Michael Charters, www.calflora.net
Plant Common Name
Ceiba, Kapok, Silk Cotton Tree
This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.
Impressive in size and muscular in form, kapok has fragrant dull white flowers in late winter that produces pods filled with cottony fibers once used for stuffing lifejackets, furniture and pillows. A massive deciduous tree native to South America, it has been cultivated all across the tropics for so long that often it is misleadingly listed as native to Africa, southern Asia or "pantropical". The smooth gray bark of this monstrous plant puts elephants and the largest of dinosaurs to shame. With ages the trunk becomes magnificently buttressed.
In late winter and early spring, while the tree is barren of leaves, the green-gray branches bear five-petaled, waxy, creamy white to light yellow (sometimes flushed with pale pink) flowers that smell of milk. First opening at night, these pendent clusters of blossoms are pollinated naturally by bats. The boat-shaped fruits that form thereafter are first green and ripen to a felty dark brown, splitting open to reveal the white cotton fiber balls (the "kapok") surrounding the black seeds. From spring to autumn the horizontal branches also are cloaked in large palmate (hand-like) leaves the size of a dinner plate. Each leaf has five to seven oval leaflets.
Grow kapok in full sun in a spacious location in a fertile, well-draining soil. Ample rainfall in the growing season must be followed by a pronounced dry period in the winter. Small branches are somewhat brittle in wind. It is no less than spectacular as a specimen shade tree for parks, large estates or public gardens. There are seemingly two natural forms of this species: one has smooth bark and has creamy white flowers while another has more brownish bark that often retains thorns and produces flowers that are more reddish.
AHS Heat Zone
12 - 9
USDA Hardiness Zone
9 - 12
H1, H2, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
100'-200' / 30.5m - 61.0m (100)
50'-90' / 15.2m - 27.4m (80)
Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline
Pollution, Drought, Salt
Drought Tolerant, Average Water
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter