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CEIBA pentandra

Image of Ceiba pentandra

Michael Charters, www.calflora.net

Family

Bombacaceae

Botanical Name

CEIBA pentandra

Plant Common Name

Ceiba, Kapok, Silk Cotton Tree

Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

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.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 9

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    9 - 12

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, H2, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun

  • Height

    100'-200' / 30.5m - 61.0m (100)

  • Width

    50'-90' / 15.2m - 27.4m (80)

  • Bloom Time

    Late Winter

  • Native To

    South America

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Pollution, Drought, Salt

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Light Yellow, Light Pink, Ivory

  • Fruit Color

    Chocolate

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Dark Green

  • Bark Color

    Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Coarse

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Shade Trees, Street Trees, Tropical

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    No