Ceiba pentandra (Kapok) growing in Athens, Greece
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.