Plant of the Month — August 2008
Cochlospermum fraseri Planch. — Kapok Bush
This plant of the month is for visitors to the Kimberley region of Western Australia and the Northern Territories, where many travellers will be enjoying warmer climes as they seek to escape the low temperatures of the south. In W.A. they will find this plant in a variety of habitats from Kalumburu southwards to south of the Fitzroy River and east to Lake Argyle. The Kapok Bush or as it is sometimes called, the Kapok Tree, is an open tree/shrub 2–6m high, that is often leafless during its flowering period in the dry season. Because these two common names are also used for other species of the genus, the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territories recommends the name Yellow Kapok for this species. Several variants are known but are not formally named.
The species belongs to the Cochlospermaceae family and its genus name is derived from the Greek cochlos a shell-fish with a spiral shell, plus sperma seed (the seeds of some species are spirally twisted). It was named fraseri after Charles Fraser, colonial botanist and first superintendant of the Sydney Botanic Garden.
Cochlospermum fraseri is a calendar plant for Aborigines; flowering from May to October is a sign to the Jawoyn people that freshwater crocodiles are laying eggs, while the time of fruiting indicates when the eggs may be collected. The cottony material from the seeds was formerly used for body decoration in Aboriginal ceremonies, while the grey, fissured bark was used for making rope.
Photo: I.R. Dixon
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