The neighbor’s kapok tree busted open and snowed fiber all over the neighborhood this week.
Part of the hibiscus family, the seed pod fiber is the softest thing I’ve ever felt: softer than bunny or kitten fur. Kapok fiber used to insulate life jackets because it’s buoyant and water resistant. Foamed plastics have since replaced kapok in the manufacturing process in personal flotation devices.
Kapok vegetable fiber is currently used as stuffing in pillows, mats, cushions, duvets, and toys; in Amazon blow guns, soaps and medicines. Kapok seeds are turned into cooking oil, and the wood of the tree can be used for carvings and dugout canoes. Since the fiber is highly flammable, it’s also a fuel source for cooking fires. Like so many other tropical plants, there is literally no waste.
The downside of this amazing tree? Kapoks bloom once every five to ten years. But when they do bloom, they produce several thousand fiber filled pods. Just 40 pods is enough to fill a standard bed pillow. What’s more, pulling kapok fiber from shells for use is labor intensive as hundreds of small, black seeds must be removed by hand.