Data sources

Gilbert (1952), Taylor (1960), Voorhoeve (1965), Hall & Swaine (1981), Kahn (1982), Keay (1989), Abbiw (1990), Hawthorne (1993, 1995a), Maley (pers. comm.)

Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.


Guild: pi

Life form: large tree

Max. height: 60 m (Voorhoeve 1965)

Max. diameter: 200 cm (Voorhoeve 1965)

Leaf: alternate, palmately compound, 5-9 leaflets, obovate to elliptic, mesophyll (3-6 x 11-18 cm), entire or sometimes slightly dentate, glabrous, fringe of hairs at the top when young, glossy dark green above, lighter beneath

Inflorescence: axillary, solitary

Flower: medium-sized; calyx green; corolla white to creamy yellow

Fruit: dry dehiscent, elliptic (6 x 20 cm), green; several seeds

Seed: ovoid, medium-sized (0.5 cm in diameter), black, embedded in grey or white kapok Other: a very common, grey-barked tree, developing large buttresses. The architecture has a strong differentiation between lateral and vertical shoots. Cuttings from the latter tend to grow more horizontally even when independent. Buttresses develop partly in response to prevailing wind and crown asymmetry, e.g. on the windward size of the bole. The bark and young stems are often with thorns. Wood density is 0.3 g/cm3.


Continent: in all tropics (South America, Asia, Africa)

Upper Guinea: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana (herbarium). Suggestions that the species is introduced to Africa from Central America are rendered less likely by the fact that Ceiba pollen more than 10,000 years old have been found in sediments in Lake Bosumtwi (Maley, pers. comm.). Forest type: moist evergreen forest, upland evergreen forest, moist semi-deciduous forest, dry semi-deciduous forest, secondary forest (Hall & Swaine 1981)

It is an extreme light demander (Voorhoeve 1965). The abundance is highest in the driest regions, decreases sharply with rainfall, and increases slightly with altitude (regression analysis). Although it does not grow in freshwater swamps, it will grow along their margins. It is almost indifferent to soil conditions (Taylor 1960).


Germination Is apparently normal. Kyereh et al. (1993) reported no difference between the percentage of germination in the light and in the dark, and it is equally successful in large gaps (Kyereh 1994). It has a phanerocotylar epigeal foliaceous seedling type (cf. Voorhoeve 1965). Seedlings are abundant soon after dispersal (12 days, Taylor 1960), and it is obvious that either seeds do not germinate, or die rapidly, in shaded areas (e.g. 2% sunlight, Swaine pers. comm). It is found in light places, especially where the soil has been disturbed (logging roads, old farms etc.). It has a high photosynthetic light compensation point, quantum efficiency and stomatal conductance (Riddoch et al. 1991).


Seedling growth is maximal between 30 and 40% irradiance (Swaine et al. 1997). In medium-sized to large gaps growth is very rapid (2 m/yr; Taylor 1960). Trees of 30 cm dbh and 20 m height were recorded on 4 year old logging roads (Hawthorne 1993).


Deciduousness: deciduous (Voorhoeve 1965) Dispersal: by wind (Voorhoeve 1965)

Timing: flowering period from December to January; fruiting period from February to March (Voorhoeve 1965). The flowers are bat-pollinated (Harris & Baker 1959, Baker & Harris 1959), but also visited by birds (Toledo 1977). In Panama, only half the adult trees flowered in one year, although few produced viable seed due to insect attack, population outcrossing was 0.69 (Murawski & Hamrick 1992).


The kapok is used for stuffing pillows and mattresses. It has been widely planted in Asia for food, fodder and fibre. A popular agroforestry species (Sekar et al. 1990).

Data sources

Haigh (1941), Harris & Baker (1959), Baker & Harris (1959), Taylor (1960), Voorhoeve (1965), Henwood & Baker (1973), Toledo (1977), Hall & Swaine (1981), Sekar et al. (1990), Riddoch et al. (1991), Murawski & Hamrick (1992), Hawthorne (1993), Kyereh et al. (1993), Kyereh (1994), Maley (pers. comm.), Swaine et al. (1997).


Mean Annual Rainfall

Soil CMK

Soil WHC

C.p. All sites


Mean Annual Rainfall

Soil CMK

Soil WHC


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