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The red kapok tree

January 16, 2011

The Chiang Mai valley in northern Thailand is currently adorned by the red blossom of the native Red Kapok Tree, Bombax ceiba (Bombacaceae, or lately Malvaceae). According to the explorers of the 1800’s, this tree was a characteristic sight in the Chiang Mai valley. It still is – right now!

It is fast growing and very well adapted to the dry monsoon forests here. It is suitable for a large garden, since the blossom is spectacular and also attracts nectar feeding birds. After the flowering season, you can still admire the silvery massive trunks. You do not need to do anything special in your garden. Let this deciduous tree follow the monsoon cycle, keeping it dry during the dry season. The young specimen at Dokmai Garden is still too young to make any flowers, but you can stroke its prickles if you dare. Thais believe that people who go to hell have to climb the tree naked, for eons!

Eric Danell

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2011 10:02 PM

    At Huey Teng Tao we planted Bombax cebia along with many others 4-5 years ago next August. Then came a big flood which killed most species except:
    Eugenias formosa & fruiticosa,
    Hopea odorata,
    Dipterocarpus turbinatus,
    Anogeissis accuminata,
    Bischofia javanica,
    Terminalia bellirica,
    Toona cilliata and
    Irvingia malayana.

    Last dry season the army burnt the site and killed all the Hopea odorata, Dipterocarpus turbinatus & Eugenia formosa. All the others survived but were severely burnt back
    and produced new growth from the root stock except the Bombax which was unharmed and now grows tall.

    Perhaps fire is also afraid of the fierce thorns of the tree from Hell?

    Maybe this explains why we see so many Bombax in Chiang Mai where burning is so common and so few other indigenous tree species.

    I have also seen a large stand in Laos on the banks of the MaeKhong for Bombax.

  2. Richard North permalink
    March 12, 2012 11:00 AM

    Does it respond well to being cut back??? It would make a great fence if you could keep low and densely planted……..

    • March 12, 2012 11:19 AM

      I do not think it will respond well to that. Kapoks that have lost their main shoots in storms and due to insects do not branch but try to make a new top shoot. You can try and let us know 😉

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