Thorns on the trunk of a silk floss tree

Look! Up in the air! It’s a silk floss tree!

My wise old grandmother

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

When I was a young boy, I was always tripping. Didn’t matter what I was walking on or what kind of shoes I had on, or no shoes. If I walked more than ten steps, I was going to trip. I had bruised knees, torn jeans (my wise old grandmother despised torn jeans), bloody elbows and hands….

My youngest uncle (still living at home and going to college) used to blame my tripping on my feet…. feet and tripping…. Hmmm. Logical…. He was reading “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” at the time, and one of the illustrations in the book was of Ichabod Crane, a tall, gangly man with huge feet. He took to calling me Ichabod Crane because of my tall (6’3″), skinny body (150 pounds), and my huge feet (size 11). What my uncle did to me might be considered verbal abuse in today’s world, but I survived.

My wise old grandmother blamed my tripping on me not looking at where I was going. She would always say, “Pick up your feet! Get your nose out of the air! Look down to see what you’re about to step on! It might be a rattlesnake!”

Alas, I have solved the tripping problem by picking up my feet and looking down to see what I was about to step on.

However, when I’m out and about, like at the Zoo or SeaWorld, I do like to look up often to see what’s above me, what’s sitting in the tree and about to poop on me. The fun part about doing that is that if you stand there long enough looking up, people will gather round you and look up, too. They don’t want to miss anything! If only I could train a bird to sit up there and wait until everyone is looking up and then, when I look down, let go….!

The other day I was at SeaWorld. I looked up and saw a huge (probably size 11) cotton ball hanging in the tree:

Seed pod of the silk floss tree

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

That’s a seed pod of the silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa). I was quite familiar with the silk floss tree’s flowers but had never seen its seed pods, especially bursting open with cotton like that.

I stood there gazing upward and took a few more pictures of the seed pods in different stages of growth:

Seed pod of the silk floss tree

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Seed pod of the silk floss tree

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

By the time I finished snapping my pictures, I had a crowd of about 15 or 20 people standing around me looking up to see what kind of animal (at SeaWorld!) was up in the tree that I was taking pictures of. One lady asked me and I told her, “Just the tree and the huge seed pods.” At that point, everyone left in disappointment. Folks, it’s okay to appreciate flora at a fauna park, or fauna at a botanical garden!

Here is the flower of the silk floss tree:

Flower of the silk floss tree

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The flowers look similar to some orchids, and I have heard it called an orchid tree although I could find no sources that use that name. Maybe it’s just a San Diego thing.

The silk floss tree is native to South America. It is drought resistant (which explains why we have lots of them here in San Diego) but grows very rapidly, even in spurts, when water is plentiful. The trunk of the tree has huge (probably size 11) thorns on it which store water for those droughts:

Thorns on the trunk of a silk floss tree

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

At the entrance to the San Diego Zoo, just to the left of Flamingo Lagoon, is a huge (way bigger than size 11) silk floss tree that looks really strange during the winter when there are no leaves or flowers, just a tree full of seed pods, looking like this:

Seed pods of the silk floss tree

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

If you really want to have some fun with people and this tree, skip Flamingo Lagoon and go stand under this tree and look up. In the afternoon when the Zoo is really busy, you can get a hundred or more people standing around you looking up. It’s a lot of fun!

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

19 thoughts on “Look! Up in the air! It’s a silk floss tree!

  1. AR Neal

    Hahaha! That is so something I would do! As a New Jerseyer transplanted to Southern California, I am fascinated by all the interesting plants here. We name them all (not their real names of course, but weird science fiction movie names); usually they are all triffids. 🙂

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  2. laurie27wsmith

    Isn’t it the way with nature, beautiful flowers and the rest of the tree has that alien, spiky look about it. There’s nothing like drawing a crowd, we are a curious mob.
    Laurie.

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  3. Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    how great it is to see the ceiba tree in your post, and how silly of those people to shrug off such an amazing tree! many indigenous cultures consider the ceiba/ceibo (a double first cousin in ecuador) trees to be holy; the roots reach down into the underworld, and the branches extend into the heavens. it is rare to see this tree felled, though recently i’ve witnessed the loss of some amazing ones – most likely to make space for farm land.

    i am proud that you took delight in the beauty of the tree! that surely smiled down at you with gratitude!

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  4. knowledgeknut

    That was a fun story. I especially liked the constant reference to size 11! I have never seen this kind of tree before, the flower is gorgeous, the pods are creepy and the cotton – interesting. Great photos – thank you for sharing!

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  5. adinparadise

    This really made me laugh, and reminded me of my school days. We had one school teacher who always fell for our trick. As she walked into the classroom, we would all look up at the ceiling, as though there was something really fascinating up there, and of course she was curious to see what it was, and did the same. We thought it was funny, but she didn’t see the joke. 😀
    That’s such a pretty pink flower.

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  6. TamrahJo

    Cool – drought tolerant – will it weather Colorado winters? And tripping is caused by physical growth spurts that are not instantly understood by brain neural pathways…(I told my mom this from age 9-16 – yeah, she didn’t believe me either, my permanent nickname is “Clumsy”) 🙂

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  7. Sophia Conwell

    I own a silk floss tree in my backyard!!! Its just over a year old. I love these trees so much & adore there beautiful thorns & flowers!!! ❤ I am currently creating necklaces & ear rings out of my tree's thorns & everyone loves them!!! I love my big baby tree ^_^

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