The Silk Cotton Tree
The Ceiba Tree bet you never heard that name before.
Did you know that those huge trees seen around the island that many know as cotton trees are the Silk Cotton tree also known as the Ceiba Tree. Other names around the world are Kapok, pochote or bongo tree.
This tree is a native of the Bahamas but is also found around the world mainly because it can grow in humid or dry areas. A unique feature of this tree is that it is never found in large concentrations in fact they are often scattered far apart. Its diversity is often given to its unique way distributing seeds that can drift with the wind or on the seas to other locations.
Its hard not to spot one of these trees as they do produce a sort of fruit which is a part of a type of green capsule that will turn brown as it matures. Once it matures it splits open revealing a light weight fibrous material with a single seed attached to it. This fibrous material allows the seeds to be carried by the wind and allow the seeds a chance to find a suitable location to germinate.
Although this tree may seem useless it has a few very important uses.
Although difficult to separate the seed from the fiber, as it is often done by hand, both can be used to benefit mankind. The process includes placing the entire fibrous material in a basket and is stirred until the seeds separate and fall to the bottom of the basket. The seeds are then used to make a oil that is often used in soap and the left over is used as cattle feed or fertilizer. The fivers however have a more practical use. It is lighter than regular cotton and to brittle to weave so it is not used in making clothing however it is amazingly resilient and moisture resitant. This boyant fiber is used in life preservers and other water safety equpment and is said to be able to support roughly 30 ti9mes its own weight in water. A safety test showed that the fibers showed only 10% loss of buoyancy after 30 days of being immersed in water. The fiber has also been used as insulation, stuffing for pillows and mattressess and most importantly as a substitute to absorbent cotton for hospitals. The use of this resilient water resistant fiber is on the decline mainly because of the development and manufacture of plastics and synthetic fibers.
Many farmers when clearing their land would leave the ceiba tree to act as a shade for their coffee and tea plants. In places around the world like Java the young pod is eaten and in Africa the seeds are roasted in soups. The leaves are uses as cattle feed and is said to be edible for humans once cooked. The wood of the ceiba tree is amazingly light and has been used to make canoes for aboriginal Indians, it is also suitable for making wooden basins, tubs and stools.
Stories were told in the Bain and Grant town area of Nassau that when slaves were brought to the islands they would plant a ceiba tree to signify the center of the village area or where the most important members of a village lived. Although not verified it is worth looking into as there are a few trees scattered throughout the Bain and Grants town area also Fox Hill, Gambeir Village and Adalade Village.