The White Silk-Cotton Tree (Le Fromager)

The flora in Guadeloupe Archipelago is highly diversified and breathtaking. Indeed, there are over 1000 species of plants listed in the Archipelago thanks to its geographical location as well as the marvellous climate. In today Blog post, I am going to focus on the White silk cotton tree which scientific name is Ceiba Pentandra and Fromager in French. Other English names include: Kapok or Ceiba.

Origin & Description

The White silk cotton tree is a tropical tree native to Central and South America but you can also find it in the Caribbean, some countries of tropical Africa as well as some countries of Southeast Asia.

This tree of life is one of the largest trees in the world and is extremely fast-growing and productive. As a matter of fact, the tree can reach over 60 metres while the trunk can be up to 3 metres in diameter above voluminous buttress roots. The branches are large, thick and form a crown of foliage.

The clustered flowers emerged before the leaves and are an important source of nectar and pollen for honey bees. The palmate leaves are composed of 5 to 9 leaflets, each up to 20 cm long. The fruit is quite long reaching between 10 to 30 cm and feature a large ellipsoid capsule. When the capsule gets mature, it opens up and discharges over 120 dark brown to black seeds embedded in white, pale yellow or grey silky wool called the fibre.

Capsules
Capsules

Uses

The Fibre is used to filling pillows, mattresses, some clothes but also for thermal and acoustic insulation.

The seed contains up to 25% of oil. The oil has a yellow colour and is very similar to cottonseed oil. Usually, this oil is suitable for different uses:

  • As a cooking oil
  • To make soap
  • As a biofuel
  • In paint preparation

The bark of the tree has anti-inflammatory properties and is employed medicinally. It is also a powerful diuretic and aphrodisiac. For instance it can treat headache as well as 2 diabetes.

In some countries, people are utilising the leaves to cure tooth abscess, gingivitis, diarrhoea and stomach pain.

Finally, the leaves and seeds are used as animal feeds.

Popular belief

In Guadeloupe Archipelago, the White silk cotton tree is related to the slavery period. Slaves’ living conditions were so painful that they were using the tree to hang themselves and escape this awful life. This is why it is considered as a sacred tree that keeps the ancestors’ spirits alive. On the other hand, there is a popular belief saying that the white-silk cotton tree is the devil tree. Apparently, soucouyant (which is a kind of blood-sucking hag), zombie and others bad spirits are flying from this tree.

The White silk cotton tree is definitely a tree of life for various reasons. As a long-life tree, it also wears many hats by being a sacred, an unblessed, an oily, a textile and a medicinal tree.

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