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Plant Name: Bombax ceiba


Common name: Silk Cotton Tree, Kapok Tree

Marathi:              Kaate Saanvar, Shalmali

Hindi:                   Semul, Semur

English:                Silk Cotton Tree, Indian Bombax

Jawhar:                Katesavar



Interesting facts and history

When tree is grown in acidic soil the foliage appears dark green whereas, in alkaline soil tend to induce yellow leaves and manganese deficiency2

Semal trees are reported to be the favourite roosting and resting site for large birds especially vultures, eagles and bats. As the tree is highly exploited commercially, the availability of tree has declined assisting in marginalizing the vulture population in Nepal.


Identification guide


Capsulated, densely packed and lined with white silky hair


Grey colour, hard, sharp, and conical prickles. Young buds and shoots bear silky hair


Spirally arranged, elliptic and digitate.


Dark crimson in colour, bisexual and solitary, corolla is fleshy, densely stellate hairy outside and glabrous inside


Numerous, black, ovoid and located in the capsule packed with white cotton like fibre.


Habit / Habitat

Large deciduous tree

Habitually found in deciduous forests and along the banks of the river or a stream



  1. This tree found in moist tropics and found in India, Burma and sub Himalayan regions



Edible parts

World wide use

Flowers, gum, bark

Used by tribal community in Jawhar


Non edible parts




Method of consumption

Jawhar tribal

Flowers are boiled and cooked

Other Recipe

Silk Cotton Tree Buds Bhaji (Sembal Doda ki Sabji)

Main Ingredients

  1. 250 gm. Sembal dodae (silk-cotton buds)
  2. 2 tsp. oil Mustard oil is best, but you can use other oils
  3. 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  4. A pinch of asafoetida or hing
  5. 1 full tsp. coriander powder
  6. 1 level tsp. turmeric powder
  7. Salty to taste
  8. 1/4 tsp. Garam Masala. More if it is ready made one.
  9. 1/2 tsp. amchoor (mango powder) or juice of 1/4 lemon.



  1. Wash buds under running water to remove sap sticking to them.
  2. Remove top & tail. Cut each bud in half and then remove central petals, sepals and stamens from the buds, as shown in the picture. Give a quick wash again.
  3. Boil in pressure cooker for 5 minutes. Or boil for 20 minutes in a pan. You can microwave steam them for 6-8 minutes. Drain and keep aside. They should be soft, but not mushy, to touch.
  4. Heat oil in a pan, add cumin seeds and hing.
  5. As soon as the cumin seeds crackle, add all spices and salt, stir quickly and then add boiled buds.
  6. Turn heat down and stir-fry them for 5-6 minutes, until buds looks shiny and spices are evenly coated.
  7. Add garam masala and amchoor/lemon juice. Stir it in.
  8. Serve hot with Plain Paratha or with any Indian meal.


Nutritional and medicinal information

Chemical composition of flowers show that it contains B-D-glucoside of B-sitosterol, hentriacontane , hentriacontanol, kaempferol, quercetin , essential oil , pelargonidin cyaniding .

Seeds contain stable oils and starch 71.2%, glucose 8.2 %, proteins 1.2 %, fatty acid and cellulose.



Propagation and Storage

Season of collection


May – September


Mid-March to Mid-May


January- March


March- May


How to grow it?

Propagation is by means of seeds or large cuttings2


Method of storage

1) Prop gules: No specific method of storing seeds.

2) Edible parts: Flowers are non-perishable, extracted gum could be stored


Other uses

In other parts of India, roots: are used to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, menorrhagia, and styptic. Flowers are astringent, good for skin and haemorrhoids. Bark is used to treat gonorrhoea and chronic disorders

Dried core of the red cotton flower is added to the noodle soup dish called nam ngiao and green kaeng khae curry which is signature dish of the Northern Thai Lana cuisine.

In Honkong, people pick the petals to make tea. The drink the flower tea to free the body from toxins4.

Semal timber has a great demand as matchwood in India.



Kingdom:            Plantae

Division:              Spermatophyta

Sub-division:     Angiospermae

Class:                    Dicotyledonae

Sub-class:            Polypetalae

Series:                  Thalamiflorae

Order:                   Malvales

Family:                 Malvaceae

Genus:                 Bombax

Species:               ceiba






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