Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.

Last updated: 2016 Jul 13

Scientific Name

Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.


Bombax cumanense Kunth, Bombax guineense Schum. & Thonn., Bombax guineensis Schumach., Bombax inerme L., Bombax mompoxense Kunth, Bombax occidentale Spreng. [Illegitimate], Bombax orientale Spreng., Bombax pentandrum L., Bombax pentandrum Jacq., Ceiba anfractuosa M.Gómez [Illegitimate], Ceiba caribaea (DC.) A.Chev., Ceiba casearia Medik. [Illegitimate], Ceiba guineensis (Schumach.) A.Chev., Ceiba occidentalis (Spreng.) Burkill, Ceiba thonnerii A. Chev., Eriodendron anfractuosum DC. [Illegitimate], Eriodendron caribaeum G.Don, Eriodendron caribaeum G. Don ex Loud., Eriodendron guineense G. Don ex Loud., Eriodendron occidentale (Spreng.) G.Don, Eriodendron orientale Kostel., Eriodendron pentandrum (L.) Kurz, Gossampinus alba Buch.-Ham.,   Gossampinus rumphii Schott & Endl., Xylon pentandrum (L.) Kuntze [1]

Vernacular Name

Malaysia Kabukabu, kekabu, kapok [2]
English Kapok, (white) silk-cotton tree [2]
Indonesia Kapuk (General); kau-kau (Bugis) [2]
Thailand Nun (General); ngiu noi, ngiu sai (Northern) [2]
Laos Ngiuz baanz, kok niou, ngiou [2]
Philippines Ka­pok (Bisaya, Sulu, Tagalog); buboi, balios (Tagalog) [2]
Cambodia Koo, kor [2]
Vietnam C[aa]y) g[of]n [2]
France Arbre kapok, kapokier, fromager [2].

Geographical Distributions

Ceiba pentandra originated in the American tropics. From there, it spread to Africa, where it occured in the wild along the west coast from Senegal to Angola. It was tak­en from Africa to Asia to be cultivated; where the cultivated form was developed. C. pentandra is depicted in relief in Java dating from before 1000 AD. It is now cultivated all over the tropics, but mainly in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Thailand. [2]

Botanical Description

C. pentandra is a member of the Bombaceae familyIt is a deciduous tree which can reach up to 18-70 m tall, but in cultivation, it is usually 18-30 m tall. Its trunk is with or without but­tresses, forked or unforked and spiny or spineless. The branches are whorled and dimorphic. The whorls are usually with 3 branches, horizontal or ascending. [2]

The roots spread quite horizontally, measure 10 m or longer in the upper 40-80 cm of the soil. [2]

The leaves are arranged alter­nate and digitately compound. The petiole is 7-25 cm long. There are 5-11 leaflets which are oblong-Iance-shaped, measuring 5-16 cm x 2-4 cm, and hairless. [2]

The flowers are 2-15 together in axillary fasci­cles, 5-merous, hanging, actinomorphic and bisexual. The pedicel is 2.5-5 cm long. The sepal is bell-shaped, 1-1.5 cm long, 5-lobed and hairless outside. The petals are oblong­obovate, 2.5-4 cm long, united at base, usually dirty white with foetid milky smell, smooth in­side but densely silky outside. The stamens are united at the base in a staminal column which is divided into 5(-6) branches of 3-5 cm length. The anthers are coiled or kidney-shaped. The style is 2.5-3.5 cm long, constricted at base and obscurely 5-lobed at top. [2]

The fruit is an ellipsoidal, leathery, pendulous capsule, and measuring 7.5-30 cm x 3-7.5 cm. It turns brown when ripens, dehiscing with 5 valves ('shells') or indehiscent and many-seeded. The seed is obovoid, 4-6 mm in diametre, dark brown, and embed­ded in copious, white, pale yellow or grey silky wool (floss). Seedling is with epigeal germination. [2]


C. pentandra thrives best at elevations below 500 m. Night temperatures below 17°C retard ger­mination of the pollen grains. This limits the area in which good crops can be grown to latitudes within about 20oN and 20oS. C. pentandra requires abundant rainfall during the vegetative period and a drier period for flowering and fruiting. Rainfall should be about 1500 mm per year. The dry period should not contain more than 4 months with less than 100 mm rain per month, and in this period, a well-distributed total rainfall of 150-300 mm is required. In drier areas, some of the water demand may be met by groundwater. [2]

