Caesalpinia coriaria (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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1, flowering and fruiting branch; 2, flower. Source: PROSEA

Caesalpinia coriaria (Jacq.) Willd.


Protologue: Sp. pl. 2(1): 532 (1799).
Family: Caesalpiniaceae (Leguminosae - Caesalpinioideae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 24

Vernacular names

  • Divi-divi (En).
  • Dividivi (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

Caesalpinia coriaria is native to tropical America and the West Indies. It has been introduced as an ornamental in other tropical regions and sometimes also for tanning, e.g. in India. In tropical Africa it has been recorded from Ghana, DR Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Mauritius, and is very locally naturalized (e.g. in Mauritius).

Uses

The pods of Caesalpinia coriaria are very rich in tannin and are used in the tanning industry. The tan stuff from the pods is generally used as a blend for tanning leather, mixed with other tanning materials. Divi-divi is often used in rapid drum tanning of light leathers and in leather dressing. The pods are also used to prepare a blackish or bluish dye for cotton and wool and a black ink, used e.g. in the decoration of traditional potteries and gourds in Central America. They are sometimes employed as a mordant for dyeing vegetable fibres with other dyes. In medicine the pods are used as an antiperiodic and for dressing sores. The wood has been reported as having been used in Andhra Pradesh (India) as source of a red dye. Caesalpinia coriaria is used as an ornamental and shade plant and its leaves as a mulch.

Production and international trade

Caesalpinia coriaria has been used in Central America for many centuries as a tanning material. Commercial supplies of divi-divi pods were obtained almost entirely from tropical America with Venezuela and Colombia as the major suppliers. Recent figures are not available, but in the 1950s annual exports of dry fruits varied from 3000–10,000 t from Venezuela and from 1000–7500 t from Colombia. India was much less important as a producing country, exporting 150–400 t/year in the 1910s and 1920s. The largest consumers were the United States and Germany. The use of divi-divi as a tanning material strongly declined after 1950 in favour of other vegetable materials and synthetic tanning substances.

Properties

The pods (without seeds) of Caesalpinia coriaria contain 40–45% tannins composed of gallotannin and ellagitannins: corilagin, chebulagic acid and neo-chebulagic acid. Divi-divi extracts are liable to deteriorate rapidly; especially in hot climates fermentation takes place readily because of the large amount of sugars present; this often results in reddish stains in the leather. Divi-divi extracts produce a pale coloured leather, which is easily affected by atmospheric conditions, being soft and spongy under damp conditions and lacking pliability under dry conditions. Because of these disadvantages, divi-divi is usually used in mixtures with other tanning substances.

When tested in ponds, the tannin from divi-divi pods showed algicidal activity. Aucubin compounds have been identified. The wood of Caesalpinia coriaria is very hard, reddish brown. Seeds contain 5–9% of a fixed oil, about half of which consists of cyclopropenoid fatty acids, which have carcinogenic properties. Oven-dried fruits applied at 2.5 g/l were 100% effective in controlling the fresh-water snails Lymnaea luteola and Gyraulus convexiusculus within 24–72 h.

Description

  • Crooked and spreading small tree, usually up to 10 m tall, but sometimes much taller.
  • Leaves alternate, bipinnate, pinnae in 3–9 pairs; leaflets in 12–28 pairs per pinna, sessile, oblong-linear, 4–10 mm × 1–2.5 mm, with black dots beneath.
  • Inflorescence an axillary raceme or panicle 2–4 cm long.
  • Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, 5-merous, fragrant; sepals free, imbricate, usually unequal, the lowest one hood-shaped; petals free, unequal, 3–4 mm long, pale yellow, the upper one different in shape and size; stamens 10, free, subequal, filaments hairy at base; ovary superior, 1-celled, style slender, stigma truncate.
  • Fruit an indehiscent pod, flexuous and twisted, (2–)5–8 cm × 1–3 cm, pale to blackish brown, 1–10-seeded.
  • Seeds ellipsoid or reniform, 6–7 mm long, glossy brown.

Other botanical information

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.

Ecology

Caesalpinia coriaria tolerates a wide range of soil types and climates. It grows on rich clay soils and poor sandy soils with pH 4.5–8.7, and thrives in dry (warm) temperate climates to wet tropical climates with an annual precipitation of 600 mm up to over 4000 mm, and a mean annual temperature of 15–28°C. In natural conditions in Central and South America, it is found in semi-arid, open country. Trees are reported to yield less under very moist tropical conditions than under drier conditions. At higher altitudes they do not yield well either.

Management

Divi-divi is propagated by seed. In India the seedlings of divi-divi are kept in the nursery for 9–15 months, and then transplanted into the field, usually at the beginning of the rainy season, at distances of 7–9 m. During the first two years, watering is necessary in the dry season. Mature trees require very little care, and forage crops can be planted between the trees. Trees are relatively slow growing and generally commence flowering 5–7 years after sowing. Full crops of pods are produced after about 20 years. Some fungi are known to attack divi-divi: Fomes lucidus, Micropeltis domingensis and Zignoella caesalpiniae. The pods of divi-divi are collected before or after they drop from the tree. Trees yield about 45–135 kg pods per year. Because divi-divi pods are curved, they are voluminous, which makes transport expensive. The pods are usually packed in fine mesh bags. The tannins can easily be extracted. They are mainly present in the white powdery tissue just below the epidermis of the pod, and this tissue is easily collected when the dry pods are ruptured. The powder has the drawback of being slightly hygroscopic and should be packed in sealed containers. It is susceptible to rapid deterioration but fermentation can be minimized by the use of antiseptics.

Genetic resources

Caesalpinia coriaria is widespread and not in danger of genetic erosion. Germplasm collections are not known to exist.

Prospects

In Africa Caesalpinia coriaria is not well known as a tannin-producing plant and it is not likely that it will become important in the future. However, the fact that it is a source of reasonable quality tanning material, especially when used in mixtures, and a good source of black dye and ink, may offer possibilities since sustainable production is possible, the part of the plant used being the seeded fruits.

Major references

  • Boonkerd, T., Na Songkhla, B. & Thephuttee, W., 1991. Caesalpinia 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. 57–60.
  • CSIR, 1950. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials and industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 2: C. Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 427 pp.
  • Duke, J.A., 1981. Handbook of legumes of world economic importance. Plenum Press, New York, United States, and London, United Kingdom. 345 pp.

Other references

  • Bali, H.S., Sawai Singh & Pati, S.C., 1985. Preliminary screening of some plants for molluscicidal activity against two snail species. Indian Journal of Animal Sciences 55: 338–340.
  • Brenan, J.P.M., 1967. Leguminosae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 230 pp.
  • Cardon, D., 2003. Le monde des teintures naturelles. Belin, Paris, France. 586 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.
  • 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.

Sources of illustration

  • Boonkerd, T., Na Songkhla, B. & Thephuttee, W., 1991. Caesalpinia 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. 57–60.

Author(s)

  • P.C.M. Jansen, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Jansen, P.C.M., 2005. Caesalpinia coriaria (Jacq.) Willd. In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 12 November 2020.