Prota 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins
Nat. Pflanzenfam., II–IV Nachtr. 1: 213 (1897).
Lannea kerstingii Engl. & K.Krause (1911).
Origin and geographic distribution
Lannea barteri occurs from Guinea east to Ethiopia and Uganda and south to DR Congo and Burundi.
The bark of Lannea barteri yields a dye which is used in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. Its red-orange-brown colour is associated with blood and war as well as mourning. In Ghana the dye, known in Akan as ‘kuntunkuni’ or ‘kobewu’, serves to give the symbolic dark red to red-brown colour of ‘adinkra’ clothes worn at the funerals of chiefs and afterwards by their mourning relatives. The name ‘adinkra’ may be derived from ‘nkradie’ or ‘dinkra’ which means ‘good-bye’. It is also the name of the technique by which these red mourning clothes and other types of fabrics are decorated with hand-stamped black designs.
The resinous fruit pulp is eaten occasionally, the fibrous bark is used to make ropes and the flowers attract bees and may be useful for honey production. The wood is used in Uganda for firewood and charcoal, and to make small utensils (e.g. mortars), and the plant is sometimes cultivated as a live fence as it coppices easily. The bark is used externally to treat ulcers, sores and leprosy. A decoction is drunk against gastric pains, diarrhoea, oedema, paralysis, epilepsy and madness. In Nigeria (Igbo) and the Central African Republic a bark decoction is drunk as a stomachic and is part of a vermifuge medicine. The macerated root is used in a poultice for the treatment of wounds. In Burkina Faso a root decoction is taken to cure hernia and a leaf decoction to cure haemorrhoids.
The bark of Lannea barteri has not been investigated concerning dye and tannin components, but the popular use of several Lannea species in many African countries obviously deserves systematic research. The bark also contains a gummy secretion which becomes white and friable in contact with air. The wood is soft, dirty white, coarse-grained and without much value.
Dioecious tree up to 18 m tall; bole usually straight, up to 40 cm in diameter, bark thick, spirally grooved, rather smooth, grey. Leaves alternate, pinnately compound with (1–)2–6 pairs of opposite leaflets and a terminal one; rachis 10–25 cm long; leaflets shortly stalked, but terminal leaflet with long stalk, ovate to elliptical, 7–17 cm × 4–11 cm, obtuse to slightly cordate at base, apex mucronate, margin entire, yellow-brown velvety pubescent, with 11–15 pairs of secondary veins. Inflorescence a terminal spike-like raceme up to 25 cm long, arranged in apical clusters and produced before leaves. Flowers unisexual, regular, 4-merous; pedicel up to 3 mm long; calyx cup-shaped with lobes c. 1 mm long, ciliate; petals oblong, 2–3.5 mm × 1.5 mm, yellowish, with darker veins; male flowers with 8 stamens; female flowers with superior, 4-celled ovary, styles 4, stigmas headlike, often with 8 staminodes. Fruit a compressed cylindrical drupe 10–13 mm × 7–8 mm, glabrous, purplish-red.
Lannea comprises about 40 species, most of them restricted to Africa. In Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Benin Lannea egregia Engl. & K.Krause has the same vernacular names as Lannea barteri and is certainly used similarly, including for dyeing purposes. Lannea egregia is found from Guinea to Nigeria in savanna vegetation. It is a tree up to 15 m tall, with spirally grooved grey bark, and pinnately compound leaves with 3–5 pairs of leaflets plus a terminal one. For other Lannea species of which the bark is also used as a source of red-brown dye in Africa, see Lannea microcarpa Engl. & K.Krause.
Lannea barteri trees flower when they are leafless, in Ghana between December and April.
Lannea barteri occurs in wooded savanna and forest edges, and near rivers, usually at 500–1600 m altitude.
Seed or cuttings can be used for propagation. The seeds can be collected from fallen fruits, dried and sown within 2 months. Cuttings strike easily, even when taken from large branches.
For dyeing cotton cloth, the bark of Lannea barteri is pounded or cut up into small pieces and boiled in water for a long time. The cooled decoction is filtered and the fabric to be dyed is kept in the dye bath for at least 24 hours. Red, red-brown or orange-red colours are obtained without mordanting. In Ghana, to decorate ‘adinkra’ cloth, several pieces of dyed cloth are sewn together with ornate embroidery. Then stamps carved from calabashes are dipped into the thick black ink obtained by the prolonged decoction of the bark of the ‘badie’ tree (Bridelia ferruginea Benth.) with lumps of iron slag. This ink is called ‘adinkra aduru’ (‘adinkra medicine’). Different stamps carved with many different designs are applied onto the cloth, juxtaposed in rectangular blocks across the whole surface of the piece.
Genetic resources and breeding
Lannea barteri is rather widespread and although it is nowhere very common, it does not seem to be in danger of genetic erosion.
Lannea barteri is an important source of red-brown dye used in traditional dyeing in Africa. With a growing interest in and demand for African textile art, it is expected that the economic importance of Lannea barteri will increase. Its dye and tannin contents, medicinal properties and possibilities for cultivation need further research.
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Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2005. Lannea barteri (Oliv.) Engl. In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.