Pseudobombax (2013)

PhotoBy Eric Driskill (June 2013)

Pseudobombax is a genus of deciduous shrubs and trees in the family Bombacaceae. The genus includes 16 species. The plants are native to Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala.

Pseudobombax ellipticum is one of the species found in succulent collections more often that other species. Common names for P. ellipticum include shaving-brush tree in English, amapolo (Mayan), xiloxochitl (Aztecan) and pochotl or cabellos de angel, or angel hair, in Spanish.

Uses of the plants are many. The wood is used as firewood or for carving dishes. They comprise living fences. The toasted seeds serve as food, and the fine fruit fibers fill pillows and mattresses or insulate refrigerators. A tea made from the flowers is used for gastrointestinal ailments, and tea containing fresh bark is used to treat diabetes.

The plants were one of several important plant species depicted in Mayan ceramic pots used as burial urns or incense holders. Locally, plants are used to add pachycaul proportions to succulent collections.

If planted in the ground in warmer climates, pseudobombax can become a tree with up to 30 feet of height. Most collectors will be better rewarded if plants are kept in pots.

To obtain the pachycaul trunk most collectors desire, pseudobombax need to be pruned early. The plants can grow in partial shade or full sun. Caution should be practiced to expose plants to full sun in stages so you don’t sunburn the trunk, which may leave a permanent scar.

One of the most attractive aspects of these plants is the contrasting green photosynthetic streaks in the bark. Streaks are seen as vertical lines or geometric shapes. Plants grown in some shade retain the nicest green-streaked trunks.

Pseudobombax require lots of water when in growth with a much-reduced watering schedule in winter. Some authors suggest no water in winter. and others caution against letting the roots dry out completely. Cultivation is from seed or cuttings.

Plants are readily available as small seedlings or cuttings up to quite large specimens. This is a nice addition to any collection, whether you acquire a small plant or a large specimen.