Ajuntament de Barcelona

Ceiba speciosa

Porta de Montjuïc

    Catalan name: 
    Arbre de la llana
    Spanish name: 
    Árbol de la lana, palo borracho
    English name: 
    Floss silk tree
    Botanical synonyms: 
    Chorisia speciosa
    Species characteristics
    Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay
    Tropical and subtropical rainforests

    Deciduous tree 5-15 m tall, although it is not unusual that it can reach 25 m in height, with bottle-shaped straight trunk, bulging at the base, with a girth up to 2 meters. The bark, smooth with some stretch marks, is studded by conical prickles which serve to store water at drought times and which appear both on the trunk and on the branches. In younger trees, the trunk is greenish because of a high chlorophyll content, which allows it to perform photosynthesis when there are not leaves; with age, it turns to grey. The branches, tending to be horizontal, make an open crown.

    The leaves are alternate and compound, composed of 5 or 7 oval leaflets, 6-7 cm long and around 4 cm wide, with serrate margins and an elongated tip. The leaves petiole is 6-12 cm long. 

    The spectacular flowers, solitary and in 2-3 specimens groups on axillary buds of the terminal leaves, are hermaphrodite and have a bell-shaped calyx. They have five petals 8-12 cm long and a long stem tube (formed by the stamens that are welded around the pistil), about 5 cm long, in the centre. The petals are creamy white in the centre and purple towards the tip, with longitudinal dark purple stretch marks.

    The fruit is a big, around 20 cm long, thick and ovoid capsule which is dehiscent (it opens spontaneously to release the seeds). It contains numerous black seeds which are covered in hair, resembling cotton.

    Flowering time: 
    Fruiting time: 
    Uses and properties: 

    Although it's usually harvested as a decoration tree, its wood has many uses for packaging, canoes and paper pulp.

    The fiber that covers the seeds, with a cotton-like texture, is used as filling in coushions, mattresses and life savings as well as for thermic and acoustic isolation. In some parts of South America is also used as fuel or to make candles, mixed with fat.

    Seeds are also used to make oil, both edible and for industrial use.

    It grows in deep, well drained soils. Although drought-resilient, it grows very fast without water. Mild weather with no frost favours them. It needs a good exposure to the Sun for its blossoming, during which it attracts butterflies.

    In hot areas, it's usually seen planted in streets and parks, both alone or grouped.

    History and curiosities: 

    The floss silk tree got in 1828 the scientific name of Chorisia speciosa, formed by the genus name Chorisia —dedicated to Louis Choris (1795-1828), Russian-German painter and explorer who went with Otto von Kotzebue at several expeditions across South America and Europe— and the Latin term speciosa, “beautiful, splendid”, which alludes to its spectacular flowers. However, in 1998 it was reclassified and got a new scientific name, Ceiba speciosa, which is the one being used today.

    For further information: 

    LÓPEZ GONZÁLEZ, Ginés A. Los árboles y arbustos de la Península Ibérica e Islas Baleares. (2 vol.) Madrid: Mundi-Prensa, 2001

    THE ROYAL HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY. Enciclopedia de plantas y flores. Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1996