Considered one of the most beautiful trees in the world, this Brazilian native thrives in South Africa. When in full bloom, this spectacular tree is hard to miss with its clouds of large, flimsy lily-like pink flowers cascading from the green branches.
The flowers are produced from April to May, providing a burst of colour in the drab autumn landscape. From January until May, the tree is without leaves and the striking trunk is exposed. The most distinctive feature of the trunk is the wicked-looking array of stout spines that crowd around the trunk. These spines store water for dry times.
When younger, the Silk floss tree has a bright green trunk that allows the tree to photosynthesize when leaves are absent. As the tree grows older, the trunk turns grey and some of the spines near the bottom are lost.
Flowers are followed by large pods which contain a fluffy fibre that protect the seeds. The pods burst open and seeds are dispersed by the wind, floating away on cottony pillows. The silky white floss is often used as stuffing for mattresses or life jackets as it is very light in weight.
The Ceiba speciosa (formerly known as Chorisia speciosa) can reach a height of 25 m and grows rapidly the first few years and then slow considerably. It is briefly deciduous and fairly hardy, needing moderate water and protection from cold when young. The surface root system can be quite robust and care should be taken when planting the Silk floss tree close to sidewalks or paving.
These striking trees can be seen dotted around urban Johannesburg, as well as in the countryside, from Hartebeespoort to Pilanesberg and as far as Nelspruit.