Facts about Balsa tree or Corkwood

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Corkwood Quick Facts
Name: Corkwood
Scientific Name: Ochroma pyramidale
Origin Tropical America; throughout the West Indies, and from southern Mexico, through Central America and into Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia
Colors Initially green turning to brown as they mature
Shapes Cylindrical, ellipsoid, slightly curved capsule, longitudinally sulcate, loculicidal, 15 cm long and 8 mm wide, ribbed, 5-valved, dehiscent, densely woolly hairy inside
Ochroma pyramidale, commonly known as the balsa tree or Corkwood, is a species of flowering plant in the mallow family, Malvaceae and is sole member of the genus Ochroma. The plant is widely distributed in tropical America; throughout the West Indies, and from southern Mexico, through Central America and into Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. It is planted in many tropical countries, including tropical Africa (e.g. Cameroon and Zimbabwe) and South Africa. It has locally become naturalized. The tree is the source of balsa wood, a very lightweight material with many uses. The name balsa originates from the Spanish word for “raft.”

Corkwood, West Indian balsa, Balsa, Bois flot, Corkwood, Downtree, Balsa wood, Balsa tree, Down tree, Cork tree, Ajaka, Baranda, Basilic des moines, Basilic sacre, Bidai, Brinda, Bryanda, Gaggera, Hsiang tsai, Kala tulsi, Kamangi and Kaphrao are some of the well-known common names of the tree. Balsa wood timber is considered as the lightest known commercial timber. It has a very wide range of applications but is probably best known as a material for making model planes etc. It has been extensively planted in many tropical areas, though 90% of all commercial supplies are grown in Ecuador. The tree is an excellent pioneer species for restoring native woodland and establishing woodland gardens. It is occasionally planted as an ornamental or to provide shade.

