Cochlospermum tinctorium (PROTA)
|Geographic coverage Africa|
|Geographic coverage World|
|Dye / tannin|
|Forage / feed|
Cochlospermum tinctorium Perr. ex A.Rich.
- Protologue: Fl. Seneg. tent. 1(3): 99, t. 21 (1831).
- Family: Cochlospermaceae
- Chromosome number: 2n = 12
Origin and geographic distribution
Cochlospermum tinctorium is found from Senegal to southern Sudan and Uganda.
The rootstock of Cochlospermum tinctorium is collected from the wild and yields a brown-yellow dye, used for dyeing cloth (cotton), thread, mats, basketware and ornaments, and rarely also leather. The fresh or dried rootstock may be pulverized and pounded into a paste that is rubbed onto the article to be dyed; it may also be crushed, mixed with ash and boiled with the article to be dyed. Several colours can be obtained by the use of mordants (e.g. Striga asiatica (L.) Kuntze) or by the addition of indigo. In Côte d’Ivoire, the Baoulé people add lemon juice to the dye-bath to improve the fastness of the dye. In Cameroon a yellow facial mask is made from the powdered rootstock mixed with water. The dye is also used to colour shea butter and cooking oil to which it possibly also imparts some flavour. Such butter and oil is said to stain the mouth and to cure burns. Unripe fruits are eaten by hunters to allay thirst. The floss of the fruit can be used to stuff cushions or, as is done in Togo, it is spun into necklace cords. The young stem bark also yields a useful fibre.
In traditional medicine, the yellow rootstock is one of the most respected medicines in West Africa for jaundice and liver diseases. It is also applied to cure oedema, urethral discharge, dysmenorrhoea, epilepsy, schistosomiasis, pneumonia, bronchial affections, conjunctivitis, gastric problems, diarrhoea, indigestion, stomach-ache and skin infections. In Burkina Faso an extract of the rootstock is taken against malaria. In Nigeria a concoction of the fruits with tamarind fruits is drunk to cure snakebites, and in Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso powdered rootstock is applied topically. In Côte d’Ivoire pulped leaves are used in a wet dressing to maturate abscesses and furuncles and a decoction of the twigs or rootstock is drunk or used in a bath to treat urino-genital disorders, kidney pain or pain between the ribs. The body is washed with a water extract of the rootstock to cure skin diseases and as prophylaxis. In Nigeria the rootstock is also chewed as a tonic. The rootstock is also extensively used in veterinary medicine. Seed oil is used to treat leprosy. Its decorative flowers make the plant a potential ornamental.
Production and international trade
There is some export of the dye of Cochlospermum tinctorium from Ghana.
The rootstock of Cochlospermum tinctorium is rich in carotenoids that are the yellow pigments of the dye stuff; the rootstock also contains much mucilage, sugar, acetogenins, tannins (gallic acid, ellagic acid and ellagitannin), essential oils (alcohols, 3-hexadecanone), arjunolic acid and probably some alkaloid. The apocarotenoids cochloxanthin and dihydrocochloxanthin showed antimicrobial activity against Candida albicans, Aspergillus fumigatus, Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, but only at high concentrations. A methanolic rootstock extract showed antibacterial activity against some bacteria which are responsible for skin diseases. The tannins showed a remarkable antihepatotoxic activity and particularly gallic acid inhibits the production of oxygen-free radicals in leucocytes. An ethanol extract of the rootstock showed a pronounced antiplasmodial activity (1–2 μg/ml), with 3-O-E-p-coumaroylalphitolic acid as the most active compound. Leaf extracts showed moderate antiplasmodial activity. Tests on mice showed that arjunolic acid isolated from the rootstock has considerable inhibitory effects on skin tumour promoters. The leaves and shoots of Cochlospermum tinctorium are possibly toxic because it is said that cattle will not graze the plant even in times of shortage.
- Subshrub up to 80 cm tall with woody subterranean rootstock producing annual shoots.
- Leaves alternate, palmately (3–)5-lobed; stipules linear, caducous; petiole 3–6 cm long; blade in outline 2–12 cm × 2–16 cm, lobes lanceolate to oblong, basally connate for up to 1/4 of their length, margins entire to serrate, glabrescent to pubescent below.
- Inflorescence a few-flowered panicle or raceme, usually produced at ground level from the rootstock, sometimes appearing on top of leafy shoots.
- Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, 6–9 cm in diameter; pedicel 1.5–4 cm long; sepals elliptical-oblong, 1–1.5 cm × 0.5–1 cm, velvety outside; petals obovate, 2.5–4 cm × 2–3 cm, shallowly emarginate, golden-yellow; stamens numerous, free; ovary superior, usually woolly, style simple, slender, stigma small.
- Fruit a fusiform or obovoid capsule 4–6 cm × 2.5 cm, slightly ridged, brown, grey or black, many-seeded.
- Seeds reniform, c. 5 mm long, densely covered with long white to yellowish hairs.
Other botanical information
Cochlospermaceae is a small family, related to Bixaceae, and comprising 15 species in 2 genera. Cochlospermum comprises 12 species, 5 of these occurring wild in Africa. The roots of the African species Cochlospermum angolense Welw. ex Oliv. and Cochlospermum planchonii Hook.f. and of the American species Cochlospermum regium (Schrank) Pilg. and Cochlospermum vitifolium (Willd.) Spreng. yield a yellow dye which is used similarly to the dye of Cochlospermum tinctorium. The leaf shape in Cochlospermum tinctorium is variable, sometimes causing confusion with Cochlospermum intermedium Mildbr. from the Central African Republic. Annual leafy shoots are produced from the rootstock in the rainy season. Flowering is in the dry season after the savanna burns, and the fruits are ripe about one month after flowering. The flowers are usually produced near ground level, but in southern Sudan and Uganda they are often borne on top of leafy shoots.
Cochlospermum tinctorium occurs in dry savanna, preferring devastated, rocky and annually burnt regions, at 300–1500 m altitude.
Cochlospermum tinctorium is widespread and does not seem to be in danger of genetic erosion.
Cochlospermum tinctorium will remain locally an important dye plant. Its interesting medicinal properties may make it a valuable medicinal plant of much wider importance.
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- 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. Cochlospermum tinctorium Perr. ex A.Rich. In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 27 September 2021.
- See the Prota4U database.