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A picture of a Kapok Tree

Kapok Tree

Ceiba pentandra

Also known as

Silk Cotton Tree, Kapok

Ceiba pentandra 0006 by Atamari (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Full Sun
Moderate care
Moderate watering


RHS hardiness


Minimum temperature

Expected size









  • spring
  • summer
  • autumn
  • winter

This plant has a strong fragrance

More images of Kapok Tree

Ceiba pentandra
Ceiba pentandra
Ceiba pentandra
Ceiba pentandra
Ceiba pentandra

Kapok Tree Overview

Among the largest trees in the world, Ceiba pentandra is a multi-purpose tree, stretching high above most plants around it with its striking canopy and ornamental appearance. Its from the Malvaceae family. Some of its most characteristic features include its gigantic size, pagoda-shaped crown, thorny bark, wide-spreading buttresses at the base, fragrant flowers, and silky seeds in woody pods. Native to the moist tropical parts of the world, the Kapok Tree is frost tender and has a very fast growth rate. This pioneer is not really suited to residential areas due to its large size and longevity but can be planted in parks where it has loads of space to grow. Grow Kapok Trees in full sun and well-draining soil in a position sheltered from strong winds. During winter or dry season, it sheds its leaves and requires less water than during the vegetative season. After the dry season, the creamy-white to pinkish coloured flowers appear before leaf-growth. The night-blooming flowers are mainly pollinated by bats but are an important source of pollen and nectar to honeybees. Flowers are bisexual and the tree is not self-fertile. The common names Kapok Tree and Silk-Cotton Tree refer to the cotton-like fluff that is harvested from the seedpods. Kapok fibre is very light, water-resistant, buoyant, highly flammable and, before it was replaced by synthetics, was used for stuffing anything from mattresses to upholstery to life jackets. It is suitable for soil erosion control and watershed protection, used in making soap, hut walls and doors, as a brown dye are obtained from the bark, and for culinary and medicinal applications – among other things.

Common problems with Kapok Tree

Pests include insect defoliators isuch as Ephyriades arcas, Eulepidotis modestula, Oiketicus kirbiyi and Pericalia ricini, as well as a variety of parasitic plants such as Dendropthoe falcata and Loranthus spp.. Diseases include pathogenic fungi such as Armillaria, Calonectria, Camillea, and Cercospora.

How to harvest Kapok Tree

To obtain kapok fibre, the fruits are harvested when fully ripe and, in dehiscent types, before they open. Ripeness is indicated by the fruit colour changing from green to brown and the surface sometimes becoming wrinkled. The fruits are normally harvested by knocking them off the tree before. Trees normally start to bear fruit when they are 3–8 years old.

How to propagate Kapok Tree


Sown as soon as ripe. Without any pre-treatment seeds germinate slowly and germination may continue for 3 - 4 months. In the wild, a bush fire may cause simultaneous germination of the seeds.


Cuttings of half-ripe wood. Cuttings of long stems, 1.2 - 2 metres long are used commercially in the tropics. These are placed direct into the open ground.

Special features of Kapok Tree

Hedge plant

Boundary or barrier or support: In Java, the tree is grown as a boundary tree and fences along roadsides.

Attractive flowers

Attracts bees


Other uses of Kapok Tree

Grown for their overall appearance and for shade.


A bark decoction has been used as a diuretic, aphrodisiac, and to treat headache, as well as type II diabetes.


Tender leaves, buds and fruit are mucilaginous and are eaten like okra. Seed can be roasted and ground into a powder, it is eaten in soups and used as a flavouring. Cooking oil is made from the seeds.


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