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Products > Pseudobombax ellipticum
 
Pseudobombax ellipticum - Shaving Brush Tree
   

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Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Tree
Family: Malvaceae (w/Bombacaceae & Sterculeacea)
Origin: Mexico (North America)
Flower Color: White
Bloomtime: Spring
Synonyms: [Bombax ellipticum, Carolinea fastuosa]
Height: 15-20 feet
Width: 10-15 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Irrigation (H2O Info): Medium Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30 F
Pseudobombax ellipticum (Shaving Brush Tree) - A winter deciduous that can reach 30 feet or more with a trunk diameter of over 4 feet in its tropical native habitat but is seen here cultivated in California as a shrub and usually as a squat growing specimen in a large container. It has a swollen smooth green trunk, often with a tortoise shell pattern and fissured with gray bark, short thick succulent stems and large palmately compound leaves with five elliptical rounded dark-green leaflets that can be up to 1 foot long by 7 inches wide. In the spring, when the tree is still bare of leaves appear the long greenish black upright buds that open with green sepals pealing back and reflexing downwards to expose beautiful 5 inch long white stamens and looking very much like a shaving brush. Pink forms are also found in Mexico but the white form is most common in cultivation here in the US. The flowers are followed by 6 inch long fruit which contains fine white hairs. Plant in full to partial sun and irrigate regularly when in leaf, especially if growing in a container. It is fairly drought tolerant where one can grow in the ground but is sensitive to cold so this can only be done in near frost free climates. It tolerates temperatures that drop for short durations down into the high 20s but best to protect even from these temperatures. Our outdoor specimens survived undamaged the January 2007 freeze (3 nights at 25 with just a blanket of frost cloth thrown over them). After flowering and as the leaves emerge is the best time to trim this plant for shape. Pseudobombax ellipticum is native to southern Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras where it can typically be found growing in dry and rocky locations. It is a very ornamental plant and native cultures within it natural range likely planted it for this purpose but also planted it as a living fence and used its wood for firewood and for carving dishes. Its seed could be toasted and eaten and the fruit fibers (kapok) was used to fill pillows and as insulation. Its importance to the Mayan civilizations is evidenced by the its presence in the artwork on ceramic pieces. The plant was first described in 1822 as Bombax ellipticum by the German botanist Carl Sigismund Kunth and later reclassified to its current name by Columbian botanist Armando Dugand in 1943. The name for the genus is the combination of the Latin and Greek words 'bombax' meaning cotton 'pseudo' meaning "false" in reference to this plant previously being placed in the genus Bombax, whose name came from the cottony white fibers, called kapok, that surround the seeds. Long considered in its own family, the Bombacaceae, the current treatment has transferred them to the subfamily Bombacoideae within the family Malvaceae. The specific epithet is the is in reference to the elliptic shape of the leaflets. Our plants from seed collected from our own plants that were hand pollinated. Our thanks to Stockton succulent collector Alice Waidhofer for our original plants.  This description is based on research and observations of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in our nursery garden and in other gardens that we visit. We also incorporate comments received and appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have any additional information about this plant, particularly if they disagree with what we have written or if they have additional cultural tips that would aid others in growing Pseudobombax ellipticum.
 
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