Corkwood Facts

Name Corkwood
Scientific Name Ochroma pyramidale
Native Widely distributed in tropical America; throughout the West Indies, and from southern Mexico, through Central America and into Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. It is planted in many tropical countries, including tropical Africa (e.g. Cameroon and Zimbabwe) and South Africa. It has locally become naturalized
Common Names Balsa Wood, Ajaka, Baranda, Basilic des moines, Basilic sacre, Bidai, Brinda, Bryanda, Gaggera, Hsiang tsai, Kala tulsi, Kamangi, Kaphrao, Katriin, Kom ko dong, Krishna tulasi, Loko-loko, Maeng-luk, Manjari, Mreah preu, Mreahs prow, Nalla tulasi, Parnasa, Patrapuspha, Ruku-ruku, Sacred balm, Saph’au, Sheng luo le, Sulasi, Suvasa tulasi, Tarp hao, Te marou, Thai basil, Trittavu, Tulasa, Tulasi chajadha, Tulsi, Tunrusi
Name in Other Languages Afrikaans: Kurkhout
Albanian: Dru tape
Amharic: Bushiwudi (ቡሽዉድ)
Arabic: Falayn (فلين), balzan haramiatan (بلزا هرمية)
Armenian: Khts’anap’ayt (խցանափայտ)
Azerbaijani: Mantar      
Bengali: Sōlā (সোলা)
Brazil: Pau-de-balsa
Bulgarian: Korkovo dŭrvo (корково дърво)
Burmese: Corkwood-ˈkôrkˌwo͝od
Chinese: Ruǎnmù (软木), Qing mu (輕木),  Bai se mu,  Bai shai mu
Croatian: Corkwood
Czech: Lehké dřevo, balzovník jihoamerický
Danish: Corkwood, Balsa, Balsatræ, Balsatræ
Dominican Republic: lana
Dutch: Kurkboom, Balsa, Balsahout
English: Corkwood, West Indian balsa, Balsa, Bois flot, Corkwood, Downtree, Downtree, Balsa, Balsa wood, Balsa tree, Down tree, Cork tree
Esperanto: Korko, Balzo
Estonian: Korgipuu
Filipino: Corkwood
Finnish: Corkwood, Balsa, Balsapuu, balsa,
French: Bois de liege, Balsa, Patte-de-liève, Balsa, Bois de balsa, bois flot, bois liège
Galician: Balsa
Georgian: Korp’is khe (კორპის ხე), balsa (ბალსა)
German: Korkholz, Balsabaum, Balsa, Balsaholz, Pyramiden, Pyramidenbalsabaum
Greek: Fellós (φελλός)
Gujarati: Kakrkavuḍa (કkર્કવુડ)
Haitian: Mawodenn, flè mahodèm; koton swa
Hausa: Katako  
Hebrew: קורקווד               , בלזה
Hindi: Corkwood-ˈkôrkˌwo͝od
Hungarian: Parafa, Balsafa
Icelandic: Korkur             
Indonesian: Kayu gabus, Balsa
Irish: Corc-choill, Balsa
Italian: Corkwood, Balsa, Legno di balsa, legno sughero
Japanese: Korukuuddo (コルクウッド), Ba ru sa (バルサ)
Javanese: Corkwood
Kannada: Kārkvuḍ (ಕಾರ್ಕ್ವುಡ್)
Kazakh: Trotuar (тротуар)
Komi: Balʹsa (Бальса)
Korean: Koleukeu (코르크), balsa (발사)
Kurdish: Corkwood
Lao: Mai khok (ໄມ້ຄອກ)
Latin: Corkwood
Latvian: Korķa koksne
Lingua Franca Nova: Balsa
Lithuanian: Kamštinė mediena, Kūginė balza
Macedonian: Pluta drvo (плута дрво)
Malagasy: Corkwood
Malay: Corkwood
Malayalam: Kēārkkvuḍ (കോർക്ക്വുഡ്), bālsa (ബാൽസ)
Maltese: Sufra
Marathi: Korkavud (कॉर्कवुड)
Mongolian: Uisen mod (үйсэн мод)
Nepali: Karkavud (कर्कवुड)
Norwegian: Corkwood, Balsatre
Oriya: କର୍କଉଡ୍
Pashto: کورک ووډ
Persian: چوب چوب پنبه, درخت بالسا
Polish: Drewno korkowe, Ogorzałka wełnista
Portuguese: Sobreiro, Algodoeiro, Algodão bravo, Pau de balsa, Balsa, Madeira de balsa, pata-de-lebre, pau-de-jangada, topa, pão-de-balsa 
Punjabi: Kārkavuḍa (ਕਾਰ੍ਕਵੁੱਡ)
Quechua: Yawar wiqi
Romanian: Corkwood, Balsa
Russian: Probkovoye derevo (пробковое дерево), Balʹsa (Бальса
Serbian: Corkvood (цорквоод)
Sindhi: سائيڪو
Sinhala: Kōkvuḍ (කෝක්වුඩ්)
Slovenian: Plutovina
Spanish: Bosque de tapón, Balsa, Madera de balsa, Balzovec, guano, balsa, balso real, cajete, cojejo, corcho, gatillo, lana, tambor, lanilla, pochote
Sudanese: Corkwood
Swedish: Korktrad, Balsa
Tajik: Kandakorj (кандакорй)
Tamil: Kārkvuṭ (கார்க்வுட்), Mirutuvāṉa maram (மிருதுவான மரம்)
Telugu: Corkwood (kôrkwo͝od)
Thai: Corkwood (kôrkwo͝od)
Turkish: Mantar ağacı kerestesi
Udmurt: Balʹsa (Бальса)
Ukrainian: Probkovi dereva (пробкові дерева), Bal’sove derevo (Бальсове дерево)
Urdu: کارک ووڈ
Uzbek: O’rmon daraxti 
Vietnamese: Gỗ bần
Welsh: Corcwood
Zulu: Ukhuni
Plant Growth Habit Deciduous or evergreen, fast growing, short lived, medium-sized tree
Growing Climates Moist, lowland, limestone forest, margins of lakes or in disturbed areas, rare in the older forest
Soil Found mainly on fertile, bottom-land soils along the sides of streams
Plant Size 60 to 90 ft. high and 2.5 to 4 ft. in diameter. On the best sites may reach a height of 80 ft. and a diameter of 2.5 ft. in 5 years. It has been known to grow even faster on very rich soils
Bole Straight, usually short, cylindrical, up to 100(–180) cm in diameter, with short buttresses in older trees
Bark Bark surface is smooth, grey-white mottled
Leaf Simple, spirally arranged towards the ends of the twigs. Lamina is broadly cordate, 10-26 cm long and 14-30 cm wide, thin coriaceous ± entire or angularly lobed
Flower Solitary, lateral or axillary, on a stout, fleshy pedicel 7 mm diameter and 10 cm long.  Calyx is tubular to funnel-shaped, 7 cm long, apically with 5 dilated lobes 1.5-2 cm long
Fruit Shape & Size Cylindrical, ellipsoid, slightly curved capsule, longitudinally sulcate, loculicidal, 15 cm long and 8 mm wide, ribbed, 5-valved, dehiscent, densely woolly hairy inside
Fruit Color Initially green turning to brown as they mature
Seed Black, pear-shaped, 4–5 mm long and 1.5 mm wide, embedded in a mass of brown woolly hairs
Propagation By seed
Lifespan Around 30 to 40 years in the wild
Traditional Medicinal Uses
  • The root bark is emetic.
  • Indigenous Peoples use its leaves in infusions to cure some diseases.

Plant Description

Balsa tree or Corkwood is a deciduous or evergreen, fast growing, short lived, medium-sized tree that normally grows about 60 to 90 ft. tall and 2.5 to 4 ft. in diameter. On the best sites it may reach a height of 80 ft. and a diameter of 2.5 ft. in 5 years. It has been known to grow even faster on very rich soils. Bole is straight, usually short, cylindrical, up to 100(–180) cm in diameter, with short buttresses in older trees. Bark surface is smooth, grey-white mottled. Crown is spreading and large. Branchlets are stellate and hairy. The plant is found growing in moist, lowland, limestone forest, margins of lakes or in disturbed areas and is rare in the older forest. The tree is mostly found on fertile, bottom-land soils along the sides of streams. It is classified as a hardwood despite the wood itself being very soft. It is the softest commercial hardwood and is widely used because it is light weight.

Leaves

Leaves are simple, spirally arranged towards the ends of the twigs. Lamina is broadly cordate, 10-26 cm long and 14-30 cm wide, thin coriaceous ± entire or angularly lobed. Apex is obtuse to acuminate, base rounded to cordate, persistently densely stellate-tomentose below, glabrescent above, midrib and main veins slightly raised to sulcate above, strongly prominent below; venation 5-7-palmate at the base, mid vein with 4-6 lateral veins. Petiole is terete, 2-4 mm diameter and 12-20 cm long, moderately stellate-tomentose even on mature leaves, ± dilated apically; stipules ± deltoid, to 10 mm long, densely tomentosa and caduceus.

Flowers

Flowers are solitary, lateral or axillary, on a stout, fleshy pedicel 7 mm diameter and 10 cm long.  Calyx is tubular to funnel-shaped, 7 cm long, apically with 5 dilated lobes 1.5-2 cm long, appearing deeply carinate externally in dried material, externally stellate-tomentose, internally wooly, decurrent with pedicel and subtended by 3 caducous bracteoles that leave prominent scars.  Petals 5, contorted in bud, orange-yellow, clavate, 13 cm long and 5 cm wide, externally stellate-tomentose, glabrescent basally, internally glabrous. Stamens are connate into a glabrous tube 11 cm long, the distal half being slightly dilated and densely covered with sessile long wavy anthers.  Ovary is sessile, glabrous, conical, 8 cm high, 5-locular. Style is 15 cm long with an apical twisted cylindrical stigmatic mass 3 cm long and 8 mm wide.

Fruit

Fertile flowers are followed by cylindrical, ellipsoid, slightly curved capsule, longitudinally sulcate, loculicidal, 15 cm long and 8 mm wide, ribbed, 5-valved, dehiscent, densely woolly hairy inside.  Seeds are black, pear-shaped, 4–5 mm long and 1.5 mm wide, embedded in a mass of brown woolly hairs.

Different Facts of Balsa tree or Corkwood

  • The woolly fiber contained in the seedpods has occasionally been used like kapok as a stuffing material in pillows and mattresses.
  • The fiber obtained from the bark has been used to make ropes.
  • The grain is straight; texture coarse and even; the luster silky.
  • The wood is very soft and weak, but with a good strength to weight ratio, and that from old trees tends to be brittle.
  • It is non-durable and prone to attack by Anobium and Lyctus borers, termites and longhorn beetles.
  • The wood is very easy to work with hand and machine tools, but sharp tools are needed to prevent crumbling.
  • The pulp can be easily bleached without loss of strength, making it suitable for printing and writing papers.
  • The extremely lightweight wood is used for floats, buoys, lifejackets and life-belts, surf boards, aircraft construction, ship and boat building, lightweight boxes, toys, model making, laboratory mounting boards, core stock in sandwich construction, surgical splints, packaging of fragile articles and as insulation for temperature, vibration, sound and formerly also for electricity.
  • Slightly heavier wood is suitable for matches, Popsicle sticks and toothpicks, and for the production of pulp and paper.
  • Trees can commence flowering and producing viable seeds when 3 – 4 years old.
  • The tree is sometimes planted as an ornamental or to provide shade.
  • Indigenous Peoples carve elegant sculptures, build houses, boats and trays to prepare food, make toys such as stilts.
  • The Balsa plant has been used to build vessels for river transportation, which allowed Indigenous Peoples (according to some studies) to navigate great distances.
  • Light wood of the Balsa is used mainly to make surfboards and scale airplanes for model airplanes.

Precautions

  • Corkwood tree is unsafe when taken by mouth. It can cause death.
  • Corkwood tree can cause many side effects including dry mouth, decreased perspiration, dilation of pupils, blurred vision, red, dry skin, increased body temperature, increased heart rate, difficulty urinating, hallucinations, spasms, acute psychosis, convulsions, and coma.
  • Overdose poisoning symptoms include sleepiness followed by restlessness, hallucinations, delirium, and manic episodes followed by exhaustion and sleep.
  • It’s unsafe for anyone, including pregnant or breast-feeding women, to take corkwood tree.

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=21602#null

http://www.hear.org/pier/species/ochroma_pyramidale.htm

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Ochroma+pyramidale

https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/36974

http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-2401123

https://indiabiodiversity.org/species/show/264296

https://uses.plantnet-project.org/en/Ochroma_pyramidale_(PROTA)

http://www.narc.gov.jo/gringlobal/taxonomydetail.aspx?id=25473

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ochroma

https://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Ochroma+pyramidale

https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=OCPY

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/OCHLA

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