kapok kāˈpŏk, kăpˈək [key], name for a tropical tree of the family Bombacaceae (bombax family) and for the fiber (floss) obtained from the seeds in the ripened pods. The floss has been important in commerce since the 1890s; the chief source is Ceiba pentandra, the kapok (or silk-cotton) tree, cultivated in Java, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and other parts of East Asia and in Africa, where it was introduced from its native tropical America. The floss is removed by hand from the pods, dried, freed from seeds and dust, and baled for export. The lustrous, yellowish floss is light, fluffy, resilient, and resistant to water and decay. It is used as a stuffing, especially for life preservers, bedding, and upholstery, and for insulation against sound and heat. The seed kernels contain about 25% fatty oil used for soap or refined as edible oil. The residual cake is valuable as a fertilizer and as livestock fodder. Kapok is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Malvales, family Bombacaceae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Plants