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Everything You Need To Know About Kapok Trees

  • The kapok is a tropical tree that grows primarily in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and the South Pacific.
  • Also called the ceiba, it is considered the "Tree of Life" in Mayan mythology. It's also revered by west Africans as a healing tree.
  • Its primary agricultural use is its seed pods that produce a fluffy off-white fiber used as a down. That's how it gets its other nickname: the Java cotton.
  • It's the national tree of both Puerto Rico and Guatemala.

And that's all you need to know.

Something You Do Not Need To Know, But Might Come In Handy

That downy yellowish fiber of the kapok seed was used for a long time as stuffing for pillows and life jackets, but has since been replaced by synthetics. But kapok trees aren't one-trick ponies; like George Washington Carver's peanuts, they're pretty versatile. For example, the seed oil is used as an ingredient in soap; the ground up seed is used as a fertilizer, asthma medication, and analgesic; the ground up bark is used as a diuretic, a hair tonic, and an aphrodisiac.

But most importantly, that yellow fiber is highly flammable. Malaysians use it inside fuel pistons, and Indians use it to make fireworks. And you? Well, if you're ever out in the jungle, and you see some tall, wide-trunked trees with little green pods hanging all over it - well, you add some broth, throw in a potato, and baby, you got a stew goin' ...

Ka*pok" (?), n. [Prob. fr. the native name.] (Bot.)

A silky wool derived from the seeds of Ceiba pentandra (syn. Eriodendron anfractuosum), a bombaceous tree of the East and West Indies.

 

© Webster 1913.

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