Ceiba pentandra

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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 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 [1]

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 the most used common name for the tree and may also refer to the cotton-like fluff obtained from its seed pods. 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.

Common Names[2][edit]

  • English - Kapok, Ceiba, White Silk-Cotton Tree
  • Haitian Creole - Mapou
  • Spanish - Ceiba, Lupuna (Peru)
  • Portuguese - Sumaúma (Portugal), Samaúma (Brazil), Mafumeira (Brazil), Ocá (São Tomé and Príncipe), Poilão (Guinea-Bissau and Portugal).
  • French - Fromager
  • Surinamese - Kankantrie
  • Hindi - Safed semal सफ़ेद सेमल
  • Manipuri - মোৰেহ তেৰা Moreh Tera
  • Malayalam - Pannimaram
  • Tamil - Ilavam இலவம்
  • Telugu - Tellaburaga
  • Tagalog/Filipino - Bulak or Bulac
  • Marathi - Samali
  • Kannada - Dudi
  • Sanskrit - Kutashalmali
  • Bengali - শ্ৱেত সিমল Shwet Simul
  • Samoan - Vavae
  • Sinhala - Kotta[3]
  • Ashante, Twi and Fanteen - Onyãã, or Onyina[4]
  • Mandingo - Banã, Bãnda (Dioula), Bantã (Malinké), Banti[5]
  • Indonesian - Randu/Kapuk Randu
  • Odia - Semili Tula
  • Yoruba - Araba
  • Malay - Kekabu


The tree grows to 70 m (230 ft), with reports of Kapoks up to 252 feet (77 meters) [6] Trunks can often be up to 3 m (9.8 ft) in diameter above the extensive buttresses. The very largest individuals, however, can be 19-feet (6 meters) thick or more above the buttresses.[7][8] [9]

The buttress roots can be clearly seen in photographs extending 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters) up the trunk of some specimens[10] 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)[11][12]

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[13][14] and form a crown of foliage as much as 201 feet (61 meters) in width.[15] 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. One of the oldest known Kapok trees, at 200 years, lives in Miami, Florida.[16][dubious ]


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

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.

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

Kapok 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.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, a council was summoned that night in Washington, to consider what strategic commodities were threatened. According to John Kenneth Galbraith, the only reason the American war council could find to justify retaliation was that the 'kapok' supply was threatened. Although kapok was at the time listed among the strategic materials, no one present at the meeting was able to think what it was used for.

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 in some versions of the hallucinogenic drink Ayahuasca.

Kapok seed oil[edit]

A vegetable oil can be pressed from kapok seeds. The oil has a yellow colour and a pleasant, mild odour and taste,[17] 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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19]

Most masks coming from Burkina Faso, especially those of Bobo and Mossi people, are carved from the kapok timber.[citation needed]


C. pentandra is the national emblem of Guatemala,[18] Puerto Rico,[20] and Equatorial Guinea. It appears on the coat of arms and flag of Equatorial Guinea.[21]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. — The Plant List". Theplantlist.org. Retrieved 2016-11-17. 
  2. ^ "Ceiba pentandra - Kapok Tree". Flowersofindia.net. Retrieved 2016-11-17. 
  3. ^ "Ayurvedic Plants of Sri Lanka: Plants Details". Instituteofayurveda.org. Retrieved 2016-11-17. 
  4. ^ F.R. Irvine, Woody Plants of Ghana, Oxford University Press: London 1961
  5. ^ Maurice Delafosse, La langue mandingue et ses dialects (Malinké, Bambara, Dioula), Paris 1929, s.v. fromager.
  6. ^ http://www.mayanodyssey.com/costa-rica/osa-peninsula.htm
  7. ^ David G. Campbell, LAND OF GHOSTS (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2005) p. 129.
  8. ^ http://www.drwren.com/photo_album/Tambop00/033.htm with comments at www.drwren.com/peru/journal.html#0804
  9. ^ http://www.ecology.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/amazonCeiba-big-tree-rf223.jpg
  10. ^ Dr. Al C. Carder, FOREST GIANTS OF THE WORLD (Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1995) p. 145 (Photo plate 123 with caption).
  11. ^ Peter A. Furley D. Phil. and Walter W. Newey Ph.D., GEOGRAPHY OF THE BIOSPHERE (London: Butterworth, 1983) p. 279.
  12. ^ Michael Bright et al, 1000 WONDERS OF NATURE (London: Reader's Digest Assoc., 2001) p. 332.
  13. ^ Linda Gamlin and Anuschka de Rohan, MYSTERIES OF THE RAINFOREST (Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader's Digest Assoc., 1998) p. 79.
  14. ^ Ivan T. Sanderson and David Loth, IVAN T. SANDERSON'S BOOK OF GREAT JUNGLES (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965) p. 78.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Terrazas Miami in Miami River". Paz Realtors. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  17. ^ a b Kapok seed oil From the German Transport Information Service
  18. ^ a b Hellmuth, Nicholas (March 2011). "Ceiba pentandra" (PDF). Revue Magazine. 
  19. ^ "Tobago’s Avatar – ‘The tree of life’". Tobago News. 2012-03-01. 
  20. ^ Philpott, Don (2003). Landmark Puerto Rico. Hunter Publishing, Inc. p. 14. ISBN 9781901522341. 
  21. ^ Berry, Bruce. "Equatorial Guinea". CRW Flags. Retrieved 2013-04-27. 

External links[edit]