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Bombax ceiba - L.

Common Name Red Silk Cotton Tree, Kapok Tree
Family Malvaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards Seed is poisonous if ingested
Habitats Hot, dry river valleys, savannah; at elevations below 1,400 metres in southern China[ 266 ]. Humid lowland deciduous forests[ 307 ]. Often found near stream banks[ 320 ].
Range E. Asia - southern China, Indian subcontinent, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines to Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Bombax ceiba Red Silk Cotton Tree, Kapok Tree


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Bombax ceiba Red Silk Cotton Tree, Kapok Tree
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Summary

Kapok Tree, Bombax ceiba, is a fast-growing, tropical, large tree up to 20-25 m tall and spreads 8-15 m wide. It has an erect stem that develops buttresses when mature and an umbrella shaped crown. The leaves are bright green, leathery, and rounded. The flowers are cup shaped and red. The fruits are brown oval capsule. Plant parts like flowers, young root, gum, leaves, shoots, and bark have medicinal properties and are used as treatment for various conditions and diseases like cholera, fractures, toothache, coughs, urinary problems, influenza, and snake bites among others. The flowers are edible when cooked and are highly valued as a curry vegetable. Young leaves are edible as well and cooked and eaten as vegetable. Moreover, ripe seeds and young roots are roasted. Edible oil can be obtained from the seed, fibre from the inner bark, and gum containing tannins from the bark and sapling root. Seed oil is also used in soap making. Other common names include red silk cotton tree and silk cotton tree. Boichu, Bombax, Booruga, Boorunga, Bouro, Bula, Buroh, Edelsong, Illavam, Kaanti-senbal, Kantakadruma, Kantesavar, Katesawar, Kempu-booruga, Leptan, Malabulak, Mu mian, Mulilavu, Mullelava, Mullila-pula, Mullilavau, Mullilavu, Mullubooruga, Neibie, Nglo, Nuoliu, Pagun, Pan-ya, Panchu, Phakong, Pula-maram, Pulai, Rakta-pushpa, Red Silk Cotton tree, Roktosimul, Salmali, Samar, Sanar, Saur, Savar, Savri, Sawar, S?mul, Senur, Shembal, Shemolo, Shevari, Shevri, Shimla, Shimul cotton, Simal, Simalo, Simalu, Simla, Simlo, Simolu, Singi.


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of lolypop
Bombax ceiba is a deciduous Tree growing to 25 m (82ft) by 22 m (72ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10 and is frost tender. The flowers are pollinated by Birds, Bees.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map

Synonyms

Bombax malabaricum DC. Gossampinus malabarica (DC.) Merr. Salmalia malabarica (DC.) Schott & Endl.

Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Inner bark  Leaves  Oil  Root  Seed  Seedpod
Edible Uses: Oil

Edible portion: Roots, Leaves, Flowers, Fruit, Seeds - oil, Gum. Flowers - cooked or pickled. They are highly valued as a curry vegetable[ 307 ]. The flower buds and the calyx of not fully opened flowers are eaten cooked as a vegetable[ 317 ]. Flowers are dried and pounded and used for bread also used in five flower tea. Young leaves - cooked and eaten as a vegetable[ 404 ]. Ripe seeds are eaten roasted[ 301 , 317 ]. An edible fatty oil is obtained from the seed[ 301 ]. The seeds contain 22-25% oil. Young roots - The taproot is peeled and eaten raw or roasted[ 404 ]. Rich in starch[ 404 ]. Gum[ 404 ]. The buds, young pods and roots of seedling can be eaten cooked. The young bark is used as a famine food.

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.


The flowers are astringent and refrigerant[ 404 ]. They are used to treat cutaneous troubles[ 404 ]. The young roots are diuretic and tonic[ 404 ]. They are used in the treatment of cholera, tubercular fistula, coughs, urinary complaints, nocturnal pollution, abdominal pain due to dysentery, and impotency[ 404 ]. The gum is astringent, demulcent and tonic[ 404 ]. It is used in the treatment of dysentery, haemoptysis in pulmonary tuberculosis, influenza and menorrhagia[ 404 ]. The leaves are hypotensive and hypoglycaemic[ 404 ]. A decotion of the shoots have reputedly been used to treat ulcers of the palate, syphilis, leprosy and spider or snake bites[ 404 ]. Combined with the roots of Moghania macrophylla, the fruit of Terminalia chebula and borax, they are used to treat enlarged spleen; they are combined with Capparis zeylanica and Carissa carandas to treat oedema; and with fenugreek to treat corns on the foot[ 404 ]. The seedlings have reputed antipyretic activity (when ground with a few leaves of fistula and Semecarpus anacardium). They are combined with Vitis spp. (part not specified) to treat carbuncle; and with Terminalia alata to treat haematuria[ 404 ]. The knots or the stem are used on bleeding gums (cooked in mustard oil with the bark of Zyzyphus rugosa and Ichnocarpus frutescens and then eaten[ 404 ]). The bark is reputedly used against cholera (usually combined with many other plants), pleurisy, stings and as a diuretic. It is used in bandages for lasting fractures or given in infusion for toothache before visiting the dentist[ 404 ].

