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(Anatto family)


According to Mabberley (1997), this family comprises fifteen species in two genera (Cochlospermum Kunth and Amoreuxia Moc. & Sessé) previously classified in their own family (Cochlospermaceae) together with one species in the genus Bixa L., which was formerly (Brummitt 1992) considered to be the only representative of the Bixaceae. They are trees and shrubs found in tropical regions. Most species are xerophytes.

These plants are of dermatological interest principally because certain species yield a dye that can stain the skin. In addition, biting and/or stinging ants that visit Bixa orellana present a dermatological hazard to those who handle the plant in its natural habitat.

Bixa orellana L.
Lipstick Tree, Anatto, Annatto, Kesumba, Kesumba Kling, UrucĂș

This species is cultivated for its fruit pulp which yields the bright orange food dye annatto, otherwise known as annatta or arnotto or roucou. Annatto has been used by South American Indians as a red colouring for the body (Corner 1952, Menninger 1967).

Fregert & Hjorth (1969) noted that they had patch tested annatto "as is" in 580 eczema patients but observed no positive test reactions.

Bixa orellana bears large extra-floral nectaries which are visited by ants. The short internodes are, in fact, frequently inhabited by various stinging and biting ants (Wheeler 1942).

See also Protium icicariba Marchand, fam. Burseraceae.

Cochlospermum tinctorium Perr.

The rootstock yields a yellow dye which is used in Nigeria to colour butter. The dye stains the mouth (Oliver 1961).


  • Brummitt RK (1992) Vascular Plant Families and Genera. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens [WorldCat]
  • Corner EJH (1952) Wayside Trees of Malaya, 2nd edn, Vol. 1. Singapore: V.C.G. Gatrell, Government Printer [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Fregert S, Hjorth N (1969) Results of standard patch tests with substances abandoned. Contact Dermatitis Newsletter (5): 85-86 [url]
  • Mabberley DJ (1997) The Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of the vascular plants. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Menninger EA (1967) Fantastic Trees. New York: Viking Press [WorldCat] [url]
  • Oliver B (1961) Nigeria's useful plants. Nigerian Field - Journal of the Nigerian Field Society 26: 170
  • Wheeler WM (1942) Studies on neotropical ant-plants and their ants. Part I. The neotropical ant plants. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard 90(1): 3-154 [url] [url-2]

Richard J. Schmidt

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