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Ceiba pentandra (Kapok) growing in Athens, Greece

May 24, 2012

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I was surprised to find this Ceiba pentandra tree in a park in Athens. The tree is native to Mexico, Central America, Northern South America, and the Caribbean. It is the national tree of Guatemala and Puerto Rico and was considered sacred symbol in Maya mythology. In its native habitat C. pentandra can grow up to 70 meters (230 ft.) tall.

Here’s a photo I took a few years ago of a large old C. pentandra growing on the beach in Panama. And another photo of me standing under a massive Central West Africa native C. pentandra var. guineensis in Gabon. I’ve also seen it grown in commercial plantations in Kenya for the Kapok, cotton-like fiber (a mixture of lignin and cellulose) packed into the seedpods. This material is used as an alternative to cotton in pillow stuffing, mattresses, upholstery, etc. Due to its extreme buoyancy it is also used to stuff life jackets. Years ago, when I lived in the Pacaya-Samiria reserve in the Peruvian Amazon I remember the local people using the small round seeds (which are embedded in the fiber) on hooks for fish bait. Amazonian peoples also use the kapok fiber to wrap around blowgun darts. The fiber plug create a seal that allows the pressure to force the dart through the tube.

A decoction from C. pentandra bark has been used as a diuretic, aphrodisiac, and to treat headache, as well as type II diabetes. Parts of Ceiba pentandra are used as an additive to some versions of the hallucinogenic drink Ayahuasca.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2012 10:08:56 am

    In Athens! Remarkable. There is one growing as far north as Orlando in Florida, at Walt Disney World. I am sure it receives cold damage from time to time, but has managed to grow to a very good size.

  2. May 24, 2012 10:08:28 pm

    Most interesting that you call this plant a Kapok plant…in Australia the kapok tree is Cochlospermum gillivraei and a most interesting edible and useful species it is. I remember sleeping on a matress made of springs and kapok when I was a child (not all that long ago ;)) heres a link for information about it. I was going to buy some seeds from a Queensland source but realising it is a tropical tree I decided against coaxing the poor thing to adapt to life in Temperate Tasmania…

  3. tree man dan permalink
    January 29, 2013 10:08:08 pm

    I think that is ceiba speciosa not pentandra

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