(L.) Gaertn., Fruct. & Sem. Pl. 2:244, t. 133. 1791
Silkcotton tree, Ceiba, Cotton tree, Bongo
Tree, to 40 m tall; trunk ca 1.5 (2.5) m dbh, armed at least when young, with large, curving plank buttresses to 10 m high and 10 m wide at base; outer bark grayish-brown with horizontal lenticular lines. Leaves clustered at tips of branchlets, palmately compound, glabrous; stipules ovate, to 6 mm long, caducous; petioles 5-23 cm long; leaflets 5-9, oblong-lanceolate, acuminate, narrowed and obtuse to acute at base, 10-21 cm long, 2-4.5 cm wide, ± entire. Flowers precocious, in clusters at tips of branchlets, ca 3 cm long; pedicels ca 2.5 cm long; calyx bell-shaped, ca 1 cm long and wide, with 4 or 5 small lobes, glabrous, drying dark; petals 5, oblong, ca 3 cm long and 1 cm wide, light yellow; stamens 5, united at base into a column; anthers 2 or 3 per stamen, linear, 1-celled, spiraled; style slightly surpassing stamens, surmounted by a capitate stigma. Capsules elongate-elliptic to obovoid, 10-26 cm long, to 4 cm diam, the valves 5, greenish, opening to expose copious grayish kapok and seeds; seeds numerous, round, ca 5 mm long. Croat 14071.
Frequent in the forest. Flowering usually from December through February, but individuals never flower 2 years in succession and sometimes only once in 5 years. Mature fruits are seen from January to March. Allen (1956) reported flowers in Costa Rica in February, with the fruits maturing in late March. Leaves fall in the late rainy season to the early dry season. In reproductive years individuals may be leafless much longer than during sterile years (R. Foster, pers. comm.).
In open areas the crown of the tree may be wider than the tree is tall.
Pantropical. In Panama, a typical component of tropical dry and tropical moist forests (Holdridge & Budowski, 1956; Tosi, 1971), but growing in many climates and places (Holdridge, 1970); known from tropical moist forest in the Canal Zone, Bocas del Toro, Chiriqui, and Panama.
See fig. on p. 10.