Tag Archives: redwood trees

The cotton ball tree

Did you know?

Although San Diego is defined as a desert in terms of annual rainfall, it also has a Mediterranean climate, so if you can meet the water needs of virtually any plant, it can grow here in San Diego. There even are redwood groves at the San Diego Zoo (coming out of the polar bear exhibit) and at Safari Park (going up to Condor Ridge).

One of the more unusual trees that grows here is what I call the “cotton ball tree.” Looks like this:

img_5749 floss silk tree stamp

img_5748 floss silk tree stamp

flower (21) floss silk tree flower stamp

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The top two pictures were taken at the San Diego Zoo. The tree is so tall that I had missed it until a few years ago when it was dropping flowers and cotton balls. I asked at the Information Booth what the name of the “cotton ball tree” was. They knew exactly which tree I was talking about.

It’s a silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa).

The lower part of the trunk often is swollen, while young tree trunks and the upper trunk and branches of older trees are covered with thorns. Roses don’t have anything on this tree!

file000023991 silk floss tree stamp

_MG_9162 silk floss tree thorns framed

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The silk floss tree is a deciduous tree native to the tropical and subtropical forests of South America, mainly in Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, northeast Argentina, and southern Brazil.

It is resistant to drought and moderate cold, and grows quite fast when water is abundant. It can get up to 82 feet tall. In an unusual twist for trees, the trunk is green, which means that it is capable of photosynthesis when leaves are absent. In older trees, the lower part of the trunk usually turns to gray. The swollen trunk stores water, as do the thorns.

The fruit is a ligneous ovoid pod, which sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel. They look like this:

_MG_8748 framed

IMG_0917 framed

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Once the pods ripen, they burst open to reveal a mass of cotton balls surrounding seeds the size and color of black beans.

img_3021 floss silk tree stamp

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The cotton is used as stuffing (think pillows) and in packaging, and to make canoes, paper, and ropes. The seeds provide both edible and industrial vegetable oil.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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