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Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.


KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassRosidaeRoses, legumes, proteas, dogwoods, hydrangeas, mistletoes, euphorbias, grapes, many more
OrderMalvalesIncludes cacao, balsa, lime, linden, basswood, daphnes, hibiscus, hollyhocks, okra, baobab, cotton, kapok, and many others
FamilyMalvaceaeIncludes okra, jute, cacao, hibiscus, many others
GenusCeibaLatinized version of the South American name for the silk cotton tree
SpeciespentandraWith five stamens

About plant names...

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.

Online References:

The Missouri Botanical Garden


The Rainforest Alliance

Bombax pentandrum L.

Eriodendron anfractuosum DC.


Ceiba pentandra description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 22 Sep 2020.

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Ceiba pentandra (kapok)

4/10/2015 · Naples Botanical Garden, Naples, Florida

Ceiba pentandra (kapok)

4/10/2015 · Naples Botanical Garden, Naples, Florida · ≈ 1½ × 2½′ (53 × 79 cm) ID is uncertain

Ceiba pentandra (kapok)

4/10/2015 · Naples Botanical Garden, Naples, Florida · ≈ 15 × 10″ (37 × 25 cm)

Range: Zones 10-12:

About this map...