The silk floss tree , is a species of deciduous tree native to the tropical and subtropical forests of South America. It has a host of local common names, such as palo borracho (in Spanish literally "drunken tree"). It belongs to the same family as the baobab and the kapok. Another tree of the Ceiba genus, C. chodatii, often receives the same common names.
The natural habitat of the floss silk tree is the north-east of Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil. It is resistant to drought and moderate cold. It grows fast in spurts when water is abundant, and sometimes reaches more than 25 m in height. Its trunk is bottle-shaped, generally bulging in its lower third, measuring up to 2 m in girth. It is studded with thick conical prickles which serve to store water for dry times. In younger trees, the trunk is green due to its high chlorophyll content, which makes it capable of performing photosynthesis when leaves are absent; with age it turns to gray.
The branches tend to be horizontal and are also covered with prickles. The leaves are composed of five to seven long leaflets.
The flowers are creamy-whitish in the center and pink towards the tips of their five petals. They measure 10-15 cm in diameter and their shape is superficially similar to hibiscus flowers. Their nectar is known to attract insects such as monarch butterflies, which perform pollination. C. speciosa flowers are in bloom between February and May. The flowers of the related C. chodatii are similar in form and size, but their color goes from creamy white centers to yellow tips.
The fruits are lignous ovoid pods, 20 cm long, which contain bean-sized black seeds surrounded by a mass of fibrous, fluffy matter reminiscent of cotton or silk.
The "cotton" inside the fruit pods, although not of as good quality as kapok, has been used as stuffing for pillows and thermic insulation at times.
The wood of this tree is light (relative density = 0.27 g/cm), soft and flexible, and is employed in packaging, to make canoes, as wood pulp to make paper, and in ropes. From the seeds it is possible to obtain vegetable oil (both edible and industrially useful).
The floss silk tree is cultivated mostly for ornamental purposes. Outside of private gardens around the world, it is often planted along urban streets.
Ceiba speciosa is added to some versions of the hallucinogenic drink Ayahuasca.
Brief description of the tree.
Chorisia genus (in Spanish) - Common features of the genus.
Subtropicals growing in Kerikeri - A report on C. speciosa as cultivated in New Zealand.
Ceiba gallery - Many pictures of trees of the Ceiba genus.
More pictures and comments about cultivation (in Spanish).
TROPICOS database of the Missouri Botanical Garden
USDA GRIN database
USDA PLANTS database (recognizes Chorisia speciosa)
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Ceiba speciosa