In the Mekong Delta (Vietnam), where rainfall is inade­quate, C. pentandra is grown successfully on river banks. For best results, it should be planted on good, deep, permeable soils (volcanic loams in Indonesia) without waterlogging. The tree is easily damaged by strong winds. [2]

In Indonesia, flat areas alongside roads and rivers are selected for planting the tree, as these locations have sufficient sunlight and proper drainage. In Java and Sulawesi, C. pentandra is also planted on mountain slopes. [2]

Chemical Constituent

C. pentandra  has been reported to contain 2-hydroxy-5-isopropyl-7-methoxy-3-methyl-8,1-naphthalene carbolactone, 2,7-dihydroxy-8-formyl-5-isopropyl-3-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone, 2,7-dimethoxy-5-isopropyl-3-methyl-8,1-naphthalene carbolactone, 5-hydroxy-7,4',5'-trimethoxyisoflavone 3'-O-α-L-arabinofuranosyl(1-->6)-β-D-glucopyranoside, 7-hydroxycadalene, 8-formyl-7-hydroxy-5-isopropyl-2-methoxy-3-methyl-1,4-naphthaquinone, glutamic acid, kaempferol, pentandrin, pentandrin glucoside, quercetin, vavain, vavain 3'-O-β-D-glucoside. [3][4][5][6][7][8]

Plant Part Used

Bark, leaves, flower, roots. [9][10]

Traditional Use

The bark of C.pentandra is considered a diuretic while the unripe fruit is a demulcent and astringent. The gum from the bark is an astringent and abortifacient [9]. The macerated bark to also treat heart problems and hypertension. Decoction of the stem bark is used by some African community as mouth wash for allying toothache and other oral problems. When taken orally it helps to treat stomach problems, diarhhoea and even hernia [9][10].

The decoction of the root is considered an oxytocic. The macerated roots is used in the treatment of dysmenorrhoea [10]. The root and stem bark is generally considered an emetic and antispasmodic. Both in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa it is being used in the treatment of diarrhea and dysentery. It is the gum of the bark that possesses an astringent property which renders it useful in the treatment of these to gastrointestinal disorders [9][10].  

The leaves are emollient and sedative [9]. Infusion of the pounded leaves with onion and turmeric makes a remedy for cough. Warmed young leaves mixed with palm oil are eaten as a prescription for heart problem amongst some African tribes. The leaf sap is taken orally or used in baths for general fatigue, stiffness of the limbs, headache and bleeding of pregnancy [9][10].

The leaves and gum of the bark are believed to have abortifacient properties and the sap from the leaves is used in the treatment of bleeding of pregnancy. [10]

The flower has found use as a remedy for constipation in the form of a decoction. [9][10]

Preclinical Data


Hepatoprotective activity

The ethyl acetate fraction of the methanol extract of stem bark of C. pentandra proved to have hepatoprotective activity against paracetamol-induced liver damage in rats. This was evidenced by the fact that 400mg/kg of the ethyl acetate fraction given to rats with hepatotoxicity was observed to have reduced significantly the SGOT, SGPT, Alkaline phosphotase, and the total bilirubin levels. [11]

Antidiabetic activity

Two studies were done to determine the antidiabetic activity of C. pentandra as claimed by some African traditional herbalist. The aqueous extract of the bark of the tree was found to significantly reduce blood glucose levels is streptozocin-induced diabetic rats. At the same time this extract did not affect the liver enzyme level indicating its non-toxic status. The other study was done on the root bark of the tree. The methylene chloride/methanol extract of the root bark showed significant reduction in blood glucose level in streptozocin-induced diabetic rats. This extract was found to also reduce the serum cholesterol, triglyceride, creatinine and urea level while at the same time reduce both food and water intake. [12][13]

Antiangiogenesis activity

In a study of 58 plant materials to determine their anti-angiogenetic activity, it was found that C. pentandra stem extract had the strongest activity with inhibition percentage at 87.5% with 100 μg/mL of the extract. [14]


No documentation.

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

No documentation.


No documentation.

Side effects

No documentation.

Pregnancy/Breast Feeding

Parts of the plant are believed to have abortifacient properties, its use during pregnancy should be discouraged. [9][10]

Age limitation

No documentation.

