Kapok or Mu Mian Cotton Tree Flowers

Living in a subtropical climate, we have an abundance of colorful flowers. I especially love all of the flowering trees. One that is blooming right now is the Kapok Tree, called Mu Mian 木棉 or Cotton Tree, in Chinese. They bloom mainly in March and April, and are quite striking because the large reddish-orange flowers bloom before any leaves appear. The birds love the flowers! You can see how large the flowers are by the one I’m holding and also by the pictures with the birds (These are 7-8 inch birds). When the flowers fall from the trees, many Chinese people hurry to collect them because they dry them and use them to make what is called five flower tea, known as a cooling tea for hot weather. It was a rainy day today, but from the bus, I saw a mother and her two children busily collecting flowers that had fallen in the rain. The flower petals and seeds are both edible. About a month after the flowers bloom, large pods, filled with silky cotton fiber encasing the seeds, open and the “cotton” is carried by the wind to disperse the new seeds. Historically, this “cotton” was used for making clothes, filling pillows and furniture, and as a filling for life jackets. The seed pods pictures are from last year.


I’ve always loved daffodils, so it’s the one flower I especially like to buy each year at the Spring Festival Flower Fair. In Chinese, it is called shui xian 水仙, which is literally “water immortal” and the English translation is often either “water fairy flower” or just “water narcissus”. They are put in shallow bowls, of all sizes, with just water or water and pebbles. It is believed that if they bloom on New Year’s Day, it will bring good fortune for the upcoming year, so, they are cultivated very carefully to do just that; And mine did have its first few blooms on New Year’s Day, today there are many more! The blooms are quite small and have a very sweet smell. I bought a small dish with a dozen bulbs and it cost 20rmb or about $3usd. Sometimes, you will also see “narcissus carving” where the bulbs have been cut a certain way in order to bloom with a certain curve, then they are put in a dish to grow as a bird or something else. I found this interesting article about the Chinese bringing daffodil bulbs to the USA in the late 1800’s: http://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/relict-gold-the-long-journey-of-the-chinese-narcissus/