Thursday, July 25, 2013

Silk Floss Tree

I am shocked to see how long it is since I have posted anything here.  It is odd, because Treeaware is always on my mind and I have constantly been taking photos for the blog but not actually posting them.  I think this is largely caused by the fact that I have been adjusting to having two delightful Granddaughters instead of just one- and helping look after two very young girls is certainly more demanding than one!  Don't misunderstand me, I feel incredibly lucky to have the experience and enjoy it immensely- I just need to push myself to make use of the ample time I have for my own work.  I have just got out of the habit.
That said, I am restarting by writing a long post about one of my very, very favourite Los Angeles' trees- the Silk Floss tree, or Ceiba speciosa, a drought tolerant native from the tropical and sub-tropical forests of South America. 

I love it because everything about it is- to me- extraordinary and totally unexpected as you watch it through the seasons. 

What first excited me on seeing one of these trees in Santa Monica was these amazingly sharp conical spikes, giving the tree the appearance of some scaly prehistoric animal:

 Apparently, one of the uses of these spikes is to store water...

           Whereas older trees turn grey, young trees have green trunks due to a high chlorophyll content  to enable photosynthesis when the leaves fall off (they are deciduous).
           Below, are some examples of smoother bark, but still having a very animal-like structure:

   Even the roots sometimes perpetuate this animal-like formation!

Here below is a Silk Floss in the Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanical Gardens in Arcadia.  This, and the following one, show how the older trees are often bottle shaped, bulging out in the lower trunk- caused by water collecting there:

  I also love the patterns of green lines you often find between the spikes, as above and below.  These are in fact "stretch marks" caused by the expansion of the bark as the tree becomes bloated with water.

 But this possibly younger tree- also in the Arboretum- has no bulge and is immensely tall.  They can grow rapidly up to as much as 80ft:

                And here is another tall one, but this time with a good collection of spikes:

The next thing that excited and surprized me about this most surprizing tree, was the flowers that usually appear after the leaves have fallen.  Who would believe that this extraordinary spiky barked tree would produce these delicate, pink (or sometimes white or dark pink) orchid-like flowers?  I find this unexpected juxtaposition fascinating.

And then this tree has yet another surprize, gradually evolving into a sci-fi tree, as the flowers die and morph into mysterious avocado-like "pods", covering the trees...

Now for the last excitement: if you have wondered why it is called a Silk Floss tree, here is your answer.  The pods begin to split, exposing some white fluff:


The hard sections of the pods fall away leaving the "silk floss" exposed:

At this stage the floss can be very reminiscent of cauliflowers!

But after a time it breaks up and becomes silky.  If you look carefully you can spot the bean-like seeds nestling inside:

Finally, the wind blows the floss off the branches onto the ground- a fluffy mass of silk, one seed in each piece:

So this is explains why the Silk Floss belongs to the same family as the Kapok tree, whose fluff was traditionally used as stuffing for toys and cushions.   As a child, before the days of synthetic wadding, I used this constantly.  Now, of course, the value of using organic materials is recognized.  The Silk Floss tree's fluff has sometimes been used in this way too, but sadly it's uses are limited as it is so much more delicate and insubstantial than kapok.


The last things we see- scattered on the ground below the tree - are the fallen sections of the pods...