Ceiba pentandra
Common Name: kapoktree 
Type: Tree
Family: Malvaceae
Native Range: South America, Africa
Zone: 10 to 12
Height: 75.00 to 125.00 feet
Spread: 35.00 to 75.00 feet
Bloom Time: February to March
Bloom Description: Creamy white to pink
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Shade Tree
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest, Thorns
Tolerate: Drought

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 10-12. Intolerant of frost. Fast-growing tree. Best sited in moist well-drained soils in full sun. Water needs vary during the year. Trees appreciate abundant moisture during their vegetative period, but prefer much less moisture in winter during the dry season (December – February in southern Florida) when trees have lost most of their leaves or are deciduous. Flowers typically begin blooming in February near the end of the dry season, followed by fruiting. New foliage typically begins to appear shortly after flowering. Propagate from seed or cuttings.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Ceiba pentandra, commonly known as kapok or silk-cotton tree, is a fast-growing (to 13’ per year), deciduous (leaves drop during the dry season) tropical tree of the Bombax family that typically matures to 75-125’, but infrequently soars to as much as 230’ tall with a broad-spreading, somewhat flattened crown consisting of nearly horizontal branching. This large tree is perhaps best known as being the source of kapok which is a cotton-like, water-resistant fiber harvested from the seed pods. Kapok was at one time a popular down-like substance used as a stuffing for mattresses, life jackets, pillows, upholstery and as insulation. Although once commercially popular, kapok fiber has now been largely replaced by synthetics.

This tree is native to tropical America from Mexico south through Central America and the northern parts of South America to the Amazon basin. It probably was introduced into Africa many years ago, one theory being that unopened seed pods, which do not sink in water, floated from eastern Latin America to Africa. It is believed to be the tallest tree on the continent of Africa. It is now common in many areas of the tropics around the world.

Massive, straight, often spiny trunks on mature trees have wide spreading buttresses at the base. Trunk diameter on average size trees will reach 6’ at maturity, but may extend to as much as 9’ or more on large trees. Palmate compound leaves have 5-9 leaflets (each 3-7” long) with all leaflets extending outward from a single point at the base of the leaf. Creamy white to pink flowers bloom in clusters before the leaves appear. Flowers have bell-shaped calyces with five shallow lobes, five pubescent, oblong to spatulate petals, and 5 stamens fused into a tube. Pungent-smelling flowers attract bats which in turn help pollinate the flowers. Fruits are ellipsoid woody capsules (3-6” long and 2” diameter) each of which contains up to 200 tiny seeds embedded in cotton-like kapok. Each tree may produce up to 4,000 fruits each season, which amounts to a lot of kapok (800,000 seeds per tree per season). Capsules split open when ripe to release the silky seeds which are easily distributed by wind.

Genus name comes from the Latinized version of the South American name for the silk cotton tree.

Specific epithet comes from the Greek words pente meaning five and andro meaning stamen in reference to plant flowers having five stamens.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

This tree is too large for most residential landscapes. Good for parks. Shade tree in southern Florida and Hawaii.