Characteristics of Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra) in the Wild

Ceiba pentandra
Kapok or Java Cotton Tree (Ceiba pentandra) is a tropical tree belonging to the order Malvales and the family Malvaceae. This tree is native to northern South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The word “kapok” is also used to refer to the fiber of this tree. The kapok tree is also known as Javanese cotton or Javanese kapok.

Ceiba is a genus of plants that is a sacred symbol in Mayan mythology.

Kapok trees are found in South America and Asia, to be precise in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In Bogor, West Java, there is a road that is lined with kapok trees. When the fruit is ripe, the atmosphere on the streets resembles snowfall because of the kapok fibers scattered under the trees.



As it is known as the “Cotton Tree”, this tree produces cotton in its ripe fruit. The cotton is collected and can be used for various household purposes, especially the manufacture of mattresses, pillows, and bolsters in Indonesia.

The parts of the kapok plant that are commonly used are the sheath of the fruit which is known to be used for health.

Kapok leaves are used to treat symptoms of digestive tract disorders such as diarrhea, skin disorders, as a sedative and pain reliever.

Kapok leaf shoots can be crushed and the extract is taken to treat asthma.

Decoction of kapok bark has been used as a diuretic, aphrodisiac, headache, and type II diabetes. This decoction is also used as an additive in some versions of the Ayahuasca psychedelic drink.

The flowers and young fruit are edible. Very young fruit is known to be eaten by some people in Java, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Indigenous tribes along the Amazon River harvest cotton wool to wrap chopstick arrows.



The kapok tree is a sacred symbol in Mayan mythology.

A sacred tree in Palo, ArarĂ¡ and SanterĂ­a.

According to Trinidad and Tobago folklore, the Castle of the Devil is a large kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) that grows deep in the forest where the Bazil demon of death is imprisoned by a carpenter. The carpenter tricked the devil into entering the tree where he carved seven chambers, one above the other, into the trunk. Folklore claims that Bazil still lives in that tree.

Most masks from Burkina Faso, especially those of the Bobo and Mossi people, are carved from kapok wood.



The kapok tree is the national emblem of Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Equatorial Guinea. It appears on the coat of arms and flag of Equatorial Guinea.

The kapok tree is a landmark in downtown Freetown, Sierra Leone, and is considered a symbol of freedom for the slaves who immigrated there.

Saigon, one of several old names for Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.



Ceiba pentandra Leaf
Source: B. Friday

Kapok leaves are palmately consisting of 5-9 leaflets, each 15-20 cm long.



Ceiba pentandra Flower
Source: Donald

The flowers appear in clusters, stemmed and bowled green with yellowish-white petals.



Ceiba pentandra Fruit
Source: Ng

Kapok fruit is about 15 cm in size which contains many seeds surrounded by fine yellowish fiber which is a mixture of lignin and cellulose. The fruit is oval, green when young then turns brown like wood when ripe, and breaks to spread the seeds and cotton.



Ceiba pentandra Tree

The kapok tree can grow to a height of 30-35 meters (rarely more than 50 meters) and a trunk diameter of up to 3 meters with broad supporting roots. However, kapok trees that grow in a good place can grow bigger and taller.

The trunk of the kapok tree is often filled with short, sharp, and large thorns. The main branches are 4-6 in number and can reach a diameter of 2 meters.

The kapok tree is one of the trees that can grow to a size large enough in the wild or a large park. Grows best in a deep soil and direct sunlight. This tree is tolerant of long droughts.

In tropical countries, kapok trees are very commonly planted as ornamental trees in public parks, roadsides, and home

Kapok tree is closely related to the Red Cotton Tree (Bombax ceiba) which is revered by Hindus.


This tree is very easy to plant and usually, ornamental plant cultivators reproduce it from the stem pieces. In less than a month, new leaves will grow followed by roots in the second month, and so on.


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