Semal | Silk Cotton | Red Cotton Tree

Red cotton tree with flowers

Cotton is very much known to everyone. But it is difficult to identify the cotton we use in our everyday clothing comes from which trees (or plants)? 

In general, the cotton used in clothes (t-shirts, knitwear garments, bed linens) come from the cotton crop (Kapaas कपास in Hindi), cultivated in the fields for commercial purpose.

There is another source of cotton. It is Semal Tula or Tree cotton (bombax cotton). Also called Java cotton, ceiba, or Java kapok, seed-hair fibre is obtained from the fruit of the kapok tree (Britannica). The Semal trees are grown naturally and are found in many parts of India. I have seen semal trees in West Bengal, Delhi, and Haryana. These trees can be very large as trees are grown. 

Every year flowering happens, and cotton pods are grown in these trees (see the above image). But I have not seen or am not sure if the red cotton fibers are used in industrial cotton yarn production. What I have seen was semal cotton is used for making pillows, and Indian quilts (Razai or mattresses লেপ, তোশক).

This page is added to share images of Tree cotton plants. I hope you will find these images helpful.

In my childhood, I have seen many simul trees (শিমুল) in our village. But to date not aware of the trade name of this semal cotton in English. It is very much interesting to know that Semal Tula (cotton) is known as red cotton or silk cotton. I don’t know what the reason is for calling it red cotton or silk cotton. Neither the color of the cotton taken from simul is red, nor it is silk-like protein filament fibre. The flower of the Semal is red. Maybe that is the reason for calling the fibre obtained from semal red cotton.

Red cotton (Semal cotton) fibres are also called white silk and white wool. Here silk and wool mean fibres for a layman as we are aware of silk and wool very well. The fibres that come out from the semal pod are white and very soft. That might be the reason for naming tree cotton as white silk and white wool.  

Semal plant 
Semal plant around one year old. 

Semal tree, Stem of a semal tree (4-5 years old)

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Prasanta Sarkar

Prasanta Sarkar is a textile engineer and a postgraduate in fashion technology from NIFT, New Delhi, India. He has authored 6 books in the field of garment manufacturing technology, garment business setup, and industrial engineering. He loves writing how-to guide articles in the fashion industry niche. He has been working in the apparel manufacturing industry since 2006. He has visited garment factories in many countries and implemented process improvement projects in numerous garment units in different continents including Asia, Europe, and South Africa. He is the founder and editor of the Online Clothing Study Blog.

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