Botanical name: Bombax ceiba Family: Malvaceae (Mallow family)
Synonyms: Salmalia malabarica
Silk cotton tree is a type of native cotton tree with large red flowers. The genus name Salmalia is derived from the sanskrit name shaalmali. Silk cotton trees comprise eight species in the genus Bombax, native to India, tropical southern Asia, northern Australia and tropical Africa. Semul trees bear beautiful red-colored flowers during January to March. The phenomenon paints the whole landscape in an enchanting red hue. The fruit, the size of a ping-pong ball, on maturity appears during March and April. These are full of cotton-like fibrous stuff. It is for the fiber that villagers gather the semul fruit and extract the cotton substance called "kopak". This substance is used for filling economically priced pillows, quilts, sofas etc. The fruit is cooked and eaten and also pickled. Semul is quite a fast growing tree and can attain a girth of 2 to 3 m, and height about 30 m, in nearly 50 years or so. Its wood, when sawn fresh, is white in color. However, with exposure and passage of time it grows darkish gray. It is as light as 10 to 12 kg, per cubic foot. It is easy to work but not durable anywhere other than under water. So it is popular for construction work, but is very good and prized for manufacture of plywood, match boxes and sticks, scabbards, patterns, moulds, etc. Also for making canoes and light duty boats and or other structures required under water. Bombax species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the leaf-miner Bucculatrix crateracma which feeds exclusively on Bombax ceiba.
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