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Ochroma pyramidale - (Cav.) Urban.

Common Name Balsa Wood
Family Malvaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Moist, lowland, limestone forest[307 ]. Common along the margins of lakes or in disturbed areas, rare in the older forest where it is a large tree[315 ]. It is found mainly on fertile, bottom-land soils along the sides of streams[378 ]
Range S. America - Bolivia, north to the Caribbean and through Central America to Guatemala.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (5 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Ochroma pyramidale Balsa Wood

Ochroma pyramidale Balsa Wood
Max Antheunisse


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Ochroma pyramidale is an evergreen Tree growing to 30 m (98ft) by 30 m (98ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10 and is frost tender. The flowers are pollinated by Bats, Birds.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Bombax pyramidale Cav. ex Lam. Ochroma bicolor Rowlee Ochroma bolivianum Rowlee Ochroma grandiflora

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

None known

References   More on Edible Uses

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 root bark is emetic[739 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Fibre  Paper  Pioneer  String  Stuffing  Wood

Public open space. Botanic collection. Curiosity. Agroforestry Uses: A typical pioneer species, fast-growing and rapidly colonizing clearings[303 , 378 ]. Other Uses: The woolly fibre contained in the seedpods has sometimes been used like kapok as a stuffing material in pillows and mattresses[299 , 303 , 307 , 378 , 521 ]. The fibre obtained from the bark has been used to make ropes[299 , 303 ]. The heartwood is white to grey-white, sometimes with a pinkish tinge near the heart in older trees; it is not demarcated from the sapwood. The grain is straight; texture coarse and even; the lustre silky. The heartwood is too heavy to be of economic importance and most of the commercially used stock is sapwood. The wood is extremely light in weight - it is the lightest known commercial timber, being even lighter than cork. High-grade timber weighs less than 150 kg/m_ at 12% moisture content and is generally produced by young trees 8 - 9 years old, whereas older trees produce heartwood, which is heavier and is considered of secondary quality. Large differences exist between the outermost sapwood and that from nearer the centre - the new wood in the outer 3cm being on average 2.2 times heavier than the old wood in the inner 3cm. The wood is very soft and weak, but with good strength to weight ratio, and that from old trees tends to be brittle. It is non-durable and prone to attack by Anobium and Lyctus borers, termites and longhorn beetles. The rates of shrinkage from green to oven dry are small to medium, kiln drying is preferable to air drying, to minimize splitting and warping. Movement in service is small. The wood is very easy to work with hand and machine tools, but sharp tools are needed to prevent crumbling. It takes nails and screws readily, but is too soft to hold them well. Planing is almost impossible; glueing properties are good, and the wood stains, polishes and paints satisfactorily, but it is very absorbent. Bending properties are poor. Balsa possesses an unusually high degree of buoyancy and is very efficient insulation against heat and sound, it can be used at very low temperatures (down to -250°c). Some older trees develop a pink heartwood that tends to be brittle and is much inferior to the sapwood. The wood is suitable for pulping by chemical and semi-chemical processes, yielding 45 - 50% pulp with good strength characteristics. The pulp can be easily bleached without loss of strength, making it suitable for printing and writing papers. The extremely lightweight wood is used for floats, buoys, lifejackets and life-belts, surfboards, aircraft construction, ship and boat building, lightweight boxes, toys, model making, laboratory mounting boards, core stock in sandwich construction, surgical splints, packaging of fragile articles and as insulation for temperature, vibration, sound and formerly also for electricity. Slightly heavier wood is suitable for matches, popsicle sticks and toothpicks, and for the production of pulp and paper[299 , 303 , 307 , 378 , 848 ].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

A plant of the lowland humid tropics, also succeeding at elevations up to 1,000 metres[303 ]. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 18 - 35°c, but can tolerate 15 - 38°c[418 ]. When dormant, the plant can survive temperatures down to about 5°c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 2,500 - 3,000mm, but tolerates 1,500 - 4,000mm[418 ]. It can tolerate a dry season of up to 4 months, but only if the relative humidity does not normally drop below 75%[303 ]. Prefers a deep, fertile, moisture-retentive but well-drained soil in a sunny position[303 , 307 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 6.5, tolerating 5 - 8[418 ]. Plants are very tolerant of salt-laden winds[307 ]. A very fast-growing, but short-lived tree[378 ]. It can reach a height of 20 metres, with a bole diameter of up to 60cm within 7 years and has been known to grow even faster on very rich soils[378 ]. Trees can commence flowering and producing viable seeds when 3 - 4 years old[418 ]. They can flower and produce seed all year round[299 ]. Trees usually reach maturity when about 12 - 15 years old, after which they deteriorate rapidly, growth slows, the heartwood becomes waterlogged and doty (not sure what this means; it might be based on dotage - becoming old and senile[K ]), and the new growth is hard and heavy[378 ]. Annual wood production potential is 17 - 30 cubic metres per hectare[418 ]. The tree is highly sensitive to fire damage[418 ].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - needs high temperatures to germinate[200 ]. Seeds can be sown directly in the field or in the nursery[303 ]. Freshly collected seed has only 10% germination[303 ]. Seeds contain an impervious testa which must be ruptured by heat (boiling water, fire) before they will germinate[303 ]. Under natural conditions forest clearance exposes the soil to the sun and this triggers germination of Ochroma seeds. In the nursery seeds are sown in lines 3 - 4cm apart under slight shade and in sterilized soil to prevent damping-off. Pre-treated seeds show 65 - 75% germination in 6 - 28 days and seedlings are pricked out and transferred to containers[303 ]. The very small seeds should be collected from standing trees, and can be stored for several years in jute bags or in closed containers[299 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Balsa Wood, Ajaka, Baranda, Basilic des moines, Basilic sacre, Bidai, Brinda, Bryanda, Gaggera, Hsiang tsai, Kala tulsi, Kamangi, Kaphrao, Katriin, Kom ko dong, Krishna tulasi, Loko-loko, Maeng-luk, Manjari, Mreah preu, Mreahs prow, Nalla tulasi, Parnasa, Patrapuspha, Ruku-ruku, Sacred balm, Saph'au, Sheng luo le, Sulasi, Suvasa tulasi, Tarp hao, Te marou, Thai basil, Trittavu, Tulasa, Tulasi chajadha, Tulsi, Tunrusi,

NORTHERN AMERICA: Mexico (Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave) SOUTHERN AMERICA: Hispaniola, Cuba, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Montserrat, Martinique, United States (Puerto Rico), St. Vincent and Grenadines, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, French Guiana, Venezuela, Brazil (n. & w.), Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru

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.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


(Cav.) Urban.

Botanical References

Links / References

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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