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Edible Shrubs provides detailed information, attractively presented, on over 70 shrub species. They have been selected to provide a mix of different plant sizes and growing conditions. Most provide delicious and nutritious fruit, but many also have edible leaves, seeds, flowers, stems or roots, or they yield edible or useful oil.

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Other Uses

Oil

Other uses rating: High (4/5). Large Flowering Tree, Public Open Spaces, Specimen, Xerophytic. Agroforestry Uses: A fast-growing plant, tolerant of full sun even when small and with a wide range of uses, it can be used as a pioneer when restoring native woodland[ 404 , K ]. It can also be used as a pioneer when establishing a large woodland garden, being able to remain as a canopy tree as the garden matures[ 404 ]. Other Uses The seed floss is used as a stuffing material for pillows, cushions etc[ 310 , 454 ]. It is considered to be vermin-proof[ 404 ]. Waterproof and buoyant, it can be used as the filling in life jackets[ 418 ]. It is sometimes also as an insulating material in refrigerators etc; can be used as a packing material; and has sound-proofing properties[ 317 , 404 ]. It is of lower quality than the floss obtained from Ceiba pentandra[ 320 ]. A fibre is obtained from the inner bark[ 598 ]. It is suitable for cordage[ 454 , 598 ]. A transparent gum exudes from the bark and sapling root[ 307 ]. It is called 'Gum of Malabar'[ 46 ]. The gum contains tannins[ 404 ]. The gum can be mixed with ashes and castor oil, and is then used as a cement for caulking iron saucepans[ 404 ]. An oil obtained from the seed is used to make soap and for illumination etc[ 317 , 418 ]. It can be used as a substitute for cottonseed oil[ 404 ]. The fibrous bark is used for making ropes[ 320 ]. The greyish, dark-streaked wood is coarse-textured, straight-grained, light in weight, very soft and pithy[ 310 , 404 ]. It can be used to make packing cases, toys, matches, pencils etc[ 317 , 320 ]. Large trunks are often hollowed out to make canoes[ 307 ]. The wood has been recommended as a source of cellulose[ 46 ]. This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds.

Special Uses

Carbon Farming

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Fiber  Management: Standard  Regional Crop

A plant of the tropical, humid lowlands[ 320 ]. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 28 - 42°c, though it can tolerate 5 - 49°c[ 418 ]. It can resist occasional light frosts, with new growth being killed at -1°c, but dormant growth being tolerant down to -3°c[ 418 , 598 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall of 750 - 4,000mm, tolerating 500 - 5,000mm and preferring a distinct dry season[ 418 ]. Grows best in a sunny position[ 307 ]. Prefers a deep, rich, well-drained soil, but tolerating a wide range of conditions[ 307 , 404 ]. Established plants are drought tolerant[ 307 ], and can also withstand occasional inundation of the soil[ 404 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 6.5, tolerating 4.9 - 7.2[ 418 ]. A fast-growing plant, especially when young[ 404 ]. The plant can commence flowering when around 8 - 10 years old from seed[ 404 ]. The plant produces suckers, especially when young, though they often die after 2 - 3 years, especially as the tree grows older[ 404 ]. Young trees can be coppiced, but older trees will often fail to grow back after being cut down[ 404 ]. The tree has a thick bark which acts as an insulation and allows it to recover from fires[ 404 , 598 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Fiber  Clothing, rugs, sheets, blankets etc. Currently, almost none of our fiber are produced from perennial crops but could be!
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.

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The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees, and Woodland Gardening. Our new book to be released soon is Edible Shrubs.

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Propagation

Seed - sown fresh, without pre-treatment, they have a high germination rate[ 404 ]. Some reports suggest germination rates can be improved by pre-soaking the seeds for 12 hours prior to sowing[ 404 ], this is likely to refer to seeds that have dried somewhat[ K ]. Seeds can be sown in a sunny position, either in situ or in nursery beds. Sprouting takes place in 10 - 25 days[ 404 ]. Transplant 5cm tall seedlings to individual containers and plant out 12 months later[ 404 ]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Kapok Tree, Bombax ceiba. Other common names include red silk cotton tree and silk cotton tree. Boichu, Bombax, Booruga, Boorunga, Bouro, Bula, Buroh, Edelsong, Illavam, Kaanti-senbal, Kantakadruma, Kantesavar, Katesawar, Kempu-booruga, Leptan, Malabulak, Mu mian, Mulilavu, Mullelava, Mullila-pula, Mullilavau, Mullilavu, Mullubooruga, Neibie, Nglo, Nuoliu, Pagun, Pan-ya, Panchu, Phakong, Pula-maram, Pulai, Rakta-pushpa, Red Silk Cotton tree, Roktosimul, Salmali, Samar, Sanar, Saur, Savar, Savri, Sawar, SŽmul, Senur, Shembal, Shemolo, Shevari, Shevri, Shimla, Shimul cotton, Simal, Simalo, Simalu, Simla, Simlo, Simolu, Singi.

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Found In: Africa, Andamans, Asia, Australia, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Central America, China, East Africa, East Timor, Hawaii, Himalayas, India, Indochina, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Northeastern India, Pacific, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, PNG, SE Asia, Sikkim, Solomon Islands, South America, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, USA, Vietnam, West Indies.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

None Known

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther

 

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For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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