Silk floss tree quite the presence

IN THE myths of early societies all of nature was infused with spirits or a "divine presence" and trees often had a special significance.

A sad yet beautiful Bolivian myth surrounds the extraordinary silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa).

The silk floss tree is a deciduous tree native to the tropical and subtropical forests of South America and belongs to the same family as the baobab and kapok.

It earns its name from the large amounts of fibrous material reminiscent of cotton wool or silk, which surround the seeds inside the 20 centimetre-long seed pods.

This fibre was once used as stuffing for pillows and mattresses.

When the tree is young, like the specimen in the Sensory Garden, it has large conical spikes on its green trunk.

The chlorophyll in the trunk allows the tree to continue to photosynthesise during its leafless period and it is speculated that the large spikes protect it from grazing animals.

As the tree matures, the trunk will develop a bulge, the bark will turn grey and the spikes may fall off.

Fortunately these disturbing similarities to the stereotypical characteristics of human middle age stop there!

The silk floss Tree was chosen for the Sensory Garden because it is one of the most beautiful flowering trees in the world.

According to the Bolivian myth the prolific, large pink and white flowers are the form taken by the spirit of a beautiful woman, Aravera, when she wants to be with her husband, Colibri the hummingbird god.

Aravera died in the tree after taking refuge there (thus the bulge) to give birth to her son.

Evil spirits were trying to kill her because her unborn son was destined to punish them for their wickedness.

Her son lived to fulfil the prophecy.

The silk floss tree may be found near the red gates of the Sensory Garden.

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