Ceiba or Kapok tree
The Ceiba pentandra, or Kapok tree is a tropical tree of the Bombacacee family. Kapok is the most common name for the tree and may also refer to the fibre obtained from its seed pods. The tree is also known as the Java cotton, Java kapok, silk cotton or ceiba.
The tree grows to 70 m (230 ft) tall (60 m for the one in Shawandha) and has a very substantial trunk up to 4m in diameter with buttresses. The trunk and many of the larger branches are often (but not always) covered with very large, robust thorns. The leaves are compound with 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20 cm and palm like. Adult trees produce several hundred (15cm ) seed pods. The pods contain seeds surrounded by a fluffy, yellowish fibre that is a mix of lignin and cellulose.
The fibre is light, very buoyant, resilient and resistant to water. The process of harvesting and separating the fibre is labour-intensive and manual. It is difficult to spin but is used as an alternative to down as filling in mattresses, pillows, upholstery, and stuffed toys and for insulation. It was previously used in life jackets and similar devices until synthetic materials largely replaced the fibre. The seeds produce an oil used locally in soap and can be used as fertilizer.
Native tribes harvest the kapok fibre to wrap around their blowgun darts. The fibres create a seal that allows the pressure to force the dart through the tube.The flowers are an important source of nectar and pollen for honeybees. They can be consumed cooked as a sauce. They are also used for goat and cattle feed.
The Kapok tree figures in the mythologies of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, in particular that of the Maya civilization. It was considered a sacred tree, and was probably the most majestic and largest tree in the regions occupied by the Mayas. Called "Yaxche", it was considered to be a tree of abundance, which appeared at the time of creation in the centre of the earth or in the four directions, to provide food for man. It also provided a path for spirits to reach the inferior levels of heaven. Its tree top represented the superior world where 13 "superior" gods lived. Its trunk the "intermediate" world, where man lives and its roots the "inferior" world, the kingdom of the nine gods of pain and sorrow. The tribe's wise men were often buried beneath its roots. Religious ceremonies and feasts were celebrated beneath its branches. These tall trees allowed the native Indians to find their way in the tropical forestThe trees could be found in the centre of the Maya Tzotzil du Chiapas villages. They were associated with places of political or religious power. This sacred tree was sometimes represented in the form of a cross, which later allowed for an easier conversion to Christianity at the arrival of the Spanish conquerors.