Botanical name: Ceiba speciosa

Common name: Pink floss-silk tree

With their fat, thorny trunks and branches and exotic, hibiscus-like flowers in the autumn, the floss-silk trees are among the most distinctive ornamental trees of Funchal. The flowers are creamy-whitish in the centre and may vary from light pink to burgundy towards the tips of their five petals.

These trees, formerly placed in their own genus, Chorisia of the bombax family (Bombacaceae) are closely related to the tropical kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) and have recently been reclassified.

The Pink floss-silk tree is native to a large area of South America. As with many other subtropical trees, this one drops most or all of its leaves just before it blooms, which makes for an even more dramatic floral display. Their nectar is known to attract insect pollinators, as well as hummingbirds in South America.

The flowers are followed by pear-shaped seed pods, reminiscent of avocados, which later dry and crack open to expose big balls of white cotton-like stuffing, which gives the tree the common name of Floss-silk tree. The soft, fluffy fibres easily blow off in the winds, carrying with them all the little black seeds for dispersal.

The cottony fibre, although not of as good quality as that of the kapok tree, has been used as stuffing in pillows, mattresses or life jackets as it is very light in weight; employed in packaging and used as insulation in parkas and other cold-weather clothing. Unlike cotton hairs, kapok is difficult to spin and is not made into textiles.

Pink floss-silk trees grow quickly from seed in a few years. Then it conveniently slows in growth. Seedling trees typically have straight, thorny trunks and a columnar growth habit, but become more spreading as they age. They usually do not flower well until they are seven to ten years old; flowering becomes more profuse each year as the tree ages.

Elda Sousa (Official Tourist Guide)

Bibliography: Internet sites

Photo Courtesy of Marla Castro