • Ceiba guineensis (Thonn.) A.Chev.
  • Ceiba guineensis var. ampla A. Chev.
  • Ceiba guineensis var. clausa A. Chev.
  • Ceiba occidentalis (Spreng.) Burkill
  • Ceiba pendrandra f. grisea Ulbr.
  • Ceiba pentandra f. albolana Ulbr.
  • Ceiba pentandra var. caribaea (DC.) Bakh.
  • Ceiba pentandra var. clausa Ulbr.
  • Ceiba pentandra var. dehiscens Ulbr.
  • Ceiba pentandra f. grisea Ulbr.
  • Ceiba pentandra var. indica Bakhuisen
  • Ceiba thonnerii A. Chev.
  • Ceiba thonningii A.Chev.
  • Eriodendron anfractuosum DC.
  • Eriodendron anfractuosum var. africanum DC.
  • Eriodendron anfractuosum var. caribaeum DC.
  • Eriodendron anfractuosum var. guianense Sagot
  • Eriodendron anfractuosum var. indicum DC.
  • Eriodendron caribaeum G.Don
  • Eriodendron caribaeum G. Don ex Loud.
  • Eriodendron guineense G. Don ex Loud.
  • Eriodendron occidentale (Spreng.) G.Don
  • Eriodendron orientale Kostel.
  • Eriodendron pentandrum (L.) Kurz
  • Gossampinus alba Buch.-Ham.
  • Gossampinus rumphii Schott & Endl.
  • Xylon pentandrum Kuntze


The tree grows to 240 ft (73 m), as confirmed by climbing and tape drop[2] with reports of Kapoks up to 252 feet (77 meters)[3] 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.[4][5][6][7]

The buttress roots can be clearly seen in photographs extending 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters) up the trunk of some specimens[8] 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)[9][10]

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[11][12] and form a crown of foliage as much as 201 feet (61 meters) in width.[13] The palmate leaves are composed of 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20 cm (7.9 in) long.

The trees produce several hundred 15 cm (5.9 in) pods containing seeds surrounded by a fluffy, yellowish fibre that is a mix of lignin and cellulose.

The referenced reports make it clear that C. pentandra is among the largest trees in the world.


The commercial tree is most heavily cultivated in the rainforests of Asia, notably in Java (hence its nicknames), the Philippines, Malaysia, and Hainan Island in China, as well as in South America.

The flowers are an important source of nectar and pollen for honey bees and bats.

Bats are the primary pollinators of the night-blooming flowers.

Native tribes along the Amazon River harvest the fibre to wrap around their blowgun darts. The fibres create a seal that allows the pressure to force the dart through the tube.

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.

Ethnomedical uses

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.

Seed oil

A vegetable oil can be pressed from the seeds. The oil has a yellow colour and a pleasant, mild odour and taste,[14] 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.[14] The oil has some potential as a biofuel and in paint preparation.

Religion and folklore

The tree is a sacred symbol in Maya mythology.[15]

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.[16]

Most masks coming from Burkina Faso, especially those of Bobo and Mossi people, are carved from C. pentandra timber.


Ceiba pentandra is the national emblem of Guatemala,[15] Puerto Rico,[17] and Equatorial Guinea. It appears on the coat of arms and flag of Equatorial Guinea.[18]

The Cotton Tree (Sierra Leone) is a landmark in downtown Freetown, Sierra Leone, and is considered a symbol of freedom for the slaves that immigrated there.

See also


  1. "Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. — The Plant List". Theplantlist.org. Retrieved 2016-11-17.
  2. <anonymous> (May 22, 2010). "Very huge tree in Thailand". Retrieved May 5, 2011.
  3. "mayanodyssey.com - Informationen zum Thema mayanodyssey". www.mayanodyssey.com.
  4. David G. Campbell, LAND OF GHOSTS (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2005) p. 129.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-01. Retrieved 2017-02-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. "Peru Journals". www.drwren.com.
  7. http://www.ecology.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/amazonCeiba-big-tree-rf223.jpg
  8. Dr. Al C. Carder, FOREST GIANTS OF THE WORLD (Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1995) p. 145 (Photo plate 123 with caption).
  9. Peter A. Furley D. Phil. and Walter W. Newey Ph.D., GEOGRAPHY OF THE BIOSPHERE (London: Butterworth, 1983) p. 279.
  10. Michael Bright et al, 1000 WONDERS OF NATURE (London: Reader's Digest Assoc., 2001) p. 332.
  11. Linda Gamlin and Anuschka de Rohan, MYSTERIES OF THE RAINFOREST (Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader's Digest Assoc., 1998) p. 79.
  12. Ivan T. Sanderson and David Loth, IVAN T. SANDERSON'S BOOK OF GREAT JUNGLES (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965) p. 78.
  13. Dr. Al C. Carder, GIANT TREES OF WESTERN AMERICA AND THE WORLD (Madeira Park, British Columbia: Harbour Publishing, 2005) p. 129. Measured by Prof. Robert van Pelt in 2003.
  14. "Kapok seed oil". www.tis-gdv.de.
  15. Hellmuth, Nicholas (March 2011). "Ceiba pentandra" (PDF). Revue Magazine.
  16. "Tobago's Avatar – 'The tree of life'". Tobago News. 2012-03-01. Archived from the original on 2013-06-30.
  17. Philpott, Don (2003). Landmark Puerto Rico. Hunter Publishing, Inc. p. 14. ISBN 9781901522341.
  18. Berry, Bruce. "Equatorial Guinea". CRW Flags. Retrieved 2013-04-27.

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