Sunday, 14 June 2009


It is a sweet, touching story in Thamizh, albeit sad.

There was once a parrot which sat on a tree and watched its blossoms turn into shining green fruits. The parrot waited and waited for them to ripen to take its first bite from the fruits. Alas, the fruits never turned yellow or red, but dried into brown crisp pods, finally bursting and revealing inside – white inedible cotton.

This tree in the story is called the ‘ilavan’ tree and the cotton is called ‘ilavan panju’ – what I am told is the silk cotton. The unfruitful wait of the parrot gave rise to the phrase in Thamizh ‘ilavu katha kili’ – the parrot that waited in vain.

The tree is found abundantly in our neighbourhood – my brother-in-law next door has one in his compound. I had to cross one of these on the pavement, (no doubt planted at the same time as the one-day blooming tree outside our house) when I walked to work, and I watched it grow from a sapling to a young tree, though I did not realise then that it was the cotton tree. As it grew I noticed that its trunk and branches were green, and at first I imagined that someone might have painted them in that vivid shade. Later I realised as it grew higher that it is the natural colour of the tree.

Somehow I never saw the flowers – maybe I did not look carefully enough at the right time. The green pods are rather longish like bananas and shiny.

They dry on the tree, and fall off often bursting only upon falling.

Now is the time/season they start falling. People like this lady collect the pods, and remove the cotton. I asked her what she would do with it, and she said she was planning to stuff a pillow.

Sweet silk-cotton dreams.


Devika Jyothi said...

Nice post Raji :)
No wonder the parrot waited for its fruit....its bright red big flower, you may see here a picture, Raji

its all here in our park and roadside here too...cotton flying everwhere...and yes people come and collect to make pillows, blankets :)

there's a proverb in malayalam linking for the young ones and this cotton seed..i heard at husband's place

"unnum pottithericha maathiri kure piller"

they say unnum for cotton :)



Thanks Devika - nice picture of the flower. I will have to be more alert next year!
My mother also told me that the flower is red, and my brother who lives in Delhi told me that the pods are exploding around his apartment building!

Devika Jyothi said...

okay :-)


Lazy Blogger said...

Lovely post. We have such poignant tales for the simplest things in nature. I would love to read stories like this.

Unknown said...

I have seen parrots being very interested in the seeds of the silk cotton fruit. They are so busy plucking them that they don't bother you taking images.

I didn't know this cotton can also be used to make pillows Raji.

flowergirl said...

The parakeet must go cough, cough, yechh, yecch, thoo, thoo I guess!

Sreejith said...

That was a very enlightening post :-) I never knew that this cotton could be used - somebody told me that the cotton is false cotton!! Thank you for the post, now I know I can use the cotton and not waste it!! Yes, the pods are bursting open now :-)


A wonderful post,which I enjoyed reading very much.
Sorry I wrote to you instead of your cousin, but glad all the same as I found your blog interesting.

Thanks for visiting my blog.


Ramakrishnan said...

Hi Raji
Imagine I have visited you so many times but never realised that you had cotton trees around there !
Nice pics.

kallu said...

We had one in our parent's house. My Grandma used to collect the pods and get a couple of pillows made. It had to be cut down for some reason but was really a beautiful tree.
Thanks- didnt know about the ilavu katha kili

Maddy said...

oru kaliathile - all pillows were made with silk cotton..
now it is foam or coarse cotton..

Meera's World said...

beautiful pics.

Sunita Mohan said...

Your photo of the lady picking the pods for cotton reminds me of my childhood days. We had a few of these trees and every summer women would be employed to pick the pods,process them to get rid of the seeds and then the pillows in the house would all be ripped open, the old stuffing discarded and refilled with the fresh fluff of the silk cotton pods. Of course, it wasn't very pleasant walking anywhere near all this activity, with strands of cotton flying everywhere and liberally coating one's hair, clothes and every surface available.

Rajesh said...

very nice post. Earlier the cotton bed maker used to come to the homes of people to weave the beds. But now with all ready made stuff this art is seeing a slow death.

Winifred said...

What a lovely posting. I've never seen or heard of these trees. Does anyone spin the cotton?

Blogging is so educational!


Thanks, everyone for visitng and commenting.

Ramu, Meera, thanks for the good word on the photos. :)

Winifred - I don't really know if anyone spins the cotton

Indrani said...

Lovely post!
I was not aware of all this.

Bala said...

Hi Raji,

I got to know the reason or origin for the phrase 'Ilavu Kaatha Kili' from this post,, :-)


Nagesh.MVS said...

Nice post.

Work From Home

Bakulesh Thakker said...

A book on ayurved says this is Shaalmali (Sanskrit) which gives a red coloured gum called Mochras. Per book mochras and fruit etc has many medicinal uses

Unknown said...

Thank you Ms.Raji. This is really a nice post. We too have this tree in our garden. I am always entranced to see the bright green trunk. When i was a kid and lived in Madras there used to be a huge silk cotton tree in the C.P. Art foundation in Alwarpet. for a long time I used to think that the trunk had been painted green and only later when i grew older i found out that it was natural. Always wanted to have one in my garden and now we do and my servant even collected the cotton and made a nice big sitting cushion for us..
One more thing, I have observed this tree and i am sure that this species does not give the bright red flowers at all. I think that is another variety maybe from the same family which gives red flowers. I think that tree is called Bombax Malabaricum and our green trunk tree is called Bombax Ceiba. But i am not completely sure not being a botanical student as such.
Once again thanks for telling the story about the Ilavam katha kili. I knew the expression without actually knowing the tale behind it. Its fun now this yr i will watch our tree if the parrots do really come and wait for the fruit to ripen.

SG said...

I have a blog of my own ( I am going to write a post soon. In that I want to give an example of "ilavu kaatha Kiki". I want to use the words you have used. I request your permission for that. Of course, I will give you due credit. Please give me your approval. Thanks.