Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ceiba pentandra

Ceiba pentandra, commonly known as Silk Cotton Tree or Kapok Tree is native to Tropical America and is from the family Bombaceae.

This is a very tall, striking, and deciduous tree. It has a very distinctive form as the branches are borne on the clear, erect trunk in horizontal layers. They mostly come in threes, thus resulting in a pagoda shape that is even more obvious when the tree has shed its foliage and the branches are bare. This tall and striking tree can grow up to 40m in height.

The leaves are spirally arranged, and are palmate compound with 5-8 leaflets crowding at the end of a 7.5-20cm long leaf stalk. Each leaflet is 8-18cm long, with an entire or slightly serrate margin.

The flowers are bisexual, 4cm wide, creamy white or have a pale-pink colour and have a milky fragrance. Flowers usually open after dusk and last one night, falling off by the following noon. Their odor is unpleasant, but is probably meant to attract the bats that pollinate them.

The fruits are large, smooth, woody, oval capsules that grow up to 15cm in length that are pointed at both ends. They burst open while still on the tree after the leaves have fallen. The colour changes from green through brown to black when ripe, after which they split from the base to the apex into 5 sections, releasing the black seeds inside.

The black seeds are round like peas and are found in pods. They are embedded in a mass of light, woolly hairs. The hairs are not attached to the seeds, but they can carry the seeds a great distance from the parent tree especially if there is a strong breeze.

Since it is buoyant and water resistant it is often used in flotation devices and padding. The seeds, leaves, bark and resin have been used to treat fever, asthma, and kidney disease. In Mayan myths the kapok tree was sacred. They believed that the souls of the dead would climb up into the branches which reached into heaven.

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