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Ochroma pyramidale - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Ochroma pyramidale
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Balsa" redirects here. For other uses, see Balsa (disambiguation).

Ochroma pyramidale, commonly known as the balsa tree, is a species of flowering plant in the mallow family,
Malvaceae. It is a large, fast-growing tree that can grow up to 30 m (98 ft) tall. Balsa wood is a very lightweight
material with many uses. Balsa trees are native to southern Brazil and Bolivia north to southern Mexico.

A member of the mallow family, O. pyramidale is native to southern Mexico to southern Brazil, but is now
found in many other countries (Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Thailand, Solomon Islands). It is a pioneer plant,
which establishes itself in clearings in forests, either man-made or where trees have fallen, or in abandoned
agricultural fields. It grows extremely rapidly, up to 90 ft (27 m) in 1015 years. The speed of growth accounts
for the lightness of the wood, which has a lower density than cork. Trees generally do not live beyond 30 to 40
Flowers are produced from the third year onwards, typically at the end of the rainy season when few other trees
are in flower. The large flowers open in the late afternoon and remain open overnight. Each may contain a pool
of nectar up to 1 in (2.5 cm) deep. Daytime pollinators include capuchin monkeys. However most pollination
occurs at night. It was once thought that the main pollinators were bats; however recent evidence suggests that
two nocturnal arboreal mammals, the kinkajou and the olingo, may be the primary pollinators.[2]

Ecuador supplies 95 percent or more of commercial balsa. In recent years, about 60 percent of the balsa has
been plantation grown in densely packed patches of around 1000 trees per hectare (compared to about two to
three per hectare in nature). It is evergreen or dry-season deciduous, with large (3050 cm or 11.819.7 in)
weakly palmately lobed leaves. Being a deciduous angiosperm, balsa is classified as a hardwood despite the
wood itself being very soft. It is the softest commercial hardwood. The trees are harvested after six to 10 years
of growth. The name balsa comes from the Spanish word for "raft".[3]

Balsa lumber is very soft and light, with a coarse, open grain. The density of dry balsa wood ranges from
40340 kg/m3 (2.521.2 lb/cu ft), with a typical density of about 160 kg/m3 (10 lb/cu ft).[4] The wood of the
living tree has large cells that are filled with water. This gives the wood a spongy texture, though it is not much
lighter than fresh water and barely floats. For commercial production, the wood is kiln-dried for about two
weeks, leaving the cells hollow and empty. The large volume-to-surface ratio of the resulting thin-walled empty
cells gives the dried wood a large strength-to-weight ratio because the cells are mostly air. Unlike naturally
rotted wood, that soon disintegrates in the rainforests where balsa trees grow, the cell walls of kiln-seasoned
balsa wood retain their strong structure of cellulose and lignin.[5]
Because it is low-density but high in strength, balsa is a very popular material for light, stiff structures in model
bridge tests, model buildings, and for the construction of model aircraft especially free flight model aircraft.
However, it also is valued as a component of full-sized light wooden aeroplanes, most notably the World War II

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