Plants and Trees That Yield Natural Dyes Part 1

Natural dyes are very important articles of commerce. With the coming of synthetic products, dyes have become cheaper and more available. Despite this, the production of natural dyes should not be neglected.

In the Philippines, there are a large number of plants which yield dyes. These plant species are found growing throughout the country. Some of them are used to dye fabrics, food like jams, sweets and ice cream. They also give color to beverages and are used as food flavoring.

Some of the species are enumerated with their botanical descriptions and the color of dyes derived from the plant.


Common name is achuete, annatto (English). Local names: achuete (Bicol, Ilocos, Panay, Visayas, Zambales, Pilipino); atsuiti (Ilocos, Pampanga); achote (Pangasinan); apatut (Nueva Vizcaya); asute (Bataan); janang, chanang (Sulu); sotis (Negros).

As dye, the coloring matter of the dried seed (bixin) is employed commercially for coloring butter, cheese and other food, condiments and in the preparation of leather and floor polishes. The bark is also a good source of dye.


Common name is bankoro. Local names: bankoro (Visayas), bankudo (Tagalog); noni (Tahitians)

An erect, smooth shrub or small tree that grows up to 15 ft with spreading branches. Leaves are quite large, ovate in form, shining green contrasting with creamy white long lateral veins. Fruit is fleshy and as big as a child’s fist. When ripe, it looks pale yellowish and has soft pulp. Its odor and taste are unfavorable. Found throughout the Philippines. It is also found in India to Polynesia. It is growing along or near the seashore and rarely at high altitude.


  • Tree : ornamental shade
  • Leaves : medicinal
  • Fruit juice : manufactured as health drink called noni
  • Use as dye : bark of roots is used for dyeing in Java

Dried seeds are sown in seedboxes. Water regularly and when the seedlings reach to a height of 10 inches with at least 10 or more leaves, they may now be transplanted individually to pots or they may be planted on the ground with spacing of at least 10 m apart. Water the seedlings regularly and apply soap solution when attacked by aphids and mealy bugs. It bears flowers throughout the year.


The tree grows from 4 to 10 m in height. Leaves are oblong, 15 to 25 cm in length, pointed at the apex; broad and heart shaped at the base. The upper surface is smooth, and the lower surface is pale and densely hairy. Flowers are white, and born singly or in pairs. Fruit is woody and oblong.

Occurs from Cagayan to Camarines Provinces in Luzon, Mindoro, Palawan, Ticao, Masbate, Guimaras, Negros, Mindanao and Basilan. It is also found in Indo China, the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Java and Moluccas.


Wood is used for jointing, flooring, furniture, cladding, tool handles, implements and manufacture of plywood. It is also used in ship and bridge building and construction of beams, joists and rafters. Wood is also suitable for matches and production of wood-wool board.

The pulp is suitable for making paper. The leaves and bark, rich in tannin, are used in traditional medicine, e.g. as poultice against itch and to treat wounds, and taken internally to treat dysentery. Bark is used to toughen fishing nets. The bark of this tree is used for dyeing fish nets and cloth.

Site Requirements, Propagation and Management

Scattered in primary forests or grows abundantly in secondary forest especially on river banks, often on alluvial soils. It grows in elevation up to 1400 m asl.

There are about 19,500 dry seeds without wings per kg. Seeds can be stored for a maximum of two weeks, hence, these should be transported in the form of fruits. Seeds are sown in nursery beds provided with shade. Direct sowing or planting of wildlings has been done in case the development of seedlings is low.

Seedlings are planted in the field at 3 x 1 or 3 x 2 m. The gap closes after three years and the first thinning is necessary after 5 years to prevent formation of too slender stems which tend to bend. Yield is 51-64 m3/ha at 8 years and 98 m3/ha at 13 years. Trees generally coppice or re-sprout after fire. The tree is fast growing and light demanding. Regeneration in natural forest is restricted to gaps and forest fringes. In Thailand, P. diversifolium flowers in February-April and fruits in March-May.

For more information, contact

Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Central Office: Visayas Avenue, Diliman, 1100 Quezon City
Telephone: (02) 929-6626
Email: [email protected]

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