Special qualities of Caesalpinia Sappan
Tolerates drought no Tolerates high humidity no Tolerates seaside conditions no Insect resistant no Disease resistant no Deer resistant no Best uses Symbiosis Attracts butterflies no Attracts hummingbirds no Autumn foliage no Colorful berries no Desirable qualities Other interest Other interest color Other interest period
The dye is used in colouring leather, silk, batik, calico printing, furniture, floors, feather, medicines and several handicrafts. SAPPAN WOOD or East Indian red wood is a multipurpose tree. . It is botanically known as Caesalpinia Sappan L. It is a natural dye yielding medicinal plant. In India it is cultivated in gardens and nurseries as a live fence plant in parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal and nowhere is it found in the wild.
Sappan is a small thorny spreading tree, grows up to 10 m in height and the wood reaches 15-30 cm in diameter.
It bears 3-4 seeds, ellipsoid, brown to black coloured.
Seeds propagate Sappan and it is a fast growing tree. Seeds are viable only for 3 months. Seeds require scarification or hot water treatment (10 min. at 50-60 deg C) for easy germination.
Within a year's time the plant reaches a height of 3-5 m and begins to bloom in April and continues till December. Flowers are golden yellow in colour and are cross-pollinated by bees, butterflies and insects.
Fruit set starts after 5-15 days of flowering. They come to maturity in three months' time. Only few seeds mature. Sappan is cultivated as a horticultural plant for its large compound leaves and bright yellow flowers. Its branches when interlaced make a strong barrier, hence, it is considered as a live fencing plant.
It grows well in all kinds of soil and lush growth is obtained in red soil. It withstands any amount of drought and defoliates only for a short period of 10-15 days.
The pods contain 40 per cent tannin and can be used in the place of Sumac. They impart uniform tan and a soft touch to the leather. The seeds on extraction with petroleum ether yield an orange coloured fixed oil.
The important part of this plant is the heartwood that contains water-soluble dyes such as brazilian, protosappanins, sappan chalcone and haematoxylin.
Brazilian on oxidation yields a red dye called brazilein — the most valuable dye used in colouring leather, silk, cotton, wool, fibres of different kinds, batik, calico printing, furniture, floors, feather, medicines and several handicrafts.
More commonly this natural dye has been used in mat industries at Pathamadai of Tirunelveli district, where the fibres obtained from sedges (Korai) are coloured by Sappan dye prior to weaving.
Super fine and silk mats dyed with sappan are world famous handicrafts of Pathamadai.
The dye is extracted by boiling chipped wood pieces in water. While extracting few paddy grains are thrown into boiling liquid to check if the extraction is complete or not if the husk scales off, boiling is considered sufficient and not otherwise.
Sappan yields different shades of red with or without mordant. Natural mordant such as the bark of Lodhra (Symplocos racemosa) and Ebenum (Diospyrose ebenum) are frequently used to increase the binding potential of the dye.
Sappan dye along with kaya (Memecylon edule) produces red, violet and black colour combinations on mats made of korai, palm leaves and screw pine.
The wood is used in carpentry. The timber, which has straight grains, is of great value under the name of Pernambuco for making violin bows. Besides these sappan has myriad medicinal properties.
The plant is one of the ingredients of an indigenous drug `Lukol' which is administered orally for the treatment of non-specific lecorrhoea.
Decoction of the wood is a powerful astringent and emmengogue. It is prescribed as a tonic for diarrhoea and dysentery.
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