Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.
Bombax pentandrum L.
Eriodendron anfractuosum DC.
Now here’s a tree with a self-defense system—large, sharp thorns—even a Mad Max character could appreciate! It is native to the neotropical Americas: Central America, Mexico, northern South America, and the Caribbean. It is also found in Africa, and some theorize that the seed pods floated there. It prefers moist, well-drained soils and full sun.
Plants: Kapok trees are some of the largest on record, sometimes reaching up to 240' (73 m) in height, with trunks up to 10' (3 m) in diameter, and a crown as much as 200' (60 m) around. Trees are supported in part by “buttress roots” which may extend up to 50' (15 m) up the tree, as well as 65' (19 m) away from the trunk. These roots continue underground for as much as another 65' (19 m). Large thorns on the thrunk and larger branches make climbing these trees difficult, but apparently not impossible, since especially large specimens have been measured by climbing the tree and dropping a tape measure.
Leaves: Palmate, with 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 8" (20 cm) long.
Flowers: Cream-colored, with five petals and five long stamens fused into a tube. The calyces are bell-shaped. The flowers have a smell variously described as “pungent” and “foul,” but that’s if you aren’t a bat. If you do happen to be a bat, you like this odor, and in visiting the tree, you pollinate it.
Fruits: Seed pods are 6" (15 cm) × 2" (5 cm). Kapok, a cottony, water-resistant fiber harvested from the seed pods, was long used as stuffing for cushions, life preservers, and in other applications requiring light weight and water resistance. When the woody seed pods split open, they release silken seeds—up to 800,000 per tree per season!—that float away on the winds.
Ceiba pentandra at the Missouri Botanical Garden
Ceiba pentandra on Wikipedia
Ceiba pentandra on the Rainforest Alliance
Ceiba pentandra description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 22 Sep 2020.
Range: Zones 10-12: