Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Silk Cottontree or Buttercup Tree, COCHLOSPERMUM VITIFOLIUM

from the March 21, 2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Hiking the property's boundaries in deep forest I came upon four-inch-across (10 cm), orangish-yellow flowers strewn on the forest floor. This tickled me because I'd been looking for a certain tree with such unusually large, orangish-yellow flowers. A half- second glimpse up through thick, completely leafless limbs confirmed that I'd found my tree. You can see what I saw twenty feet up above.

One English name for the tree is Silk Cottontree; another is Buttercup Tree. It's COCHLOSPERMUM VITIFOLIUM, a member of the Bixa Family, a small family little known among Northern plant lovers.

Silk Cottontree or Buttercup Tree, COCHLOSPERMUM VITIFOLIUM, flower section

Above a vertical section of our Silk Cottontree's flower shows its pea-sized, spherical, fuzzy ovary atop a saucer- like platform from which many stamens emerge. Having so many stamens is somewhat unusual among flowers, and helps distinguish the family. Another time we've run across The most famous member of the Bixa Family, the tree producing brightly reddish-orange annatto paste much used in Mexican cooking. That tree is known here as Achiote (Bixa orellana). You can see how Achiote's flowers, though white, are structured like our tree's at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/achiote.htm.

Silk Cottontree's fruits are bulbous, brown, jumbo- egg-size structures that split open flowerlike, revealing masses of white cotton with seeds embedded, hence the cottontree name.

The species is widely distributed, not really rare but also not common, from Mexico well into Northern South America, mostly in semiarid areas. It's such a pretty tree that it's been planted in gardens all over the tropics.

My friend José tells me that the Maya, who call it Nickte' Ch'om, use resin from this tree to treat epilepsy.

from the May 21, 2017 Newsletter issued from Rancho Regensis north of Valladolid, Yucatán, MÉXICO

Nowaday the Silk Cottontree's spectacular flowers have produced baseball-size fruits that are splitting open to release seeds attached to white, cottony hairs, as shown below:

Silk Cottontree or Buttercup Tree, COCHLOSPERMUM VITIFOLIUM, fruits