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Caesalpinia sappan L.

Sp. pl. 1: 381 (1753).
Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number
2n = 24
Vernacular names
Sappanwood, Indian redwood (En). Sappan, bois de sappan (Fr). Pau de sapan (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
The origin of Caesalpinia sappan is not certain, but it is thought to be in the region from central and southern India through Myanmar and Thailand to Peninsular Malaysia and to IndoChina and southern China. It is cultivated and naturalized in many parts of the tropics. In Africa it has been recorded from Nigeria, DR Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Réunion, Mauritius and South Africa.
The wood of Caesalpinia sappan is the wood-dye that is known to have been used at a large, international scale throughout world history. Hundreds of tonnes were exported annually to the Islamic and Mediterranean worlds and Europe from the Middle Ages onwards. It remained a major source of red dye up to the end of the 19th century. It is still used for dyeing textiles, but only on a smaller scale by craftsmen and artists. Silk, wool, cotton, matting and basket fibres can be dyed red with it and it is also used occasionally to colour food. The wood is ground into a coarse powder, moistened with water and allowed to ferment for a few weeks to increase the colouring power of the dye. The fermented wood is boiled in water. The dye liquor may be used immediately or evaporated to be commercialised as a dry soluble extract which can be stored for future use. The mordants used (e.g. aluminium acetate, stannic salts, oxalic acid) determine the final colour of the cloth, which can vary from shades of red to pink, violet and brown. Sometimes the dye is used in combinations, for instance on top of a blue indigo dye-bath for purple colours and with turmeric and iron sulphate to produce a rich maroon. The dye can also be extracted with alcohol and other organic solvents. A few drops of wood extract in drinking water is considered refreshing, due to the fragrance and colour it imparts.
The fruits contain tannin and were used in the past to prepare a black dye in combination with an iron mordant. The wood has been used in cabinet-making since mediaeval times, especially for inlay decoration. It also is a good source of firewood. Caesalpinia sappan is often planted as a living fence and ornamental. Owing to its easy growth and dense growth habit, it is used for defining the boundaries of land and for protecting plantations against grazing animals. The leaves can be used to hasten ripening of fruits such as bananas and mangoes. Sappanwood is also used in the traditional medicines of various Asiatic countries (India, Vietnam, China, Japan). A decoction or infusion of the heartwood is generally considered a strong emmenagogue and astringent. It is also used to cure wounds (also with a plaster of macerated leaves and bark), tuberculosis, diarrhoea and dysentery and is reported as having antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, cytotoxic, hypoglycaemic and xanthine oxidase-inhibitory activities. The seeds serve as a sedative.
The main extractable component, called sappanin, amounts to 20% of the ovendry weight of the heartwood. The main dye component in the heartwood of Caesalpinia sappan is brazilin, also present in brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata Lam.). Brazilin is a weakly coloured product, which easily oxidises to give the deep red pigment brazilein, natural red number 24 and dye number 75280 of the Colour Index. Several other phenolic compounds have also been isolated from the heartwood and contribute to the dye properties of the wood: mostly 3’-O-methylbrazilin and other homoisoflavonoids (sappanol and methylderivates, episappanol and derivates, sappanones A and B), various dibenzoxocins (protosappanins A, B and C) and a dimeric methanodibenzoxocinone, neosappanone A. The majority of these compounds are transformed into brazilin by heating, in the weak acidic or basic media resulting from the current dye-extraction processes. In tests, brazilin had a positive effect on the immune functions in the early phase of halothane intoxicated mice and had a hypoglycaemic action and increased glucose metabolism in animals presenting experimentally induced diabetis. A decoction of the wood showed antibiotic activity against Staphylococcus, Salmonella typhi, Shigella flexneri, Shigella dysenteriae and Bacillus subtilis. An extract of Caesalpinia sappan was found to be a potent agent for inactivating human sperm in vitro; about 2.5 mg/ml is required to reduce motility to 50%.
The stem and leaves contain alkaloids and tannins, abundant saponin and phytosterol. The fruits contain c. 40% tannin, which is suitable for the production of light leather goods. Freshly cut sappanwood is pale orange in colour. The colour deepens to dark red upon prolonged exposure to sunlight or air. Prolonged boiling intensifies the colour of the dye. The sapwood ring is very narrow and pale, the heartwood makes up to 90% of the total volume. The pith is distinct and yellowish. The growth rings are distinct. The wood is straight grained with a fine to moderately fine texture, fairly heavy (600–780 kg/m3), hard and lustrous. It is difficult to dry and is susceptible to warping and collapse, but moderately easy to work; it takes a high finish, and is tough and resistant to termite attack. The energy value is about 25,000 kJ/kg.
Shrubby tree up to 10 m tall; trunk up to 14 cm in diameter, bark with distinct ridges and many prickles, greyish brown; young twigs and buds hairy, brownish. Leaves stipulate, bipinnate, up to 50 cm long, with 8–16 pairs of pinnae; pinnae with prickles at the base and with 10–20 pairs of sessile leaflets; leaflets oblong, 1–2 cm × 0.5–1 cm, very oblique at base, rounded to emarginate at apex. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal panicle or raceme 10–40 cm long. Flowers bisexual, slightly zygomorphic, 5-merous, 2–2.5 cm wide when open, yellow; sepals glabrous; petals pubescent, the superior one smaller; stamens 10, filaments woollyhairy in the lower half; ovary superior, pubescent, 1-celled. Fruit a dehiscent pod, cylindrical-obovate, 7–9 cm × 3–4 cm, strongly flattened, shiny and glabrous with curved beak at apex, yellowish green when young, maturing to reddish brown, 2–5-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid, flattened, 18–20 mm × 10–12 mm, brown.
