Our Silk floss tree or Ceiba speciosa is flowering like we’ve never seen before!

Native to the tropical and subtropical forests of South America this deciduous tree is famous for the mass of candy pink flowers that densely pack its wide spreading boughs. Each flower contains five petals enveloping a delicate creamy-white centre that bears a striking resemblance to the flower of the hibiscus plant. As large as an opened hand, each flower is surrounded by a mass of green leaves composed of five to seven leaflets.

The nectar of these flowers is great for pollinating insects such as butterflies and bees as well as hummingbirds in its South American habitat. It is thought that in New Zealand only the monarch butterfly is able to pollinate the plant as the bees and bumblebees we have here are too small to reach the nectar. Our native wood pigeon, the kererū, will strip the tree bare of its leaves when other food is scarce.

The silk floss tree takes its name from the green pods it produces that contain pea-sized black seeds as well as a flossy fibrous cotton that has been used to fill life-jackets and stuff upholstery. A tree with many uses; the wood from the trunk has been used to make wood pulp, paper and even canoes, while thin strips of the bark can be woven to make ropes and the seeds pressed into vegetable oil. 

The trunk of the silk floss tree is encircled with round spiky thorns that protect the trunk and limbs from animals, especially climbing monkeys, and turn grey with age. Great dew collectors, these thorns will collect moisture from the air that will then drip down onto the soil below – which means these trees can afford to be drought tolerant.

A stunning ornamental tree, this deciduous beauty is a great shade tree in Summer but you will have to wait a few years before an impressive flower covering is produced.

Auckland Zoo

Young trees start their life with green trunks and limbs due to their high chlorophyll content, allowing the tree to photosynthesise before leaves have been produced. Some trees may not flower until they are 20 years old!

The silk floss tree is part of the Malvaceae family and is closely related to the baobabs or ‘bottle tree’ which is known for its water-storing girth and can reach up to 11 meters in diameter.

There is a sad folk tale surrounding the silk floss tree which the Bolivians call toborochi, meaning ‘tree of refuge’. Legend has it that the tree holds the spirit of a beautiful and pregnant goddess Aravera who took refuge in the tree to give birth to her son. While inside the trunk, she was kidnapped by evil spirits who were afraid that her unborn child would grow up to punish them for their bad deeds. Fortunately her son survived but the tree goddess remained inside and her shape can be seen in the bulge of the tree’s trunk as it matures and in the pink flowers that form every year.

A stunning ornamental tree, this deciduous beauty is a great shade tree in summer, but you will have to wait a few years before an impressive flower covering is produced.

Admire our beautiful silk floss tree while it’s in full bloom! With plenty of buds it will be flowering for some time. You can see this impressive specimen in the gardens surrounding our alligator boardwalk in our South American precinct and as you pass the band rotunda lawn their bright pink flowers stand out in the canopy ahead.

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series and if you have any recommendations on plants we should cover or questions for our horticulture experts, flick us an email!