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Publication #ENH323

Chorisia speciosa: Silk-Floss Tree1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean2

Introduction

This rounded, deciduous tree eventually has wide-spreading branches, which are green when young and covered with spines, often becoming grey and sometimes losing their coarse, sharp spines. Young trees can have a columnar or upright form. The spiny trunk is unusually thick and remains green even on older trees. Silk-floss tree can reach 50 feet in height with an equal or greater spread, and grows rapidly the first few years, then more slowly. Some trees maintain a relatively narrow crown with one straight trunk while others are wide-spreading, particularly on older specimens. The large, showy, pink and white, five-petaled flowers, which somewhat resemble narrow-petaled hibiscus, are produced in small clusters in fall and winter (usually October) when the tree is nearly bare. The fruits are large, 8-inch-long, pear-shaped, woody capsules, filled with silky, white, kapok-like floss and pea-like seeds. Floss from the seeds was used for stuffing pillows, and thin strips of the bark have been used to make rope.

Figure 1. 

Full Form—Chorisia speciosa: Silk-floss tree


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General Information

Scientific name: Chorisia speciosa

Pronunciation: koe-RIZZ-ee-uh spee-see-OH-suh

Common name(s): Silk-floss tree

Family: Bombacaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 9B through 11 (Figure 2)

Origin: native to Brazil and Argentina

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: not considered a problem species at this time, may be recommended (North, Central, South)

Uses: shade; specimen; street without sidewalk; highway median

Figure 2. 

Range


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Description

Height: 35 to 50 feet

Spread: 40 to 55 feet

Crown uniformity: irregular

Crown shape: upright/erect, round, pyramidal

Crown density: moderate

Growth rate: fast

Texture: coarse

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate

Leaf type: palmately compound; made up of 5 to 7 leaflets

Leaf margin: serrate

Leaf shape: elliptic to lanceolate

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: deciduous

Leaf blade length: leaflets are 3 to 5 inches

Leaf color: green on top, paler green underneath

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Leaf—Chorisia speciosa: Silk-floss tree


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Flower

Flower color: pink and white

Flower characteristics: very showy; emerges in clusters

Flowering: late fall to early winter

Figure 4. 

Flower—Chorisia speciosa: Silk-floss tree


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Fruit

Fruit shape: oval, round

Fruit length: 8 inches

Fruit covering: dry or hard; woody, pear-shaped capsule

Fruit color: green to brown when ripe

Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches don't droop; very showy; typically one trunk; thorns

Bark: pale green, smooth, and bears cone-shaped thorns

Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: green

Current year twig thickness: medium

Wood specific gravity: unknown

Figure 5. 

Bark, Thornless—Chorisia speciosa: Silk-floss tree


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Figure 6. 

Bark, Thorny—Chorisia speciosa: Silk-floss tree


Credit:

Gritta Hasing


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Culture

Light requirement: full sun

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; well-drained to occasionally wet

Drought tolerance: high

Aerosol salt tolerance: low

Other

Roots: can form large surface roots

Winter interest: yes

Outstanding tree: yes

Ozone sensitivity: unknown

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown

Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Use and Management

An excellent specimen tree for parks, parking lots, and other large landscapes, silk-floss tree is spectacular when in bloom, producing an outstanding show of color in the fall. Large roots often form at the base of the trunk just beneath the soil, so be careful not to plant the tree too close to sidewalks or pavement. Fifteen feet from curbs, driveways, and sidewalks should be adequate.

Prune the tree to be sure that only one central trunk develops when the tree is young. The central leader becomes less vigorous in middle age, allowing lateral limbs to develop into the main structure of the tree and produce a spreading form. Although most branches are horizontal and well attached to the tree, upright branches can develop with embedded bark that can cause a branch to split from the trunk. Prevent this by pruning the major limbs so they remain less than half the diameter of the trunk.

Flowering best in full sun, silk-floss tree will thrive on any reasonably fertile soil with good drainage. It is not salt tolerant but does tolerate high pH. Grafted trees are preferred as they bloom earlier and at a smaller size.

Two grafted selections are available: 'Majestic Beauty' has rich pink flowers, and 'Los Angeles Beautiful' has wine red flowers. The cultivar 'Monsa' has a thornless trunk and pink fall flowers.

Propagation is by seed or grafting.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern.

References

Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH323, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.