Red cotton tree Bombax ceiba, photographed by Lalithamba.

Belongs within: Malvaceae.

The Bombacoideae are a pantropical group of usually large trees with showy flowers. Well known members include the baobabs Adansonia of Africa and Australia whose swollen trunks may store water. Bombax species are found in west Africa, southern Asia and northern Australia; the red cotton tree Bombax ceiba is widely grown as an ornamental. Kapok Ceiba pentandra is a native of South America and Africa which is cultivated for its cotton-like seed fibres.

Characters (from Tang, Gilbert & Dorr): Trees, usually large, often deciduous; trunks sometimes spiny, often buttressed; bark fibrous, with mucilaginous exudates; indumentum usually stellate or tufted. Leaves alternate, spiral; stipules inconspicuous, caducous; petiole pulvinate; leaf blade often palmately compound, margin often entire. Inflorescences axillary, 1(or 2)-flowered, rarely many-flowered. Flowers bisexual, actinomorphic, large and showy. Epicalyx of 3 bracts, inconspicuous and caducous. Calyx shortly cylindrical, truncate, or irregularly 3-5-lobed, sometimes splitting. Petals 5, joined at base with androecium and falling as one unit, imbricate. Stamens usually very many (3-15 in Ceiba); filaments usually united in lower half into a filament tube around style, tube sometimes lobed, with stamens in 5 groups with completely united filaments and sessile anthers; anthers usually 1-celled, apparently 2-celled and non-septate in Ceiba, sometimes many anthers united into an apparent many-celled "super-anther"; pollen usually spheroidal, ± smooth, reticulate; staminodes absent. Ovary superior, syncarpous, carpels usually 5; ovules 2 to many per locule, axile, anatropous; style 5-lobed. Fruit a 5-valved capsule, or hard and indehiscent (e.g., Adansonia), many-seeded with seeds often embedded in endocarp hairs (kapok), less often fruit winged or juicy and few-seeded. Seeds sometimes winged.

    |--Septotheca tessmannii BS04, BAN98
    `--+--+--Gyranthera BS04
       |  |--Huberodendron BS04
       |  `--Bernoullia BS04
       `--+--+--Catostemma BS04
          |  `--Scleronema BS04
          `--+--Adansonia BS04
             |    |--A. digitata NDG98
             |    `--A. gregorii VT13
             `--+--Bombax BS04
                |    |--B. ceiba BAN98
                |    |    |--B. c. var. ceiba VT13
                |    |    `--B. c. var. leiocarpum VT13
                |    |--B. emarginatum J87
                |    |--B. insigne YZ02
                |    |--B. malabaricum VP89
                |    |--B. mitchelli Ettingshausen 1883 F71
                |    |--B. sturtii Ettingshausen 1883 F71
                |    `--B. valetonii P88
                `--+--Pachira [incl. Rhodognaphalon] BS04
                   |    |--P. glabra BS04
                   |    `--P. macrocarpa MH98
                   `--Ceiba BS04 [incl. Chorisia C-SQ08]
                        |--C. acuminata F11
                        |--C. aesculifolia K06
                        |--C. erianthos C-SQ08
                        |--C. glaziovii C-SQ08
                        |--C. jaibana C-SQ08
                        |--C. pentandra C-SQ08
                        |--C. pubiflora C-SQ08
                        |--C. rubriflora de Carvalho-Sobrinho & de Queiroz 2008 C-SQ08
                        |--C. schottii C-SQ08
                        |--C. speciosa C-SQ08 [=Chorisia speciosa K06]
                        `--C. trichistandra HSS13

Bombacoideae incertae sedis:
  Pseudobombax BS04
    |--P. ellipticum F11
    |--P. grandiflorum K06
    `--P. septenatum K06
  Bombacopsis fendleri K06
  Spirotheca passifloroides BS04, H11
  Aguaria BS04
  Cavanillesia arborea BS04, C-SQ08
  Eriotheca BS04
  Neobuchia BS04

*Type species of generic name indicated


[BAN98] Baum, D. A., W. S. Anderson & R. Nyffeler. 1998. A durian by any other name: taxonomy and nomenclature of the core Malvales. Harvard Papers in Botany 3 (2): 315–330.

[BS04] Baum, D. A., S. D. Smith, A. Yen, W. S. Alverson, R. Nyffeler, B. A. Whitlock & R. L. Oldham. 2004. Phylogenetic relationships of Malvatheca (Bombacoideae and Malvoideae; Malvaceae sensu lato) as inferred from plastid DNA sequences. American Journal of Botany 91: 1863–1871.

[C-SQ08] Carvalho-Sobrinho, J. G. de & L. P. de Queiroz. 2008. Ceiba rubriflora (Malvaceae: Bombacoideae), a new species from Bahia, Brazil. Kew Bulletin 63 (4): 649–653.

[F71] Fletcher, H. O. 1971. Catalogue of type specimens of fossils in the Australian Museum, Sydney. Australian Museum Memoir 13: 1–167.

[F11] Fraga, R. M. 2011. Family Icteridae (New World blackbirds). In: Hoyo, J. del, A. Elliott & D. A. Christie (eds) Handbook of the Birds of the World vol. 16. Tanagers to New World Blackbirds pp. 684–807. Lynx Edicions: Barcelona.

[H11] Hilty, S. L. 2011. Family Thraupidae (tanagers). In: Hoyo, J. del, A. Elliott & D. A. Christie (eds) Handbook of the Birds of the World vol. 16. Tanagers to New World Blackbirds pp. 46–329. Lynx Edicions: Barcelona.

[HSS13] Hirschfeld, E., A. Swash & R. Still. 2013. The World's Rarest Birds. Princeton University Press: Princeton (New Jersey).

[J87] Judd, W. S. 1987. Floristic study of Morne La Visite and Pic Macaya National Parks, Haiti. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum—Biological Sciences 32 (1): 1–136.

[K06] Kwiecinski, G. G. 2006. Phyllostomus discolor. Mammalian Species 801: 1–11.

[MH98] Morikawa, H., A. Higaki, M. Nohno, M. Takahashi, M. Kamada, M. Nakata, G. Toyohara, Y. Okamura, K. Matsui, S. Kitani, K. Fujita, K. Irifune & N. Goshima. 1998. More than a 600-fold variation in nitrogen dioxide assimilation among 217 plant taxa. Plant, Cell and Environment 21: 180–190.

[NDG98] Neal, P. R., A. Dafni & M. Giurfa. 1998. Floral symmetry and its role in plant-pollinator systems: terminology, distribution, and hypotheses. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 29: 345–373.

[P88] Polunin, I. 1988. Plants and Flowers of Malaysia. Times Editions: Singapore.

[VT13] Vigilante, T., J. Toohey, A. Gorring, V. Blundell, T. Saunders, S. Mangolamara, K. George, J. Oobagooma, M. Waina, K. Morgan & K. Doohan. 2013. Island country: aboriginal connections, values and knowledge of the Western Australian Kimberley islands in the context of an island biological survey. Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement 81: 145–182.

[VP89] Viney, C., & K. Phillipps. 1989. Birds of Hong Kong 5th ed. Government Printer: Hong Kong.

[YZ02] Yahya, H. S. A., & A. A. Zarri. 2002. Status, ecology and behaviour of Narcondam hornbill (Aceros narcondami) in Narcondam Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 99 (3): 434–445.

Last updated: 26 July 2021.

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