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Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.


Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.




Bombax pentandrum L., Eri­odendron anfractuosum DC.

Vernacular Names


Kabukabu, kekabu, kapok.

English Kapok, (white) silk-cotton tree.
Indonesia Kapuk (general), kau-kau (Bugis).
Philippines Ka­pok (Bisaya, Sulu, Tagalog), buboi, balios (Taga­log).
Cambodia Koo, kor.

Ngiuz baanz, kok niou, ngiou.


Nun (general), ngiu noi, ngiu sai (northern).


C[aa]y) g[of]n.


Arbre kapok, kapokier, fromager.

Geographical Distributions

Ceiba pentandra originated in the American tropics. From there, it spread to Africa, where it occured in the wild along the west coast from Senegal to Angola. It was tak­en from Africa to Asia to be cultivated; where the cultivated form was developed. C. pentandra is depicted in relief in Java dating from before 1000 AD. It is now cultivated all over the tropics, but mainly in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Thailand.


Ceiba pentandra is a deciduous tree which can reach up to 18-70 m tall, but in cultivation, it is usually 18-30 m tall. The roots spread quite horizontally, measure 10 m or longer in the upper 40-80 cm of the soil. Its trunk is with or without but­tresses, forked or unforked and spiny or spineless. The branches are whorled and dimorphic. The whorls are usually with 3 branches, horizontal or ascending.

The leaves are arranged alter­nate and digitately compound. The petiole is 7-25 cm long. There are 5-11 leaflets which are oblong-Iance-shaped, measuring 5-16 cm x 2-4 cm, and hairless.

The flowers are 2-15 together in axillary fasci­cles, 5-merous, hanging, actinomorphic and bisexual. The pedicel is 2.5-5 cm long. The sepal is bell-shaped, 1-1.5 cm long, 5-lobed and hairless outside. The petals are oblong­obovate, 2.5-4 cm long, united at base, usually dirty white with foetid milky smell, smooth in­side but densely silky outside. The stamens are united at the base in a staminal column which is divided into 5(-6) branches of 3-5 cm length. The anthers are coiled or kidney-shaped. The style is 2.5-3.5 cm long, constricted at base and obscurely 5-lobed at top.

The fruit is an ellipsoidal, leathery, pendulous capsule, and measuring 7.5-30 cm x 3-7.5 cm. It turns brown when ripens, dehiscing with 5 valves ('shells') or indehiscent and many-seeded. The seed is obovoid, 4-6 mm in diametre, dark brown, and embed­ded in copious, white, pale yellow or grey silky wool (floss). Seedling is with epigeal germination.

Ecology / Cultivation

Ceiba pentandra thrives best at elevations below 500 m. Night temperatures below 17°C retard ger­mination of the pollen grains. This limits the area in which good crops can be grown to latitudes within about 20oN and 20oS. C. pentandra requires abundant rainfall during the vegetative period and a drier period for flowering and fruiting. Rainfall should be about 1500 mm per year. The dry period should not contain more than 4 months with less than 100 mm rain per month, and in this period, a well-distributed total rainfall of 150-300 mm is required. In drier areas, some of the water demand may be met by groundwater.

In the Mekong Delta (Vietnam), where rainfall is inade­quate, C. pentandra is grown successfully on river banks. For best results, it should be planted on good, deep, permeable soils (volcanic loams in Indonesia) without waterlogging. The tree is easily damaged by strong winds.

In Indonesia, flat areas alongside roads and rivers are selected for planting the tree, as these locations have sufficient sunlight and proper drainage. In Java and Sulawesi, C. pentandra is also planted on mountain slopes.

Line Drawing / Photograph


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