The large genus Caesalpinia (about 200 species) is pantropical, the greater part of the species occurring in South and Central America. In tropical Africa about 25 species are indigenous, naturalized or cultivated.
Initially sappanwood grows straight but after having attained a height of about 2.5 m, the branches start to droop and entwine with the branches of nearby trees to form thickets, generally free from undergrowth. After the tree is felled the stump sprouts profusely within two weeks. Flowering can occur after one year of growth. Flowering is usually in the rainy season, fruiting about 6 months later.
Under natural conditions Caesalpinia sappan grows mostly in hilly areas with clayey soil and calcareous rocks at low and medium altitudes. It does not tolerate too wet soil conditions. Sappanwood tolerates an annual precipitation of 700–4300 mm, a mean annual temperature of 24–28°C and a soil pH of 5–7.5.
Sappanwood can be propagated by seed and renewed by coppicing. Usually mature pods burst open in the dry season and scatter the seeds, which remain dormant until the start of the rainy season. Seeds germinate immediately if enough moisture is available. The germination rate is enhanced to about 90% by dipping the seeds into boiling water for 5 seconds. Usually the plants are grown in the shade of trees in the forest or in forest borders.
No serious diseases and pests have been reported, although fungi such as Auricularia auricula-judae (the edible Judas ear mushroom) and Meliola caesalpiniae can attack the trees. For use as a dyewood the tree must be harvested every 6–8 years, to allow the heartwood to become fully developed; for firewood it may be harvested every 3–4 years when the trunk has attained a diameter of 5–6 cm. The tree is cut about 1 m above the ground to allow sprouts to grow from the stump. Harvesting is done manually with a machete; prickles are easily removed by brushing with the blunt edge of the machete.
Genetic resources and breeding
Caesalpinia sappan is widely planted and not in danger of genetic erosion.
A big scale revival of the use of sappanwood as a dye source for the textile industry will probably not happen in the immediate future since synthetic dyes are still cheaper to produce, often brighter, and the best ones can compete with natural dyes for light and washing fastness. However, natural dyes may regain some of their former importance because of environmental and toxicity problems connected with the production and use of synthetic dyes, and the gradual exhaustion of the fossil materials synthetic dyes are made from. Sappanwood would then provide a renewable source of colorant, not only in the textile and basket-weaving crafts but also in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Sappanwood may have even better prospects as a medicinal plant, and will go on being valued for its beautiful wood in cabinet-making as well as a source of fuelwood with high energy value.
Major references
• Zerrudo, J.V., 1991. Caesalpinia sappan L. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Wulijarni-Soetjipto, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 3. Dye and tannin producing plants. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 60–62.
Other references
• Cardon, D., 2003. Le monde des teintures naturelles. Belin, Paris, France. 586 pp.
• Choi, S.Y., Yang, K.M., Jeon, S.D., Kim, J.H., Khil, L.Y., Chang, T.S. & Moon, C.K., 1997. Brazilin modulates immune function mainly by augmenting T cell activity in halothane administered mice. Planta Medica 63(5): 405–408.
• Duke, J.A., 1981. Handbook of legumes of world economic importance. Plenum Press, New York, United States, and London, United Kingdom. 345 pp.
• Fuke, C., Yamahara, J., Shimokawa, T., Kinjo, J.E. & Tomimatsu, T., 1985. Two aromatic compounds related to brazilin from Caesalpinia sappan. Phytochemistry 24(10): 2403–2406.
• Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1995. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 1. Éditions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 495 pp.
• Ibnu Utomo, B., 2001. Caesalpinia L. 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. 123–129.
• Oh, S.R., Kim, D.S., Lee, I.S., Jung, K.Y., Lee, J.J. & Lee, H.K., 1998. Anticomplementary activity of constituents from the heartwood of Caesalpinia sappan. Planta Medica 64(5): 456–458.
• Polhill, R.M., 1990. Légumineuses. In: Bosser, J., Cadet, T., Guého, J. & Marais, W. (Editors). Flore des Mascareignes. Famille 80. The Sugar Industry Research Institute, Mauritius, l’Office de la Recherche Scientifique Outre-Mer, Paris, France & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 235 pp.
• Shih, I.M., Chiang, H.S., Yang, L.L. & Wang, T.L., 1990. Antimotility effects of Chinese herbal medicines on human sperm. Journal of the Formosa Medical Association 89(6): 466–469.
• Viaux-Locquin, J., 1997. Les bois d’ébénisterie dans le mobilier français. Léonce Laget, Paris, France. 226 pp.
• Zerrudo, J.V., 1985. Sibukao (Caesalpinia sappan L.) a multipurpose tree. Diamond Jubilee Professorial Lecture. University of the Philippines at Los Baños, College Laguna, the Philippines. 23 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Zerrudo, J.V., 1991. Caesalpinia sappan L. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Wulijarni-Soetjipto, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 3. Dye and tannin producing plants. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 60–62.
P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Based on PROSEA 3: ‘Dye and tannin-producing plants’.

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

Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2005. Caesalpinia sappan L. In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
flowering and fruiting branch
Source: PROSEA