With a smooth, straight trunk and rounded canopy soaring to a height of 50-65m, the cuipo (Cavanillesia platanifolia) stands head and shoulders above the rest of the trees in the lowland forests of Central and South America, from Panama to parts of Brazil. This deciduous canopy tree sheds its lobed leaves at the beginning of the dry season, after which it eventually produces clusters of tiny, white flowers.
Counterintuitively for such a tall tree, cuipo is in the record books as having the softest wood in the world! Like their cousins, the famously enormous baobabs (Adansonia spp.), cuipos are a pachycaul (literally ‘swollen stem’) tree, storing water to survive the dry season within expandable woody tissues within their fat trunks, which can get up to 2.5m in diameter. This water-storing property makes the wood of the cuipo the softest in the world according to the industry-standard Janka wood hardness test. Though prone to rot, the wood was used to make dugout canoes, washing tubs, among other items.
Find our juvenile representatives of these forest giants in the Supertree Grove planter beds near Supertree Food Hall and in the Secret Life of Trees. Keep an eye out for their papery, five-winged fruits, which should be tumbling to the ground in 2-3 months!
Written by: Janelle Jung, Senior Researcher (Research and Horticulture)
A transplanted pake (Hawai'i-born Chinese), she's finding her own Singaporean roots. Every plant has a story, and Janelle helps discover and share these with colleagues and guests, hoping to spark a mutual plant passion! Ask her what plant she named her cat after!