Q: I’ve seen a strange-looking tree on my drives around town — thorns seem to be growing out of the trunks. Could you tell me more about this tree? I’m new to Southwest Florida and this looks like something I might like to put in my large backyard if it’s not too dangerous!

A: You’re referring to the silk floss tree, and it’s only dangerous if you hug the trunk. Considered one of the most beautiful trees in the world, it’s native to Argentina and Brazil. Silk floss trees flourish in Southwest Florida and do quite well in the humid climate. Early fall blooms can be up to six inches wide (petals are used for upholstery thread in South America), with pear-shaped fruits appearing after each bloom period. The tree’s name is inspired by the silky floss wrapped around the seeds.
As you’ve already noticed, the trunk, branches and leaves are a lovely green, but the wicked-looking spines around the trunk are admittedly scary-looking. Don’t scorn the thorns, though. They serve as mini water-storage units to help the tree survive dry times. Briefly deciduous, silk floss trees can grow to more than 50 feet tall with a spread just as wide. Pest and drought tolerant, they need fertilizing and watering occasionally for the first few years; after that, they pretty much takes care of themselves.
If you choose to plant a silk floss tree, make sure you plant it in a well-drained spot 30 feet away from pavement or septic systems. We also advise our clients to plant small, drought-tolerant shrubs around the base to prevent anyone from contacting its spiny thorns (and that includes pets as well). No reason to let the thorns of this beautiful tree be a sticking point!

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