For the identification of insects and other fauna and flora of South Africa.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra)

Kapok Tree  - local name: Knob Thorn (Ceiba pentandra) family Bombacaceae

We have a few species here called the knob thorn but this one is popular in gardens.
They get these huge beautiful flowers on them in the begining of spring before they get leaves.
In winter, they have big seedpods on them which loose their cover when the weather turns warmer. The pods are about 6-7 inches in length.Inside each pod is hundreds of black seeds surrounded by this white, furry hairs and is easily blown about in the August winds. This is just the time the birds are starting to build their nest for summer and it is highly prized by them to line the nests.
Kapok (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. The word is also used for the fibre obtained from its seed pods. The tree is also known as the Java cotton, Java kapok, or ceiba. It is a sacred symbol in Maya mythology.
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 densely 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 fiber that is a mix of lignin and cellulose.


The fibre is light, very buoyant, resilient, highly flammable and resistant to water. The process of harvesting and separating the fibre is labour-intensive and manual. It cannot be spun but is used as an alternative to down as filling in mattresses, pillows, upholstery, teddy bears, zafus and for insulation. It was previously much used in life jackets and similar devices. The fibre has been largely replaced by man-made materials. The seeds produce an oil used locally in soap and that can be used as fertilizer.
In Southeast Asian countries kapok has larger seed pods and the fibre which is highly flammable is used as a fuel in fire pistons.

Ceiba pentandra bark decoction has been used as a diuretic, aphrodisiac, and to treat headache, as well as type II diabetes.