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Barringtonia racemosa (L.) Spreng.

Syst. veg. 3: 127 (1826).
Chromosome number
2n = 52
Vernacular names
Barringtonia, brack-water mangrove, freshwater mangrove, fish-poison tree, powder-puff tree (En). Barringtonia, bonnet d’ιvκque, manondro (Fr). Massinhana (Po). Mtomondo (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Barringtonia racemosa is found in the coastal areas of eastern Africa from Somalia to South Africa, through Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands to tropical Asia, Micronesia, Polynesia and northern Australia.
The bark of stems and roots of Barringtonia racemosa has a high tannin content and is used locally for tanning. Uses as a dye have not been recorded, but the type of tannins present in the bark is widely used all over the world for dyeing vegetable fibres into shades of reddish brown and also grey and black with iron mordants.
The bark is used as a source of fibre, e.g. to make tying material. The powdered bark and all other parts of the plant have been widely used as a fish poison and extracts have proved effective as an insecticide, e.g. against citrus aphids. Young leaves, after soaking in lime water to remove their bitterness, are eaten as a vegetable and the pounded seeds produce an edible flour. The wood provides suitable firewood, but it has also been used for veneer, plywood, light and temporary construction, and pulp for the paper industry. Extracts or preparations of the fruit are used against malaria, cough, asthma, jaundice, headache, eye inflammation, diarrhoea and sores, and a bark decoction is applied externally to treat rheumatism. In eastern Africa a root decoction is used as a febrifuge. In Malaysia the leaves are used to treat high blood pressure and as a depurative. Barringtonia racemosa is a decorative ornamental tree growing rapidly and easily.
Production and international trade
The bark and wood of Barringtonia racemosa are only used locally without any international trade. In local trade, however, wood is sold in mixed consignments of light or medium hardwood, although the proportion of Barringtonia racemosa is probably minor. ‘Putat’ is the South-East Asian standard trade name for timber of Barringtonia and Planchonia species.
Data on tannin content and tanning characteristics are very scarce, but total tannin content of the bark has been estimated at 18%. The tannins belong to the group of condensed proanthocyanidins giving a reddish leather. From this type of tannins phlobatannins are formed in slightly basic solutions; these are good sources of reddish brown dyes. The yield of purified saponins from the dried ripe fruit is about 13% and of sapogenin 4%. In the roots of Barringtonia racemosa triterpenes such as barrigenols and neo-clerodane diterpenoids (nasimaluns A, B) are also present. Ethanol extracts of the leaves displayed cytotoxicity against human cervical carcinoma cell lines at a CD50 value of 10–30 μg/ml. Intraperitoneal daily administration of methanolic seed extracts in mice showed cytotoxic effect against Dalton’s lymphoma ascitic cells, without toxicity up to a dose of 12 mg/kg; oral administration showed only marginal activity. Aqueous bark extracts showed antinociceptive effects in rats, without producing side effects or toxicity.
Small to medium-sized tree up to 20(–27) m tall; bole up to 50 cm in diameter, sometimes with buttresses; bark smooth or fissured, grey or yellow; knee roots (pneumatophores) sometimes present. Leaves alternate, crowded towards the ends of twigs, simple; stipules very small, caducous; petiole up to 1.5 cm long, slightly winged; blade elliptical to obovate-oblong or oblanceolate, 5–42 cm Χ 2–16 cm, base cuneate, apex acuminate, margin entire to toothed. Inflorescence an axillary, pendulous raceme up to 70(–100) cm long. Flowers bisexual, almost regular; pedicel up to 1.5(–2.5) cm long; calyx tubular, splitting into (2–)3–4(–5) lobes up to 1.5 cm long, green, flushed pink or purple; petals 4, elliptical, 1–3 cm Χ 0.5–1.5 cm, adnate to staminal tube, white, often tinged pink outside; stamens numerous, connate into a short tube at base, in several whorls, 2–5 cm long, white to pink, inner whorl without anthers; ovary inferior, globular, (2–)3–4(–6)-celled, style simple, slender, 2–6 cm long, stigma small, head-shaped. Fruit an ovoid-tetragonous drupe 3–9 cm Χ 2–5.5 cm, tapering at base, truncate at apex, indehiscent, green, often tinged purple or red, usually 1-seeded. Seed ovoid-tetragonous, 2–4 cm Χ 1–2.5 cm. Seedling with hypogeal germination; hypocotyl remaining within fruit wall and seed coat, massive; cotyledons absent or rudimentary; shoot with several scales at base.
Other botanical information
Barringtonia comprises about 40 species. South-East Asia is the centre of diversity with 32 species. Two species are indigenous to eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands. Barringtonia asiatica (L.) Kurz (distributed from eastern Africa, through tropical Asia to Australia and the Pacific) has erect stout terminal inflorescences and broadly pyramidal fruits up to 12 cm long and wide. It is used as a timber tree and in traditional medicine.
Growth and development
Branching in Barringtonia racemosa is predominantly sympodial. Flowering is throughout the year and takes place during the night with the corolla opening early in the evening and falling the next morning. About half of the flowers in a single inflorescence bloom simultaneously. Pollination of the fragrant flowers is generally by bats or insects (mainly moths) which are also attracted by the copious nectar. After shedding of the flowers, the inflorescences are often crowded with ants attracted by the nectar. Fruits are buoyant thanks to a thick layer of spongy, fibrous tissue, and are dispersed by water currents. Seed dispersal is usually by animals that feed on the fruits.
