A Kapok tree grows in Seattle! Kapok trees grow in tropical climates like Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, Northern South America, India and, apparently, Santa Barbara, which is where Big Papa got his little sprout from a friend about five or six years ago. Full-grown Kapoks can reach an impressive 200-230 feet in height and 10 feet in diameter. The fiber in their seed pods was once used in life vests as it’s waterproof and buoyant.
When I met Big Papa, the Kaypok sat potted in his kitchen window box, and was about six inches tall with a couple leaves. I quickly grew very fond of this little sprout, a stranger in a foreign land. I wanted the Kapok to feel welcomed and loved and come to know the Urban Cabin as home. I made sure the Kapok got water and fertilizer and I turned it every week to give each side equal bits of sunshine. Big Papa and I even got the Kapok its own Tiger.
Every time the little Kapok put out a new leaf, we made a big fuss, like two hens nurturing their brood. The little Kapok grew and grew. Soon it needed a new pot. By now the Kapok had several levels of leaves. Each time it would bust out a new set of leaves, the lower set would drop and the little Kapok would take the entire trunk up a notch.
Two summers ago we thought we should introduce the Kapok to the world outside. I carefully set it on the back deck in the sun. Within 24 hours, the leaves were burned and it soon dropped most of them. In a panic, I brought the Kapok back indoors and worried for a few weeks that I’d killed it. But I hadn’t. That little plant just kept on growing.
This summer we set the Kapok outside again, but this time, in dappled sunlight underneath a couple friendly old yellow plum trees. The Kapok has been out there for a solid month, through rain and wind and more sunny days than Seattle typically sees this time of the year. I go out and check on it daily, give it water if it’s dry and make sure the Tiger has a good view. And, of course, every time we see more leaves, we make a fuss.
Today I took out a measuring tape and I’ll be darned if that little Kapok isn’t a few inches over three feet. It’s still got 197 feet to go, but I’m darn proud of our little tree. I’m also fairly certain we’ve got the only Kapok in Seattle.
At three feet plus the pot, the Kapok now exceeds the height of its former abode, the window box. What do we do? Our sprout has become a toddler. I’m not sure it’s ready for life outside year-round, but it’s definitely outgrown its old digs. Big Papa and I discuss the future of our Kapok. Should we try to donate it to the Volunteer Park Conservatory, home to many exotic and tropical plants? Or possibly plant it in our backyard. We smile when we imagine a 200 foot Kapok dwarfing even the 80 year old, 60 foot plus cedar tree in front of our house.
On many occasions, when I think about our Kapok, I also think about our kiddo. The little sprout we have yet to bring home and nurture. I hope Big Papa and I can give him a home where he will thrive and grow. Seattle is not Armenia. The soil is different and so is the light. But I hope that as time passes, our child will feel welcomed and loved. One thing I know for sure is that he can count on us taking good care and making a big fuss.