Ceiba pentandra

Illustration by Karyono, CIFOR


Ceiba pentandra, or kapok tree or Java kapok, is native to central and South America and tropical Africa but is also widely cultivated throughout the tropics, especially in the rainforests of southeast Asia.


The fluffy cotton-like seed pod of the kapok tree provides an essential fiber source for stuffing cushions, pillows, mattresses, insulation, absorbent material and down. As with many bioenergy-rich tree species, Ceiba pentandra has medicinal and herbal uses. In traditional use, compressed fresh leaves, for instance, are used to offset dizziness; the essence extraction of the boiled roots is used to treat oedema; the gum helps to relieve upset stomachs; the tender shoots provide a contraceptive; leaf infusions are used to treat coughs and sore . Additionally, Ceiba pentandra has nutritional value. The seeds can be roasted and eaten or pounded and ground into meal or cooked in soup. The leaves, flowers, and young fruits are also cooked into sauces. Flowers from the kapok tree are pollinated by bees, producing amber-coloured honey with a characteristic taste. Ash from the fruits can be made into snuff. For animals, kapok leaves and shoots provide fodder for goats, sheep and cattle. The seeds also make good feed, fertilizer and soap. The tree is considered sacred in many cultures, such as the Maya, and is a national emblem in countries as diverse as Equatorial Guinea and Guatemala. With the trade names fuma or ceiba, the wood is primarily used in plywood manufacturing, but also for making boxes and crates, and for lightweight joinery material. In West Africa, wood is often used to make traditional masks.

In the Field

With the increasing demand for large-scale plantations of Ceiba pentandra, researchers from World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and other African organizations estimated the tree’s height growth and heritability in Ghana. This research led to the capacity to determine how best to select fast-growing accessions for the greater plantation yields.


Biodiesel is produced from ceiba seed oil, with the seeds comprising about 25 to 28 percent (w/w) of each fruit. The oilseed yield produces on average 1,280 kg/ha. Although Kapok oil can turn rancid when exposed to fresh air, it does have some potential as an alternative feedstock for biodiesel production. Kapok fiber also contains 34 to 64 percent of cellulose and high potential to produce cellulosic ethanol.

Related publications

  • Abengmeneng, C. S., Ofori, D. A., Kumapley, P., Akromah, R., & Jamnadass, R. (2015). Estimation of heritability and genetic gain in height growth in Ceiba pentandra. African Journal of Biotechnology, 14(22), 1880-1885.

  • Rivers, M.C. & Mark, J. (2017). Ceiba pentandra. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T61782438A61782442.

  • Silitonga, A. S., Ong, H. C., Mahlia, T. M. I., Masjuki, H. H., & Chong, W. T. (2013). Characterization and production of Ceiba pentandra biodiesel and its blends. Fuel, 108, 855-858.

  • Duvall, C.S. (2011). Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands.

  • Lawal, T. O., Mbanu, A. E., & Adeniyi, B. A. (2014). Inhibitory activities of Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. and Cordia sebestena Linn. on selected rapidly growing mycobacteria. African Journal of Microbiology Research, 8(24), 2387-2392.

The information provided in this article is not peer-reviewed and is not intended as advice. It is based on current knowledge and the available literature. CIFOR and partner organizations do not provide any guarantees and recommend interested stakeholders undertake further independent assessments and verifications before making business and investment decisions.