I found this magnificent description of the Ceiba pentandra in volume 41st (8th of the New Series) of the famous Curtis’s Botanical Magazine or Flower Garden Displayed, London edition, 1834; thanks to the wonderful Botanicus online library, a project of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
I think it is magnificent because even being the result of a classical botanical observation is easy enough to understand and interesting enough for anyone reading it to the end. I also believe it is as poetic as a botanical description could be. So I decided to translate it to Spanish and dedicate it a full post (well, two posts, one Spanish and one English), with their corresponding images (photographs) which, unless stated otherwise, are my own.
But the research made me also very curious about the author, who signed the article just as Rev. R. T. Lowe. It took more than two hours on the Internet to find his full name! The data I found was perhaps even more interesting than the present description itself. So the Reverend has became entitled to be the subject of my next entry, which will be written and posted as soon as I can combine and integrate the dozens of scattered data I’ve managed to find.
Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.
An elegant as well as singular looking tree, of which the present variety is a native of the West Indies, but cultivated in Madeira, where it rises with a clear, straight, slender stem to a considerable height.
And then throws out somewhat distant, spreading, or nearly horizontal branches, which, like the stem in young trees, are covered with a shining, sooth, green bark.
This [bark], however, soon becomes grayish, and almost hidden by very large and remarkable, woody, or rather corky inside, sharp, conical, brown, usually straight prickles, which on the stem are much the size and shape of an extinguisher [candle extinguisher, TN], presenting a most formidable and peculiar appearance.
Occasionally they are bifid, or even 3 to 6-cleft at the point.
They become smaller and rarer on the branches; and on the ultimate fresh shoots are either distant, feeble, small, or altogether wanting. Whole plant smooth, except parts of the flower.
Leaves palmate, deciduous; but the trees are scarcely or for a very short time quite bare.
The flower-buds appear simultaneously with the young leaves, which are of a beautiful, delicate, light green, often tinged with cinnamon-red. This happens in November or December at Madeira. Stipules narrow, small, linear-acuminate, patent or reflexed, deciduous.
Petioles 2 to 4 inches long, often purplish or red; upwards round, not channelled; swollen at the base. Leaflets from 5 to 7, generally 7, oblongo-lanceolate, with a fine, withered, acuminate point; very smooth and shining above; opaque and paler, with a faint bluish tinge beneath, and a yellow, prominent midrib; a little inclined to coriaceous: the middle one largest, 2 to 3 inches long and 1 broad. Petiolules short, reddish, channelled above.
Flowers for the most part axillary towards the ends of the branches; either solitary or two or even three together in a short kind of panicle, about the size of those of the Tulip-Tree, (LIRIODENDRON tulipfera, L.,) conspicuous, handsome, and with a delightful but very evanescent fragrance of primroses (PRIMULA acaulis. L.); abounding with honey.
Photo: Rueda (Nicaragua) via Tropicos.org
Pedicel thick, firm, erect, round, often reddish. Bracteole beneath the calyx deciduous. Calyx turbinato-cylindrick, splitting down a little way irregularly into 5 short, ovate, unequal segments: the outside perfectly smooth and shining green; inside whitish and beautifully sattiny.
Before expansion the calyx resembles a young green fruit rather than a flower bud.
Petals 5, remarkably flaccid, reflexed very soon after expansion, and drooping over the calyx as if withered, oblongo-clavate, two inches long; of a delicate pale primrose or cream colour, with the part a little above their base or claw of a deep purplish-red, spreading in streaks more or less, chiefly on one side towards their middle.
Photo © Copyright Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
The outside densely clothed with a loose, shaggy coat of soft shining, silky, fleecy hairs; inside quite smooth, and shining as if varnished.
Photo: © Copyright Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Filaments 5, united half-way up round the germen and style into a tube or erect hollow column, which forms a swelling kind of knot covered with reddish, short, woolly hairs, apparently closing the throat of the flower: above as well as below this knot, the column is perfectly smooth, separating about half-way up into five erect or erecto-patent, antheriferous branches, or distinct filaments; each of which is channelled on the outside or beneath, and bears at its end a pair of erect, simple, parallel, linear subsinuate anthers, forming apparently a single, large, ovate-oblong one. Column and filaments pale primrose or cream colour. Pollen and Anthers the same. Style round, long, slender, white, smooth, about the lenght of the stamens, tipped at the end by the small, 5-lobed, crimson, subcapitate stigma.
Germen enclosed in the base of the tube or column formed by the filaments, white or pale green, smooth, shining, sessile, half-ovate, five-celled, each cell containing many ovules. The cup-like base of the flower is half filled with honey, bathing the base of the column and petals.
Ceiba pentandra, illustration by Miss Young, accompanying the original article
Miss Young, to whose admirable pencil I am indebted for a most beautiful delineation of this plant in all its parts, except the fruits, has observed that the purple stain prevails in greater intensity and extent on the same side of every petal in the same flower; but in different flowers, does not uniformely keep to the same side; though still by far most commonly to that here figured.
Rev. R. T. Lowe.