Bixa The plant is a tall shrub to small evergreen tree 6-10 m high, from tropical South America. It bears clusters of 5-cm bright white to pink flowers, resembling single wild roses, appearing at the tips of the branches. The fruits are in clusters: spiky looking red-brown seed pods covered in soft spines. The fleshy fruit is the source of orange henna or annatto dye, made from its pulp. The leaves are broad, smooth, heart-shaped, ovate and lush green, 18 cm long. For centuries, an orange dye extracted from the seed coverings has been used as body paint by South American Indians, and before synthetic dyes revolutionized industry, the tree was planted commercially for the same dye, which was used to color cheese, margarine, chocolate, fabric and paints - and of course, lipstick, hence the popular name. The plant is also valued for its stem fibre (used in rope mats) and an adhesive gum which is extracted from all parts.
Grown easily and quickly in frost-free regions, from sub-tropical to tropical climates, and sheltered from cool winds. It prefers year-round moisture, good drainage, and moderately fertile soil in full sun or partial shade. Cutting-grown plants flower at a younger age than seedlings. Propagate from seed and cuttings.
- Ellison, Don (1999) Cultivated Plants of the World. London: New Holland (1st ed.: Brisbane: Flora Publications International, 1995)
- Graf, Alfred Byrd (1986) Tropica: color cyclopedia of exotic plants and trees for warm-region
horticulture--in cool climate the summer garden or sheltered indoors; 3rd ed. East Rutherford, N.J.: Roehrs Co