The Kapok Tree – the National Tree of Puerto Rico

If you travel to Puerto Rico you may notice that there is an abundance of one particular tree – the Kapok (Ceiba) tree. This beautiful tree is common in tropical rainforests and other natural attractions and it plays a fitting role as Puerto Rico’s national tree.

The majestic Kapok tree is often the highest in a rainforest. It may tower over other trees from a height of 150 feet or even more. Its trunk is smooth and gray in color and has a cylindrical shape. It may reach an impressive diameter of 9 feet during the average tree’s lifespan. This, combined with widely spread branches which add a delightful umbrella-shaped top to the tree give it a picture-perfect quality. The base of the trunk has large spines which discourage animals and other creatures from damaging the trunk while thick buttresses provide the stability needed to keep such a massive tree upright. The tree is commonly found in rainforests in West Africa, Southeast Asia, the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia.

Perhaps the main thing that makes the Kapok tree so special is the fact that its massive branches provide housing for so many creatures. Animals are born and raised in the branches only to live their entire lives in its tree tops. Birds nest here and mammals even use the branches to hide in. Small pools of water often collect in the bromeliads and these are frequently used by frogs as a breeding ground. Truly, the tree is a fitting symbol of life and variety. The tree also has beautiful flowers which appear in small clusters on new branches. The flowers have five petals and may be pale pink or creamy white in color. These flowers do not have a particularly pleasant smell but they are attractive to look at. They are pollinated by bats and later, brown seeds are found in woody, smooth pods which burst open, dropping the seeds so that they are scattered by the wind.

Another thing that makes the Kapok tree truly great it its usefulness to people. The straight tree trunks, with their pinkish or ashy-colored wood, are often used to make dugout canoes, while the white, fluffy seed coverings that can be found in the pods may be used to stuff pillows and mattresses. This fluffy white covering is both buoyant and water resistant which makes it the perfect stuffing for floatation devices. The bark, leaves and seeds can also be used to cure a number of ailments.

In ancient Mayan myths the Kapok tree was considered to be sacred. While few people alive today would put stock in the stories surrounding this sacred view of the Kapok tree, they should certainly imitate the deep respect that this ancient people had for this useful, but exploitable tree which gives so much to both the people, plants and animals which live around it.