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Did you know that since the fibers of kapok trees (Ceiba pentandra) are short and fragile for weaving, they are used for filling mattresses, life jackets, pillows, and various toys?
It is believed that some kapok trees live for as long as 300 years, making them one of the longest living trees in the plant kingdom. Kapok trees are common trees cultivated in Western countries like Central America, Mexico, South America, and some areas in West Africa.
The name ‘kapok’ comes from the cotton-like pile acquired from the seed pods of these trees, which is a Malay-derived name and is known by many other names in different regions. It is mainly cultivated for its cotton-like seed fiber, which is used for different purposes and is very famous in south-east Asian countries.
It is considered a symbol of the universe and is the most sacred tree for the ancient Mayan population. If you want to unearth more interesting facts about this ancient tree and sacred symbol, keep reading!
The scientific name for the kapok tree in the plant kingdom is Ceiba Pentandra. It is known by several names like Java cotton, Java kapok, silk-cotton, or samauma.
The Ceiba Pentandra tree of tropical rainforests is famous for various reasons and is cultivated on a large scale for production.
The tree can reach a height of about 200–230 ft (60.9–70 m) with an overall diameter of around 10 ft (3 m), making it one of the largest trees in the world.
The height and growth of the tree depend on various factors. The lowland rainforest of its origin nation contributes to its usually massive size compared to other trees.
Since the soil washes away with frequent rains, the kapok tree has to support itself by growing massive trunks, tripod-like buttresses, and wide rise flowing outward from the trunk.
During the night, with an unpleasant smell, these tree flowers attract bats and other insects, which are its greatest pollutants.
Also, in the daylight, the kapok tree provides food and shelter for several different species like monkeys, frogs, birds, and various insects.
The fibers obtained from the tree are also used in acoustic and thermal isolation.
There is a fascinating story related to the kapok tree’s history and mythological values. It is considered one of the many wonders of the world.
Some cultures consider this tree sacred and devote it as a holy symbol.
The Mayasn, Aztec, and a few other pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures consider the tree sacred and believe it symbolizes the link between the three levels of life; heaven, the earth, and the world.
The trees’ roots are said to reach the underworld, while the giant tree is upheld the world from above.
Some folklore from Trinidad and Tobago says that a considerable kapok tree exists deep in the forest.
It is said that Bazil, the Death Demon, was imprisoned by a carpenter who carved seven rooms out of the tree to trick the devil into it.
It is to be noted that the kapok tree is known as the 'Castle of the Devil'.
The kapok tree has several uses:
This tree has lightweight and porous wood suitable for manufacturing coffins, making cravings, and dugout cannons. Kapok tree wood is helpful for plywood and packaging.
The tree has silky fibers but is too small for weaving. The silky fibers are great stuffing material for bedding and life preservers.
The flowers of this tree are a primary source of nectar and pollen for bats and honey bees. The tree produces white and pink flowers.
Kapok seeds have 20-25% of oil, which is very similar to cottonseed oil. We can use oil from Ceiba Pentandra seeds for cooking purposes.
The oil from the seeds is used for making soaps and fertilizers. Some parts of the tree are also used for making several medicines.
The kapok is an emergent tree found in dry and gallery forests. You can also find some species in secondary forests.
The tree is native to Mexico, Central America, and northern parts of South America. Kapok is also native to the Caribbean tropical West Africa and is found throughout the neotropics.
As the unopened fruit doesn’t sink inside the water, it is believed that the fruit of the tree floated from Latin America to Africa through the ocean.
We have been discussing the kapok tree, its habitat and seeds, and so on. Now, let us explore a few more facts.
Kapok tree seeds, including the oil, contain malvalic and sterculic acid. So, the consumption of oil derived from kapok seeds is discouraged if the cyclopropenoid acids are not chemically removed.
The kapok trunk has simple thorns on its larger branches. The trunk is usually buttressed.
The ability of the kapok to attract wildlife to the forest is one of its most notable physical characteristics.
Thet kapok tree sheds all of its leaves during the dry season. During the dry season, the seeds are also blown into open areas.
The seeds of a kapok tree are seen in pods and they are usually covered by fiber.
In ancient times, it was believed that the kapok tree was present at the earth's center.
The leaves of a kapok tree are compound and digitate; it has five to nine leaflets.
Kapok tree seeds have a filament around them, which is more of a fiber.
The leaf buds of a kapok tree appear in January and February just when the kapok tree flowers open.
The kapok tree is an emergent canopy species that grows on the forest edges and in the clearings of any primary forest.
Bats drink nectar from the flowers of a kapok tree as it opens at night. The kapok is one of the fast-growing pioneer species of the forest, and it belongs to the Malvales family. It is to be noted that kapok trees do not necessarily bloom every year, but when they do, they look beautiful and add to the beauty of the wild.
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