Ceiba pentandra

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"Kapok" and "kapok tree" redirect here. For the red/orange-flowered tree, see Bombax ceiba. For the children's book, see The Great Kapok Tree.
Ceiba pentandra
Kapok tree Honolulu.jpg
Kapok planted in Honolulu, Hawai'i
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Ceiba
Species: C. pentandra
Binomial name
Ceiba pentandra
(L.) Gaertn.
  • Bombax pentandrum L.[1]
  • Ceiba caribaea (DC.) A. Chev.
  • Ceiba casearia Medik.
  • Eriodendron anfractuosum DC.

Ceiba pentandra Telugu: బూరుగ 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. Kapok is the most used common name for the tree and may also refer to the cotton obtained from its seed pods. The tree is also known as the Java cotton, Java kapok, silk-cotton or ceiba.


The tree grows to 60–70 m (200–230 ft) tall and has a very substantial trunk up to 3 m (10 ft) in diameter with buttresses. The trunk and many of the larger branches are often (but not always) crowded with very large, robust simple thorns. The leaves are compound of 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20 cm (8 in) and palm like. Adult trees produce several hundred 15 cm (6 in) seed pods. The pods contain seeds surrounded by a fluffy, yellowish fibre that is a mix of lignin and cellulose. One of the oldest known trees is 200 years old, and sits at Terrazas in Miami.[2]


Kapok seeds within fibres in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

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, used locally in soap and that can be used as fertilizer.

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

The commercial tree is most heavily cultivated in the rainforests of Asia, notably in Java (hence its nicknames), Philippines, Malaysia, Hainan Island in China as well as in South America. The flowers are an important source of nectar and pollen for honey bees.

Ethnomedical uses[edit]

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 to some versions of the hallucinogenic drink Ayahuasca.

Kapok seed oil[edit]

A pressed seed oil can be derived from the seeds of the kapok tree. The oil has a yellow colour and a pleasant, mild odour and taste.[3] It has similar characteristics to 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, which makes it a nondrying oil. This means that it does not dry out significantly when exposed to the air.[3] Kapok oil has some potential as a biofuel and in paint preparation.

Religion and folklore[edit]

The kapok is a sacred symbol in Maya mythology.[4]

According to the folklore of Trinidad and Tobago, the Castle of the Devil is a huge kapok 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.[5]


C. pentandra is the national emblem of Guatemala,[4] Puerto Rico,[6] and Equatorial Guinea. It appears on the coat of arms and flag of Equatorial Guinea.[7]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ gbif.org
  2. ^ "Terrazas Miami in Miami River". Paz Realtors. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Kapok seed oil From the German Transport Information Service
  4. ^ a b Hellmuth, Nicholas (March 2011). "Ceiba pentandra". Revue Magazine. 
  5. ^ "Tobago’s Avatar – ‘The tree of life’". Tobago News. 2012-03-01. 
  6. ^ Philpott, Don (2003). Landmark Puerto Rico. Hunter Publishing, Inc. p. 14. ISBN 9781901522341. 
  7. ^ Berry, Bruce. "Equatorial Guinea". CRW Flags. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 

External links[edit]