Prota 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins
Hook., Niger Fl.: 411 (1849).
Origin and geographic distribution
Craterispermum laurinum is widespread in West Africa from Senegal to Togo.
A brownish yellow dye is prepared from the bark and leaves of Craterispermum laurinum to dye cotton. In Sierra Leone the bark and leaves are sometimes pounded with grass and boiled to prepare a yellow dye. The bark is said to be sweet and edible. In Sierra Leone the stems are used for anchoring traps to catch animals. The stems split easily and are used in hut building to make woven networks of twigs to hold a mud cover or thatch. Craterispermum laurinum is used for live fencing as it is fire resistant and easily propagates from cuttings. The plant has many medicinal uses. A bark, leaf or root infusion or decoction is taken against cough, toothache, fever (including malaria), venereal diseases, high blood pressure and intestinal parasites. Powdered bark, leaves or roots are applied to wounds and sores.
Craterispermum laurinum is a strong aluminium and a moderate silicon accumulator. Of these elements about 36 g/kg and 13 g/kg respectively were measured in the leaves. It is possible that an Al-Si complex is formed in the shoot tissues which may contribute to Al detoxification. Aluminium accumulating plants are used as mordants instead of alums in traditional dyeing techniques in different parts of the world. The yellow colours they often impart to textiles come from the combination of the organic mordant and dye components such as flavonoids. The recipe combining Craterispermum laurinum bark and leaves and an unspecified grass reported for Sierra Leone most probably implies such a combination of a mordant and yellow colouring compounds.
Glabrous shrub or small tree up to 7 m tall, with twigs ridged at the nodes. Leaves opposite, simple and entire; stipules up to 6 mm long, connate at base, persistent; petiole up to 1.5 cm long; blade oblong-obovate, 10–20 cm × 4–9 cm, base attenuate, apex shortly pointed, leathery, yellow-green, pinnately veined with lateral veins in about 8 pairs. Inflorescence an axillary cyme situated slightly above leaf axil; peduncle up to 2 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, fragrant, shortly pedicellate, c. 6 mm long; calyx cup-shaped, truncate; corolla funnel-shaped, yellow-white, waxy, pubescent inside, soon falling; stamens inserted at the throat of the corolla, anthers exserted; ovary inferior, 2-celled, style filiform, stigma 2-lobed. Fruit a shortly stalked drupe c. 5 mm in diameter, blue-black, 1-seeded. Seed hemispherical.
Craterispermum comprises 15–20 species and is distributed in mainland Africa, Madagascar and the Seychelles. It is classified in subfamily Rubioideae, tribe Craterispermeae. Craterispermum schweinfurthii Hiern from central and eastern Africa has long been thought to be identical to Craterispermum laurinum, but differs in its shorter peduncles with more compact inflorescences, toothed calyx and sessile fruits.
In West Africa (Senegal to Nigeria), a yellow dye for raffia is extracted from the leaves of Craterispermum caudatum Hutch., a shrub or small tree of which the twigs are used as chewing sticks and for building huts.
Craterispermum laurinum is found in deciduous forest and along stream banks in savanna.
Craterispermum laurinum is occasionally cultivated as a fence. It propagates easily by cuttings.
Genetic resources and breeding
Craterispermum laurinum is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion.
Craterispermum laurinum as source of a dye will probably remain locally of minor importance. The combination of organic aluminium mordant and colorants in the same plant would make it a good source of fast dyes that could be combined with other vegetable dyes to obtain a wider range of colours, if programmes for the revival of the use of natural dyes were developing within the regions where it is widespread. Its medicinal properties need further investigation before its therapeutic value can be confirmed.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2005. Craterispermum laurinum (DC.) Benth. In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.