It's a small tree planted for the orange-red dye on the seeds, which has become naturalized. It is a small evergreen about 15 ft. high, with large showy, pinkish or purplish tinged or whitish flowers, reddish-brown to dark brown, rounded seed capsules, densely covered with soft prickles.
Commercially important for the orange-red dye called anatto. Extracted in the kitchen by boiling the seeds in cooking fat or oil, and used to color rice, margarine, butter, cheese, soups, etc. but adds no flavor. It is a dye for oils, varnishes, and cosmetics, also. Indians have painted their faces and bodies with this pigment, which also is reported to give relief from insects.
The conspicuous pinkish flowers and prickly fruits also make this plant an attractive ornamental, and a source of honey. Ropes & twine have been made from the fibrous bark, and a gum similar to gum arabic has been obtained from the branches. In some places the seeds and leaves have been employed in domestic medicine.
Its range is as a native of continental
tropical America, but spread now from Mexico to Argentina and Brazil and planted
throughout the world. Uncommon in cultivation in southern Florida.
Other Common Names: achiote, bija (Puerto Rico); roucu (Virgin Islands; achiote, achote (Spanish); bija (Dom. Republic, Cuba, Venezuela); chaya, xayau (Guatemala) ...onoto, onotillo, caituco (Venezuela); ... annato, annatto, anatto-tree (English); ... [Strangely, no common names attributed to Panama. I lovedthis tree -- can't remember now if I actually ever saw it or just photos and drawings.]
If you've actually read down this far, kudoes, and I may as well note that the L. after the Latin botanical names refers to the system of taxonomic classification and bionomial nomenclature that the Swedish botanist, Karl Linne', or Carolus Leneaus, originated for plants and animals. (Thank you MS Bookshelf 98).
September 20, 1998