For the last eight years we have patiently watched our four Red Silk Cotton trees grow from saplinghood to adulthood. And every winter, when they shed their leaves, we have waited with excitement for the red flowers to emerge. But year after year, the signature red blooms have failed us. Everywhere else Red Silk Cotton trees seemed to be flowering; why, then, were ours continuing to disappoint?
Finally, this year, the trees decided to reward our patience. In addition to the masses of brilliant orange, hot pink, purple, mauve and white bouganvilliea, our spring and summer guests will get to enjoy that extra splash of red.
Botanical name: Bombax ceiba
Common names: Red Silk Cotton (English), Semal (Hindi), Shalmali (Sanskrit).
This Bombax variety can be found across south, south east and east Asia. It is a tall tree, growing up to 20 metres on average and may even go up to 60 metres. It has an interesting and dramatic appearance – the straight trunk is striking for its numerous conical spikes, the long branches spread out horizontally, the leaves are large and splayed and made up of six leaflets growing out of a single point, and the flowers, brilliant red, cup-shaped, and five petalled, appear in the spring on the bare branches just before the appearance of new foliage, attracting birds, honeybees and bumblebees. The flower produces a capsule which, when ripe, contains white fibres like cotton. Once the flowers die and new leaves appear, the little fluffs of fibres can be seen flying everythere. That is when they become a bit of a nuisance for us, when they find their way into our swimming pool!