The silk cotton tree is native to the eastern Caribbean, found around Barbados and steeped in spiritual meaning for many cultures.
Also known as the kapok tree, it’s a dream for any passing ethno-botanist (someone who studies the relationship between people and plants).
It’s a rainforest giant. Its tall, slim trunk, which is covered in tiny spikes or thorns, pierces the canopy and reigns majestically over all it surveys.
Also: Codrington College. There are two magnificent specimens overlooking the water.
St John’s Parish Church.
The military cemetery near Drill Hall on the south coast.
A spiritual tree to Africans arrving in Barbados
The Mayan people of Central America considered ceiba pentandra sacred and even today it is often left standing by loggers.
Archaeologists exploring Mayan tombs discovered the tell-tale spikes on the outside of ceramics, indicating the tree was of spiritual significance.
And when the Africans arrived in Barbados, they too considered it a spiritual tree.
The tree that walks in the night
They imbued it with the spirits of their ancestors and referred to it as the tree that walks in the night.
Witnesses at Welchman Hall Gully, where there is a splendid specimen (near the spring), have reported the tree moving around the gully after dark. By morning, so the story goes, it always returns to its original position.
Two cultures, no contact between them, same tree. Almost makes you think there’s some truth in it…
A silk cotton tree at Codrington College…
Find the Silk Cotton Tree
There is another silk cotton in the church yard of St John’s Church on the east coast (this one has the typical large limb sticking out at 90 degrees) and the seed fibres have been seen in Drill Hall where a ceiba pentandra is resident. Also check out Codrington College.
Bats are often seen in large numbers around the top of the tree when the seed is about to scatter.
These large balls of fluff litter the ground around the tree and are picked up by the breeze and scattered through the forest.
This seed fibre, to which the tree owes it name, resembles silk and cotton and was originally used to fill life-jackets. It is still used to stuff mattresses and cushions.
The kapok seed is pressed for oil. As a bush tea, the bark is an aphrodisiac and diuretic. It is added to the hallucinogenic drink Ayahuasca by some Amazonian tribes.
The silk cotton tree may have arrived on Barbados with the Ameri-Indians… It makes a very good canoe so its presence may not be just down to its spiritual and medicinal properties.