Family : Bixaceae
Text © Pietro Puccio
English translation by Mario Beltramini
The species is native to India and Myanmar, where it grows in the dry deciduous forests in particular on rocky slopes, up to about 1000 m of altitude, in zones with monsoonal climate.
The name of the genus is the combination of the Greek terms “kochlos”, indicating a spiral shell, and “sperma” = semen, with reference to the shape of the seed; the name of the species is the Latin adjective “religiosus, a, um” = religious, devout, with reference to the flowers offered for devotion in the temples, in particular to the God Shiva.
Common names: buttercup tree, cottontree, Indian buttercup tree, silk cottontree, torchwood tree, white silk cotton, yellow silk cotton tree (English); gabdi, galgal, gjara, plaga, (Hindi); algodão-da-Índia (Portuguese); capoquero blanco (Spanish); kattupparutti, malaipparutti, tenaku (Tamil); Butterblumenbaum (German).
The Cochlospermum religiosum (L.) Alston (1931) is a shrub or a deciduous or semi-deciduous small tree, 3-8 m tall, with greyish bark, deeply grooved, from which exudes a gummy liquid of orange colour. The leaves, grouped at apex of the branches on a petiole long up to 20 cm, are alternate, palmate with 3-5 elliptic-lanceolate lobes with pointed apex and entire or crenate margin, 8-15 cm long and up to 20 cm broad, coriaceous, of intense glossy green colour on the upper page, tomentose below.
Bisexual fragrant flowers, of about 10 cm of diameter, united in terminal panicles, which appear mainly after the fall of the leaves, with corolla formed by 5 obovate petals deeply emarginated of golden yellow colour, about 5 cm long and 3 cm broad, and several orange stamina. Among the main pollinators are the bats, in particular the Pteropus giganteus (Brünnich, 1782), commonly known as Indian flying fox. The fruits are obovoid or pyriform dehiscent capsules of brown colour with 3-5 valves, of about 8 cm of length and 5 cm of diameter, containing numerous black reniform seeds 0,6 cm long and surrounded by a mass of white sericious hairs.
It reproduces by seed to be interred as soon as possible as it has germinative capability of 1-2 months, previously kept one day in water, with germination times of 4-5 weeks, as well as by cutting and layering. Fast growing species which since remote times has great importance in the traditional Indian medicine, utilized also for ornamental and religious purposes due to the great intensely coloured flowers and for this reason often planted close to temples.
Cultivable in the tropical and subtropical climate regions in full sun on particularly draining soils, even stony; when adult it can stand long periods of drought.
Tree having a certain economic importance due to the gum exuding from the bark, insoluble in water, known as katira, which is also exported, with numerous employments in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry, used moreover in the preparations of glues, in manufacturing cigars, as emulsifying agent and as component of the growing means in the micropropagation.
From the oil is gotten an oil employed in the soap industry and the residue of the pressing is utilized as feed for livestock, whilst the thin fbres enwrapping them, similar to those of the kapok (Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn., 1791) are at times utilized for paddings.
Leaves, flowers, bark, roots and gum, as said, have a long tradition of employment in the popular medicine for various pathologies and recent studies have confirmed the antimicrobial properties in particular the extracts of leaves and flowers. The tree is frequently used in the reforestation of degraded areas.
Synonyms: Bombax religiosum L. (1753); Bombax gossypium L. 1767; Cochlospermum gossypium DC. (1824); Wittelsbachia gossypium Mart. & Zucc. (1824); Maximilianea gossypium Kuntze (1891); Cochlospermum balicum Boerl. (1899).
The photographic file of Giuseppe Mazza