Chorisia speciosa, commonly known as Silk Floss Tree, is a conical deciduous tree with somewhat irregular branching. It grows up to 60 feet (18 m) tall. This plant is native to tropical and sub-tropical forested areas of Argentina and Brazil. It is now grown as a showy flowering tree in many tropical areas around the globe.
It will typically develop an attractive, rounded, umbrella-like crown over time. Trunks and branches are armed with stout triangular spines. Trunks are green in youth but may eventually mature to gray. Each palmate, compound, light green leaf has 6 to 8 serrate, lanceolate leaflets, each up to 5 inches (12.5 cm) long. The leaves typically drop in fall before it blooms. Open, 5-petaled, funnel-shaped flowers are up to 5 inches (12.5 cm) in diameter and appear in late fall to early winter. They are quite showy, featuring pink to rose-purple petals with creamy white to yellowish-white throats. Flowers are followed by pear-shaped capsules filled with seeds embedded in silky white floss, hence the common name.
In its native territory, Silk Floss Tree has been harvested for a number of uses. The cotton inside the capsules has been used as stuffing. The wood can be used to make canoes, as wood pulp, and to make paper. The bark has been used to make ropes. From the seeds, it is possible to obtain vegetable oil.
Growing Conditions and General Care
When planting a Silk Floss Tree, care should be taken to situate at least 15 feet (4.5 m) away from the eaves to account for growth and well away from foot traffic and play areas due to the thorny trunk.
Silk Floss Tree care is possible in USDA plant hardiness zone 9 to 11, as saplings are frost sensitive, but mature trees can withstand temperatures to 20 °F (-7 °C) for limited periods. Planting a Silk Floss Tree should occur in full sun with consistent moisture in humus-rich, well-drained soil. It tolerates some light shade but blooms best is in full sun. Trees with established root systems have some drought tolerance. The leaves drop when temperatures sink below 27 °F (-3 °C).
Care of Silk Floss Tree should include moderate irrigation with a reduction in the winter. Transplants are readily available in climate suitable areas, or seeds can be sown from spring to early summer.
The eventual size should be kept in mind when planting a Silk Floss Tree, as leaf drop and fruit pod detritus can be hard on lawnmowers. These trees are also often affected by scale insects.
It is difficult to propagate from seed or cuttings. Sow seeds from spring to early summer. Germination may take from 2 to 6 weeks.
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