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Biosphere, Fauna and Flora in Cuba Naturaleza
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Kapok (Ceiba pentandra), the sacred tree of the Cuban flora

Kapok (Ceiba pentandra)
Scientific name: Ceiba pentandra
Common name (english): Kapok
Common name (spanish): Ceiba

The Kapok (Ceiba pentandra) is a gigantic, majestic, native and considered tree one of the most representative of the Cuban flora. For the inhabitants of the bigger than the Antilles that immense tree is, next to the Real Palm, the most worshipped one. It is considered sacred for white, black or Asian practitioners of different learned sincréticos. For these last ones it is the throne of Santán Kón, Santa Bárbara's Chinese version, and for the peasants in general the Virgin María's Tree.

The Kapok (Ceiba pentandra) is a tropical tree of the order Malvales and the family Malvaceae (previously separated in the family Bombacaceae), native to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, northern South America, and (as the variety C. pentandra var. guineensis) to tropical west Africa. The word is also used for the fibre obtained from its seed pods. The tree is also known as the Java cotton, Java kapok, or ceiba. It is a sacred symbol in Maya mythology.

The tree grows to 60-70 m (200-230 ft) tall and has a very substantial trunk up to 3 m (10 ft) in diameter with buttresses. The trunk and many of the larger branches are densely crowded with very large, robust simple thorns. The leaves are compound of 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20 cm (8 in) and palm like. Adult trees produce several hundred 15 cm (6 in) seed pods. The pods contain seeds surrounded by a fluffy, yellowish fiber that is a mix of lignin and cellulose.

It is believed that these and other many qualities of the Ceiba went able to impress the first Africans introduced in Cuba by means of it is her about slaves, when beginning to call it IKORO, the same as the missed tree of their absent earth, pregnant of mystic deities and a ferocious devotion, beginning this way a process that due to the proportions of this tree, beauty and imposing stateliness, was considered of powerful divinity and adoration.

The fibre is light, very buoyant, resilient, highly flammable and resistant to water. The process of harvesting and separating the fibre is labour-intensive and manual. It cannot be spun but is used as an alternative to down as filling in mattresses, pillows, upholstery, teddy bears, zafus and for insulation. It was previously much used in life jackets and similar devices. The fibre has been largely replaced by man-made materials. The seeds produce an oil used locally in soap and that can be used as fertilizer.

Cuba Naturaleza Biodiversity

© 2023 Nigel Hunt