Materia Medica, Pharmacology & Bio-Prospecting

The Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra)

The image on the right is a drawing from The Ambonese Herbal of the Kapok Tree, a tropical tree native to Mexico, Africa, and Tropical America. It is also known as the Capock tree or Ceiba pentandra. According to Georg Eberhard Rumphius in The Ambonese Herbal, it is used as a fever reducer and headache reliever with anti-inflammatory agents. It contains catechin and beta-sitosterol, both of which have pain relieving and anti-inflammatory agents.

It is also used in Africa for plywood manufacturing. Timber industries have become more and more reliant on the Kapok Tree as a resource. While it's timber does has value in plywood manufacturing, use of the Kapok tree as timber should not be increased. The fiber of the pods are a much more sustainable resource that should be utilized more frequently as an alternative to down and cotton. The use of the Kapok tree as a timber source has not been followed up with developing plantations, or large efforts for long-term regeneration of the tree as a timber source. This increased harvesting should not continue due to these reasons. 

In this image, we see a branch of the Ceiba pentandra on display. The bark of the branch is a green color, and grows in an oblique manner, forming a triangle with three branches in total. The leaves grow in bunches of seven to nine in a circle, and have a smooth texture and are bright green. Below the leaves are flowers, which hang in circles. The flowers are large and dirty white, and they have five petals and stand in little green chalices. The image on the left shows a diagram in color of the tree. At the base of the branch lie the fruits, hanging below the flowers, which are closely bunched together. The fruits, or pods, hold the seeds of the Kapok Tree. These fruits are round pods and are about half a foot long, green, and inside they are stuffed with wool-like threads. These pods are shaped like cucumbers, but pointed at the front and the back. The surrounding wool-like fibers incase small pear-shaped black seeds, which will fall out if they are shaken. The wool inside of the fruit is sometimes harvested and used in fabrics or filing as alternatives to down. It is white and brittle, but when it plucked it becomes hollow and airy. Plucking the fibers to harvest them is a laborious process, but well worth the effort and preferred to the lumpier cotton due to its airy qualities.


Rumphius, Georgius Everhardus. [1743] 2011. The Ambonese Herbal. Translated by Eric Montague Beekman. New Haven: Yale University Press & National Tropical Botanical Garden.
Merrill, E.D. 1917. An Interpretation of Rumphius’s Herbarium Amboinense. Bureau of Science, Manila.
Buenz, E. J., Johnson, H. E., Beekman, E. M., Motley, T. J., & Bauer, B. A. 2005. "Bioprospecting Rumphius's Ambonese Herbal: Volume I." Journal of ethnopharmacology 96(1-2), 57–70.
Gaertn, L. “Ceiba pentandra - (L.) Gaertn.” Plants for a Future Plant Search,
Duvall, C.S. “Ceiba pentandra.” PROTA4U,

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