Adverse reaction

The cotton-like fibre from the fruit of C. pentandra had been implicated as a cause of chronic bronchitis amongst workers at a kapok ginning factory [15]. It also was found could develop pruriginous manifestation [16].

In a study to determine the accumulation rate of dust mites in various kinds of mattresses, it was found that C. pentandra had significantly higher accumulation rate of house dust mites as compared to the others. (i.e. polyurethane, coconut and synthetic fibres. [17]

Interaction & Depletion

Interaction with drug

Plants with antidiabetic properties should be used with caution when taken together with antidiabetic drugs. There is always the danger of patients going into hypoglycaemia due to the cumulative effects of both herbals and drugs. [12][13]

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation.


No documentation.

Case Report

The cotton-like fibre from the fruit of C. pentandra had been implicated as a cause of chronic bronchitis amongst workers at a kapok ginning factory in Sri Lanka. Seven of the workers had chronic bronchitis but none developed Byssinosis. [15]

Workers handling different wood was found to develop pruriginous manifestation following handling of C. pentandra wood. [16]


No documentation.

Poisonous Management

No documentation.

Line drawing



Figure 1: The line drawing of C. pentandra [2]


  1. The Plant List. Ver1.1. Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013 [updated 2012 Apr 18; cited 2016 Jun 28]. Available from: http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-2707382
  2. Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. In: Brink M, Escobin RP, editors. Plant resources of South-East Asia No. 17: Fibre plants. Leiden, Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers; 2003.
  3. Cambie RC, Ash J. Fijian medicinal plants. Australia: CSIRO, 1994; p. 40.
  4. Rao KV, Sreeramulu K, Gunasekar D, Ramesh D. Two new sesquiterpene lactones from Ceiba pentandra. J Nat Prod. 1993 Dec;56(12):2041-2045.
  5. Noreen Y, el-Seedi H, Perera P, Bohlin L. Two new isoflavones from Ceiba pentandra and their effect on cyclooxygenase-catalyzed prostaglandin biosynthesis. J Nat Prod. 1998;61(1):8-12.
  6. Ngounou FN, Meli AL, Lontsi D, et al. New isoflavones from Ceiba pentandra. Phytochemistry. 2000;54(1):107-110.
  7. Ueda H, Kaneda N, Kawanishi K, Alves SM, Moriyasu M. A new isoflavone glycoside from Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertner. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2002 Mar;50(3):403-404.
  8. Kishore PH, Reddy MV, Gunasekar D, Caux C, Bodo B. A new naphthoquinone from Ceiba pentandra. J Asian Nat Prod Res. 2003;5(3):227-230.
  9. Paz-Alberto AM, Tamayo-Galvez C. Handbook on trees. Quezon City , Philippines: Rex Book Store, 2004; p. 29.
  10. Duvall CS. Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. In: Louppe D, Oteng-Amoako AA, Brink M, editors. Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 7(1): Timbers 1. Wageningen: PROTA Foundation/Backhuys Publishers/CTA, 2008; p. 146.
  11. Bairwa NK, Sethiya NK, Mishra SH. Protective effect of stem bark of Ceiba pentandra linn. against paracetamol-induced hepatotoxicity in rats. Pharmacognosy Res. 2010;2(1):26-30.
  12. Ladeji O, Omekarah I, Solomon M. Hypoglycemic properties of aqueous bark extract of Ceiba pentandra in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003;84(2-3):139-142.
  13. Dzeufiet PD, Ohandja DY, Tédong L, et al. Antidiabetic effect of Ceiba pentandra extract on streptozotocin-induced non-insulin-dependent diabetic (NIDDM) rats. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2006;4(1):47-54.
  14. Nam NH, Kim HM, Bae KH, Ahn BZ. Inhibitory effects of Vietnamese medicinal plants on tube-like formation of human umbilical venous cells. Phytother Res. 2003 Feb;17(2):107-111
  15. Uragoda CG. An investigation into the health of kapok workers. Br J Ind Med. 1977;34(3):181-185.
  16. Ngangu Z, Foussereau J. [Tropical woods and contact eczema]. Derm Beruf Umwelt. 1982;30(6):193-195. German.
  17. Visitsunthorn N, Chirdjirapong V, Pootong V, et al. The accumulation of dust mite allergens on mattresses made of different kinds of materials. Asian Pac J Allergy Immunol. 2010;28(2-3):155-161.