The silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa, formerly Chorisia speciosa), is a species of deciduous tree native to the tropical and subtropical forests of South America. It has a
host of local common names, such as palo borracho (in Spanish literally “drunken stick”), samu’ũ (in Guarani) or paineira (in Brazilian Portuguese). In Bolivia it is called
Toborochi, means “tree of refuge” or “sheltering tree”.It belongs to the same family as the baobab and the kapok. Another tree of the same genus, Ceiba chodatii, is
often referred to by the same common names.
Leaves, stems, and flowers:
The branches tend to be horizontal and are also covered with prickles. The leaves are composed of five to seven long leaflets. The flowers are creamy-whitish in the center
and pink towards the tips of their five petals. They measure 10 to 15 centimetres (4 to 6 in) in diameter and their shape is superficially similar to hibiscus flowers. Their nectar
is known to attract insect pollinators, as well as hummingbirds.
C. speciosa flowers are in bloom between February and May (in its native Southern Hemisphere), but can
also bloom at other times of the year. The flowers of the related C. chodatii are similar in form and size, but their color goes from creamy white centers to yellow tips. As a
deciduous tree, it is completely bare of leaves and flowers during the winter months, especially when growing outside of its native South America habitat.
The fruits are lignous ovoid capsules, 20 centimetres (8 in) long, which contain bean-sized black seeds surrounded by a mass of fibrous, fluffy matter reminiscent
of cotton or silk.
The cotton inside the capsules, although not of as good quality as that of the kapok tree, has been used as stuffing f(density = 0.27 g/cm³), soft and flexible, and is employed
in packaging, to make canoes, as wood pulp to make paper, and in ropes. From the seeds it is possible to obtain vegetable oil (both edible and industrially useful).
The silk floss tree is cultivated mostly for ornamental purposes. Outside of private gardens around the world, it is often planted along urban streets in subtropical areas such
as in Spain, South Africa, Australia, northern New Zealand and the southern USA, although its prickled trunks and limbs require safety buffer zones, especially around the
trunks, in order to protect people and domesticated animals from its prickles. Ceiba speciosa is added to some versions of the hallucinogenic drink Ayahuasca.
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