Tag Archives: silk floss tree

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

Need a unique gift for a special occasion?

Use code YLNNRX for a $40 discount on
Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos at Fine Art America

Photographic Art logo

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Advertisements
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

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Looking for real estate services in San Diego County?
I can highly recommend
James Frimmer, Realtor
Century 21 Award, DRE #01458572

If you’re looking for a home inspector,
I recommend Russel Ray — that’s me!Real Estate Solutions

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos