Bixa orellana
Common Name: lipsticktree 
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Bixaceae
Native Range: Tropical Americas
Zone: 10 to 12
Height: 6.00 to 12.00 feet
Spread: 6.00 to 12.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: Pink
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge
Flower: Showy, Good Dried
Leaf: Evergreen
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest, Thorns

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 10-12 where is easily grown in organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Best with consistent moisture.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Bixa orellana, commonly called annato or achiote, is an evergreen tropical shrub or small tree that is native to tropical parts of Central and South America. It has been introduced over time to a large number of tropical areas around the world including South East Asia, India and the Philippines. As a shrub, it typically grows to 6-12' tall, but as a tree will sometimes rise to 20-30' tall. Pointed, ovate to heart-shaped leaves grow to 3-7" long. Ornamentally attractive pink flowers (2" diameter) bloom in terminal branched panicles. Each flower has 5 deciduous sepals and five petals. Flowers are followed by bristly spiny fruit in reddish-brown to bright red capsules. Fruits ripen throughout the year in tropical climates. Each fruit capsule resembles in appearance the bur of a chestnut tree (Castanea). The capsule splits open when ripe to reveal seeds in a layer of orange pulp. Annato is the name of a tasteless orange/yellow dye extracted from the pulp surrounding the seeds. This dye was used many years ago by indigenous people for a variety of purposes including body paint, insect repellant, food colorant, inks, dyes, sunscreen, soap additives and fabric colorant. This plant was also reported to have medicinal uses ranging from treatment for fevers to dysentary to cancers. In the modern world, dyes from this plant are still commercially produced for adding yellow color to a number of food products including chorizo, margarine, rice and cheese. Indigenous people still use the dyes for cosmetics (hence the common name of lipstick tree) and hair dyes.

Genus name comes from the Latinized version of the South American vernacular name for this evergreen tree.

Specific epithet honors Francisco de Orellano (1511-1546), Spanish explorer and conquistador, who discovered the Amazon River.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Where winter hardy, it may be grown for ornamental purposes or for harvest of its fruits. Interesting specimen. Informal hedge. Dried fruit pods are attractive in floral arrangements.