Bombax ceiba (Red silk-cotton tree) (Bombax malabaricum)


Bombax ceiba, like other trees of the genus Bombax, is commonly known as cotton tree. More specifically, it is sometimes known as red silk-cotton; red cotton tree; or ambiguously as silk-cotton or kapok, both of which may also refer to Ceiba pentandra.

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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.

Common name: Silk Cotton Tree, Kapok Tree • Hindi: शाल्मली Shalmali, सेमल Semal • Manipuri: Tera • Assamese: Dumboil • Tamil: Sittan, Sanmali • Malayalam: Unnamurika • Nepali: सिमल Simal

Bombax Ceiba

Pimples: Make a paste of thorn with milk. Apply on the pimples for seven days- Pravin Kumar Sharma, East Champaran, Bihar

Wound: Apply the fresh bark paste topically- Pravin Kumar Sharma, East Champaran, Bihar

Diarrhoea: Take a spoonful of leaf juice along with some sugar candy for four days- Neha Kumari, East Champaran, Bihari.

Constipation: Take the bark powder (3g), coriander powder and jaggery with water- Devaram, Sirohi, Rajasthan

Piles: Take the root paste (10g) with water for seven days- Antaryami Pradhan, Angul, Orissa

Urinary disorder: Take orally the decoction (10ml) of the bark of semal and flowers of palash (Butea monosperma (Lamk.) Taub.) mixed in 2:1 ratio- Lakshmanbhai Ramaji Parmar, Banaskantha, Gujarat

Gynaecological disorder: Take the root juice orally- Maganbhai Khimjibhai Patel, Sabarkantha,Gujarat. Take the gum powder (5g) with water for five days- Jugeshwar Ram, Hazaribag, Jharkhand

Uses described in Literature: Decoction of the bark is given orally to combat fever46; diabetics should take decoction of the heartwood4; bark juice is given to reduce stomachache48. Product ‘Acne-n-Pimple Cream’49 is prepared from Bombax along with other plants to treat pimples and skin eruptions. ‘Evecare’11, a multi herb product made from this plant, has a regularizing influence on the menstrual cycle. Eight patents have been found on the medicinal applications of Bombax like for skincare50, AIDS 51 etc.


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