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A savanna honey bee plant with multiple uses, Bombax costatum produces an abundant supply of nectar and is recommended for honey production.
English Kapok tree, red-flowered silk cotton tree
Fulfulde Jooyehi, Joohi
West Africa: widespread in savanna zones, from Senegal to Central African Republic
Flowering period November to February
Bombax costatum is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 25 m high. However in the Sahel it rarely reaches over 6 m. The crown structure of young trees is storeyed, becoming irregular and sturdy in older trees.
Bark thick, grey brown and corky, with typical conical, stout, sharp-pointed spines on the stem and branches.
Leaves are compound (digitate), with 5-7 leaflets, 8-15 cm long, on long petioles.
Leaflets are partly ovate, partly acuminate, at both ends, with 8-10 pairs of lateral nerves. Flowers are 5-6 cm long and solitary, deep red, orange or yellow, tulip-shaped, on long, glabrous peduncles and are calyx cup-shaped.
Fruit is a dark brown, ellipsoidal capsule, composed of five valves, dehiscent, 8-16 cm long and 3-6 cm wide, of variable shapes. The valves are furrowed for about one third the distance from the top to the middle. The fruit contains a white floss - kapok - and several small seeds.
Bombax costatum grows in savannas and dry woodlands. It does well on cropland near settlements and on stony soils.
Direct seeding is a preferred propagation mode, however wildlings may also be used. The seedlings are difficult to plant in spite of their vigorous rooting ability. Natural regeneration is easy and abundant when sufficiently protected against fire and livestock.
Association with bees
Bombax costatum flowers during the major dearth period. This underscores its importance in maintaining honey bee colonies, since beekeepers do not need to feed their colonies at all. The end of its flowering period overlaps with the beginning of the flowering of other important bee forage plants, including Parkia biglobosa and Vitellaria paradoxa, with which it is often associated. Details on the seasons and nectar flow in this region may be found in Dukku (2003).
Honey bees forage for nectar on this tree throughout the day. Other foragers include ants, birds, flies, stingless bees Trigona spp and wasps. Honey bees have been observed foraging on fallen flowers.
Bombax costatum is used as a shade and ornamental tree on farms and compounds. The kapok from the fruit is used in filling mattresses and pillows. The timber is used in making canoes, stools and serving bowls. The calyx is used in making soups and the leaves are a good fodder for livestock. The kapok tree is a source of herbal medicine in many communities.
ANON (2010) AgroForestryTree Database, World Agroforestry Centre website
DUKKU,U.H. (2003) Acacia ataxacantha: a nectar plant for honey bees between two dearth periods in the Sudan Savanna of Northern Nigeria. Bee World 84 (1): 32-34.
DUKKU,U.H. (2010a) Parkia biglobosa: an important honey bee forage in the Savanna. Bee World 87 (2): 28-29.
DUKKU,U.H. (2010b) Vitellaria paradoxa: an important nectar plant in the Savanna. Bee World 87 (3): 59-60.
Usman Dukku has been studying honey bees and beekeeping in Nigeria since 1984. He teaches undergraduate students and trains beekeepers.