Crazy Useful Thing of the Day: Kapok

Kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra). Nassau, Bahamas.

The kapok, or silk-cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra) is a species of tropical tree in the mallow (Malvaceae) family whose native range is thought to be Central and South America.  It is now widely naturalized to and cultivated in the tropics, particularly Southeast Asia.  Kapoks are some of the largest trees in the world, as high as 250 feet, with buttressed trunks that can be up to 19 feet thick (or more), above the buttresses. It’s cultivated mainly for the highly useful fibers harvested from the outer casing of the seed. In addition, its edible seed oil also has potential as an alternative to petroleum-based fuel. According to the folklore of Trinidad and Tobago, the demon of death (Bazil) lives in a huge kapok tree deep in the forest, where he was imprisoned, thanks to the clever trickery of a common carpenter.

Kapok seed pods showing fiber.
Kapok seed pods showing fiber. Photo courtesy of

Featured image: A kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra), in Nassau, Bahamas. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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