23 Aug

Bombax, Red Silk Cotton Tree

This is the fourth post in the Native Trees of Pakistan series.

In this post, I am featuring one of my favourite trees, Bombax – also known as Cotton Tree or sometimes as Red Silk Cotton tree. The name, Bombax, is derived from the Greek word Bombax which means ‘a silk-worm’. The most popular species is Bombax Ceiba, which is natively found in southern and eastern Asia and northern Australia.

bombax ceiba flowers

Photo © J.M. Garg

Bombax is a fast growing tree and can reach the height of 30 to 40 meters and up to 3 meters trunk diameter. A mature Bombax tree stands as a straight and tall sculptor symmetrically branched at uniform gaps. The trunk has short bristles that protect the young plant from animals.

Bombax tree bears large red, orange or yellow flowers during spring. A young Bombax flowers abundantly and spread its vibrant colors all around standing out in the landscape. Flowering is followed by fruition. The fruit is usually the size of a small ball and is filled with cotton like fibrous stuff. The ‘cotton’ is plucked and used for filling pillows, cushions and quilts. The timber is soft and can be used in manufacturing of plywood, match boxes and sticks, and moulds. The brown gum extracted from Bombax tree is usually used in cosmetics, foods, medicine and for several industrial purposes. The gum is locally known as ‘katira’.

Locally, Bombax is known as Seemal, Simal or Semul. The genus belongs to Malvaceae family and grows naturally in a tropical belt of the south Asia starting from Mayanmar and extending to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bombax grows well in plains and does not require much water or fertilizer. Because of its size and a lot of flowers falling and covering the ground, Bombax is not recommended as a house plant. It is, however, an excellent choice for lining roads, lands and agricultural fields.

The bark, roots and gum extracted from Bambox are used to prepare herbal medicine for curing diarrhea, dysentery, hemoptysis, pulmonary tuberculosis, influenza, menorrhagia, styptic and wounds.

Bombax is mentioned in Guru Granth Sahib, holy Sikh scriptures, as:

simul tree in granth sahib

The semal tree is tall and stiff as an arrow;

But birds that visit it hopefully, depart disappointed.

For its fruits are tasteless and flowers nauseating,

Only humility and sweetness, O Nanak, bear virtue and goodness.

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