Barringtonia racemosa is found in primary and secondary forest, mostly restricted to inundated flood plains on tidal river banks, or in swampy localities, sometimes behind the mangrove or in the upper mangrove swamp. Along tidal rivers or in upper mangrove swamps it may form almost pure stands. It grows well under slightly saline conditions or on beaches near the high water level, with a preference for heavy clay, loam or rich volcanic soils, occasionally up to 500(–900) m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Barringtonia racemosa can be propagated by seed and cuttings.
The bark can be harvested whenever needed. It is usually collected from the wild, and should be collected very carefully in order not to kill the trees (parts on the stem should be left undisturbed). Harvested trees should be given enough time to regenerate new bark.
Handling after harvest
The bark is pulverized before the tannin is extracted. The most simple extraction method is by leaching several times with soft, clean, hot (not boiling) water, taking care that the bark is completely covered with water to prevent oxidation. By repeating the leaching process several times with new bark material, the tannin concentration of the liquid increases.
Genetic resources
As trees of Barringtonia racemosa are not commercially harvested for tannin or timber in Africa, there is little threat to its genetic diversity. There are no records of Barringtonia in seed or germplasm banks.
As a source of tannin Barringtonia racemosa will remain only very locally important. The bark could also serve as a source of fast brown and black dyes for vegetable fibres. In view of the poor wood quality it is unlikely that its importance for timber, either by exploiting natural forest or by establishing plantations, will increase. Its medicinal, insecticidal and nutritional properties need better investigation.
Major references
• Burkill, I.H., 1935. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. 2 volumes. Crown Agents for the Colonies, London, United Kingdom. 2402 pp.
• Coates Palgrave, K., 1983. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
• Fernandes, A., 1978. Barringtoniaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 4. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 216–219.
• Lim, S.C., 1998. Barringtonia J.R. Forster & J.G. Forster. In: Sosef, M.S.M., Hong, L.T. & Prawirohatmodjo, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(3). Timber trees: Lesser-known timbers. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 98–102.
• Mesfin Tadesse & Edwards, S., 1995. Lecythidaceae, incl. Barringtoniaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 2, part 2. Canellaceae to Euphorbiaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. p. 107.
• Perrier de la Bβthie, H., 1954. Lιcythidacιes (Lecythidaceae). Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (plantes vasculaires), familles 147–151. Firmin-Didot et cie., Paris, France. Famille 149. 11 pp.
• Sangai, G.R.W., 1971. Lecythidaceae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 6 pp.
• Thulin, M. & Moggi, G., 1993. Lecythidaceae. In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 1. Pteridophyta; Gymnospermae; Angiospermae (Annonaceae-Fabaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 245–246.
• Yaplito, M.A., 2001. Barringtonia J.R. Forster & J.G. Forster. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 101–107.
Other references
• Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
• Decary, R., 1946. Plantes et animaux utiles de Madagascar. Annales du Musιe Colonial de Marseille, 54e annιe, 6e sιrie, 4e volume, 1er et dernier fascicule. 234 pp.
• Deraniyagala, S.A., Ratnasooriya, W.D. & Goonasekara, C.L., 2003. Antinociceptive effect and toxocological study of the aqueous bark extract of Barringtonia racemosa on rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 86(1): 21–26.
• FAO, 1984. Food and fruit-bearing forest species. 2: Examples from southeastern Asia. FAO Forestry Paper 44/2. FAO, Rome Italy. 167 pp.
• Hasan, C.M., Khan, S., Jabbar, A. & Rashid, M.A., 2000. Nasimaluns A and B: neo-clerodane diterpenoids from Barringtonia racemosa. Journal of Natural Products 63(3): 410–411.
• Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
• Palmer, E. & Pitman, N., 1972–1974. Trees of southern Africa, covering all known indigenous species in the Republic of South Africa, South-West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. 3 volumes. Balkema, Cape Town, South Africa. 2235 pp.
• Payens, J.P.D.W., 1967. A monograph of the genus Barringtonia (Lecythidaceae). Blumea 15(2): 157–263.
• Thomas, T.J., Panikkar, B., Subramoniam, A., Nair M.K. & Panikkar, K.R., 2002. Antitumour property and toxicity of Barringtonia racemosa Roxb. seed extract in mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 82(2–3): 223–227.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
• Williams, R.O., 1949. The useful and ornamental plants in Zanzibar and Pemba. Zanzibar, Tanzania. 497 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Lim, S.C., 1998. Barringtonia J.R. Forster & J.G. Forster. In: Sosef, M.S.M., Hong, L.T. & Prawirohatmodjo, S. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(3). Timber trees: Lesser-known timbers. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 98–102.
• R.N. Kaume
P.O. Box 583, 90200 Kitui, Kenya

• P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
• D. Cardon
CNRS, CIHAM-UMR 5648, 18, quai Claude-Bernard, 69365 Lyon, Cedex 07, France
General editors
• R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
• L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
PROSEA Network Office, Herbarium Bogoriense, P.O. Box 234, Bogor 16122, Indonesia
Photo editor
• E. Boer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Kaume, R.N., 2005. Barringtonia racemosa (L.) Spreng. In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, flowering twig; 2, young infructescence; 3, ovary and style; 4, fruit

tree habit

obtained from
Kazuo Yamasaki

detail of flowering tree
obtained from
Kazuo Yamasaki

fallen corolla’s and anthers