'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

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Thursday, 3 June 2010

That Prickly-Trunked Tree

Well, here's me all excited by a strange, rare and exotic tree that I met in the flesh bark for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and Judy has had one in her back garden!

Here are the rest of the images I took of Ceiba speciosa, also known as palo borracho in Spanish. It's one of the kapok family, and also related to the baobab. The green patterns and spikes on the trunk reminds me of some kind of chameleon or one of those spiky lizards that the Australian outback seems to spontaneously generate.

The flowers are very pretty as you can see. They look a lot like hibiscus or mallow flowers, and, not surprisingly, are the same family. But obviously this branch (ha ha) of the family is not vertically challenged at all. Ceiba speciosa can grow to 25 metres (75 feet) if they get enough water.

The pods contain a fluff, like kapok. Unlike cotton it isn't suitable for spinning but used to be used for stuffing. Remember those old kapok mattresses? And I'm sure my old Teddy bear had kapok insides.

This specimen was growing in 'Wharepuke' - a 5 acre private jungle-like garden in Kerikeri, New Zealand, where we stayed a couple of nights recently. The owners told us that Northland's summer drought seems to have especially increased the number of flowers, as the tree looks particularly flamboyant this year.


  1. It's very odd. Nature usually has its reasons so I wonder why evolution deemed that this tree's trunk would be spiked like that. If it's a defence mechanism what is the enemy it is seeking to repel?

  2. I found a tidy little article about the tree (address below) if you are interested YP. It simply says the 'Large spines protrude from the trunk to discourage damage to the trunk.' which is no surprise. It's a tropical rainforest tree and 'many plants and animals grow and live in the branches.'
    Maybe monkeys would have a chew? It may be more important to protect your bark when it is softish and tender and (unusually for trees) contains chlorophyl. That's my guess.

  3. Oops. Address: http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/kapok.htm

  4. I never cease to be amazed by the number of things about which I know absolutely nothing. You've now decreased that number by one. By no means the first time you have achieved that.

  5. What you have captured that I have not seen is the bloom. This is much bigger too. Truthfully, I worried a bit about having it in the yard with little ones. Did you know the name translates to drunken stick or drunken tree. I saw one at the gardens near Whangarei...if I have my towns right, which I might not.

  6. I wonder if it is also meant to defend against flying and leaping creatures? I notice that the spikes also grow on the higher branches, not just the trunk. In any case, I've never seen a tree like it!

  7. Well, one good turn, GB... I just bought a new kettle...
    Judy, yes, I did read that it was 'drunken tree/ stick'. Wonder why that is. I can understand how it wouldn't really be compatible with kids. I saw a photo of one in a park and they'd removed the prickles up to about 8 feet.

    Sam - good thought. Yes, they are on all the smaller branches too. It's truly amazing.

  8. Looks like a nasty tree to (literally) run into! The only time I've ever seen one before was on someone's blog - I think it was in Sarawak, or perhaps Malaya.