Ajuntament de Barcelona

Ceiba insignis

Porta de Montjuïc

    Catalan name: 
    Spanish name: 
    Palo borracho blanco
    English name: 
    White floss silk tree
    Botanical synonyms: 
    Chorisia insignis
    Species characteristics
    Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru
    Tropical and subtropical rainforests

    Deciduous tree 4-18 m tall, although it can reach 30 m in height, with bottle-shaped straight trunk, remarkably convex or enlarged at the base. 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.

    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 5-12 cm long.

    The flowers, solitary, are hermaphrodite and have a bell-shaped calyx. They have five petals, 8-12 cm long with pilose upper supperficies and five stamens in the centre, which differentiates it from C. speciosa (besides having shorter and wider leaflets). The petals are creamy or yellowish white with darker longitudinal stretch marks.

    The fruit is a big, 10-12 cm long and around 5-7 cm wide, greenish 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, White Ceiba wood has many industrial uses for packaging, canoas and paper pulp.

    The fiber that covers the seeds, with a cotton-like texture, is used as filling in cushions, 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.

    It's widely used by itself in gardening because of its peculiar trunk, similar to a bottle.

    History and curiosities: 

    The white floss silk tree got in 1828 the scientific name of Chorisia insignis, 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 insignis, “distinguished, standing out”. However, in 1998 it was reclassified and got a new scientific name, Ceiba insignis, 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