Stanford Arizona III

On Ceiba pentandra, the kapok tree, sister to the C. speciosa in a posting yesterday. Third in a series of postings inspired by a visit to the Arizona Garden (cacti and succulents) at Stanford; there will be more.

So far:

on 4/30, “Meadowland fauna!”: a black-tailed jackrabbit on the Stanford lands

on 4/30, “Prickly silk”: on C. speciosa, the silk floss tree

While Juan Gomez and I were working to identity what turned out to be a silk floss tree, we entertained the possibility that it was its more famous sister, C. pentandra.

From Wikipedia:

Ceiba pentandrais a tropical tree of the order Malvales and the family Malvaceae …, native to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, northern South America, and … to tropical west Africa. A somewhat smaller variety is found throughout southern Asia and the East Indies. Kapok is the most used common name for the tree and may also refer to the cotton-like fluff obtained from its seed pods. The tree is cultivated for the seed fibre, particularly in south-east Asia, and is also known as the Java cotton, Java kapok, silk-cotton, samauma, or ceiba.

… The trunk and many of the larger branches are often crowded with large simple thorns.

(#1) Do not climb on tree

These major branches, usually 4 to 6 in number, can be up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) thick and form a crown of foliage as much as 201 feet meters) in width. The palmate leaves are composed of 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20 cm (7.9 in) long.

(#2) Leaves and pods

More detail on the Britannca site:

The kapok is deciduous, dropping its foliage after seasonal rainy periods. Flowering occurs when the tree is leafless, thereby improving access for the bats that feed on the sugar-laden nectar of kapok blossoms. In doing so, the bats unwittingly pollinate the tree’s flowers. The flowers open at night and have five petals that are white or pink on the outside. Only a few flowers on a given branch will open on any particular night during the two or three weeks that the tree blooms.

Kapoks do not bloom every year, and some may go 5–10 years without flowering. When the tree does bloom, however, it is prolific, producing up to 4,000 fruits measuring up to 15 cm (6 inches) long. Eventually these pods open on the tree, exposing the pale kapok fibres to the wind for dispersal. The fibres, in which over 200 seeds are loosely embedded, is sometimes referred to as silk cotton and is yellowish brown, lightweight, and lustrous.

In harvesting kapok fibre, the pods are either cut down or gathered when they fall, then broken open with mallets. The seed and fibre, removed from the pods by hand, are stirred in a basket; the seeds fall to the bottom, leaving the fibres free. The seeds may be processed to obtain oil for making soap, and the residue is used as fertilizer and cattle feed.

… The inelastic fibre, or floss, is too brittle for spinning, but it weighs only one-eighth as much as cotton. The floss has been used in life preservers and other water-safety equipment, supporting as much as 30 times its own weight in water. Buoyancy is lost slowly, with one test showing only 10 percent loss after 30 days of water immersion. Kapok is also used as stuffing for pillows, mattresses, and upholstery, as insulation material, and as a substitute for absorbent cotton in surgery. Kapok is chiefly cultivated in Asia and Indonesia; the floss is an important product of Java. It is highly flammable, however, and the fibre’s importance has decreased with the development of foam rubber, plastics, and synthetic fibres.

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