The Ceiba speciosa, also known as the silk floss tree, is native to South America. The cotton-like material of its fruit is used for insulation and cushioning (cushions, life jackets, etc.). The seeds are pressed to extract an edible oil.
Ceiba means “cotton-tree” in Spanish. Speciosa means “magnificent” in Latin.
Description and flowering period
It is a tree which usually reaches heights of 6 to 12 meters although it can reach up to 25 meters. Its trunk is slightly swollen at the base – hence its bottle-tree nickname – it can reach 2 meters in girth, is green-barked and covered in cone-shaped prickles of varying sizes. With age, the trunk and spines turn to grey. The leaves are deciduous. They are palmate and composed of 5 to 7 lance-shaped, 10cm long leaflets with slightly toothed margins. They have a lengthy leaf-stalk. In Europe, flowering occurs before new leaves develop: the bare branches carry large star-shaped flowers bearing 5 petals which are pink at the top and white spotted with dark-red towards the base. The inedible fruits are oblong, green and pendulous. They are nearly 20cm long. Once mature, the outer layer turns brown and opens to reveal a dense cottony mass. These white silky fibres surround the seeds which are round and brown. This distinctive feature is what inspired its common-name “silk-floss tree”.
It demands a humus-rich, deep yet free-draining acidic soil in a sheltered sunny position. The species is drought-tolerant and can withstand short spells of light frosts. It dies at -5°C and leaf damage occurs at -1°C.
- Craftsmanship: The supple wood is used for dugout boats and paper pulp; The cottony floss is used as insulation and padding (cushions, life jackets…).
- Culinary: The seeds are pressed to obtain oil.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN