Monday, March 25, 2013

Toborochi Tree

Toborochi Tree
Toborochi tree by anjanbilal, on Flickr

I thought you might like to take a look at an interesting native plant from another part of the world this morning—central South America.

Don't you love that trunk? The toborochi tree (Ceiba speciosa) looks pregnant! In Bolivia, legends say a beautiful goddess hid inside the tree to give birth so the forces of evil wouldn't find her and kill her and her baby. She comes out only in the form of the tree's beautiful pink flowers which attract her mate, the hummingbird god. This gleaned from several unverifiable sources on the web, but whether it's an actual Bolivian legend, I liked it.

A common name for the toborochi in Spanish is arbol botella (bottle tree), which is fitting, too. And, the trees are sometimes called palo borracho (drunken stick) because as they age they begin to look disheveled and the upper trunk becomes distorted.

I have seen the plant labeled "silk floss tree" at conservatories, where it is usually too small to have the big bulge.  Young trees have multitudes of thorny spines along the trunk which help protect the juicy juvenile from predators in the wild; at the conservatory they keep children from grabbing hold and climbing up. (Some of us are grateful for these sorts of blessings!)

3" spikes protect skin of young Silk Floss Tree
photo by Jungle Mama on Flickr

The name "silk floss" derives from the seed pods which have fluffy, cottony material rather like milkweeds do; it has been used as stuffing, and to make paper and other things. In WWII, it was used to stuff Navy life jackets.

Toborochis are used in ornamental gardens and as street trees in dry, sunny parts of the world where the temperatures do not fall much below freezing.  A nice bonus if you have the climate for one of these trees is that in addition to hummingbirds, monarch butterflies like to feed on the nectar of the flowers.

Here a toborochi flowers next to a mall in southern California.

Silk floss tree branches, some with flowers, some with leaves

Flickr photo by Martin LaBar
If you think the flowers look similar to hibiscus blooms, you're right. Hibiscus and toborochi belong to the same plant family, Malvaceae.


  1. I got to see one of these in juvenile form last year in Florida. It is odd that the older form looks so different.

  2. What a very cool tree! Love the legend behind it as well.