Editor’s Note: Each month, Pasadena Beautiful Tree Program Chair Emina Darakjy presents a ‘tree of the month’ in order to educate Pasadenans about the trees around them. Many people drive by trees they admire, but have no idea what they are called, or what their growing habits are. Pasadena Beautiful was founded in 1960 by a group of volunteers who saw a need to beautify their city and enhance its tree canopy.
The Floss Silk tree, formerly called Chorisia speciosa, is native to Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil and belongs to the Malvaceae family.
It is a deciduous tree, fast growing at first but slowing its growth as it matures. The tree can reach a height of 40 feet tall with an equal spread, but some trees are known to reach a height of 80 feet
The trunk is green, swollen at times and resembling the shape of a vase, and covered with several thick gray thorns that protect the tree from animals. In its native habitat, the trunk wood, which is waterproof, is often used to make canoes.
In Southern California, one can find a tree with a smooth trunk by buying grafted varieties from a reputable nursery.
The leaves are bright green, palmate, each composed of five to seven leaflets, resembling an open fan.
In late summer to early winter, most of the leaves drop, exposing a profusion of spectacular large flowers resembling those of a hibiscus. The flowers come in a multitude of colors depending on the cultivars: white, cream, yellow, as well as various shades of pink, with either gold or white throats.
The fruit follows the flowering period; it is dark green and may be mistaken for an avocado when hanging from the tree. As the fruit splits, it reveals a white silk-like material that some people call cotton. This fiber-like material, which soon falls to the ground, contains several black seeds. It is said the fiber may be used to stuff pillows, as well as a variety of winter clothing.
The floss silk tree performs best in a sunny spot, requires a large space, needs regular watering before becoming drought tolerant with age, may be susceptible to frost when young, and does not require a lot of maintenance.
This is a gorgeous ornamental tree, grown for its spectacular flowers, and is impressive even when seen from a distance.
Whether you have one growing in your neighborhood or somewhere else, I hope you take a moment to enjoy the stunning beauty of the floss silk trees.
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