Updated Mar 15, 2024 - News

St. Pete MFA's red-flowering Bombax tree in bloom

A tree with red flowers towering over a field of grass in the front and a one-story building in the back.

The MFA St. Pete's flowering Bombax tree. Photo: Kathryn Varn/Axios

It started as a 3-foot sapling, planted 60 years ago by the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg's first director.

  • Now, it towers over the building, drawing admirers each spring when its spindly branches burst with lush red blossoms.

Yes, and: Dear reader, that time is now.

Driving the news: The stunning Bombax ceiba tree on the north lawn of the MFA is in bloom, and it's not one to miss. Like the pink trumpet tree near Coffee Pot Bayou, it's one of St. Pete's tree-lebrities.

Also known as a red silk cotton tree, its natural range is in east Africa and parts of Africa and Australia, according to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.

  • They're fast-growing and can reach heights of more than 160 feet.

Fun fact: It's often called a Kapok tree, but that's a different plant. Kapok trees, or Ceiba pentandra, typically grow much larger and have white or pink flowers, University of Florida horticulturalist Alyssa Vinson told Axios.

What's next: They only flower for a few weeks from late February to early March, so grab your camera and admire away.

A close-up of a tree branch covered in red blossoms.
Photo: Kathryn Varn/Axios
Branches covered in red flowers with three high-rise buildings in the background.
Photo: Kathryn Varn/Axios

Welcome to Tree Hugger, an occasional series about that cool tree in your neighborhood you wish you knew more about.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say red silk cotton trees reach heights of more than 160 feet (not meters) as the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens' website incorrectly stated.


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