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Full Text: Anthropos, 69.1974

Bixa orellana: “The Eternal Shrub” 
R. A. Donkin 
Bixa is a monotypic genus of the family Bixaceae. 1 he taxonomy is still 
obscure, but it appears that there are at least two species 1 . The more important 
is Bixa orellana L., an evergreen shrub that is confined to the frost-free tropics 
and normally requires an annual rainfall of 1250 to 1500 mm. Many varieties , 
both wild and cultivated, have been reported. Ihe fruits of B. orellana (sup 
posedly named after Francisco Orellana 2 , discoverer of the Amazon 
[1540-41]) are characteristically covered with spines, but one variety without 
bristles is found in cultivation. The capsules burst on ripening, exposing 30 
to 50 ovoid seeds surrounded by a thick red-brown pulp or aril. 
Diego de Landa, 1566 (1937: 162), described B. orellana as a tree ... 
bearing spiny pods like chestnuts, but not so large or so rough; they open when 
ripe and contain small seeds which both Spaniards and Indians use to colour 
fheir condiments, as one does with saffron; the colour is marked and stains a 
great deal” 3 . The earliest known illustration (Fig. 1) appeared in the Historia 
Natural de Nueva España by Francisco Hernández, 1571—76 (1959/1.27—28). 
1. The New World 
a) Nomenclature 
Bixa orellana, its seeds and the prepared dyestuff, are known by many 
names, some of which have regional or wider provenance, notably bixa, achiote, 
uy ucû. and annatto. 
1 Hemsley 1879/1' 56: Standley and Williams 1961: 65-67: Hillebrand 
1965; 19. 
2 Standley and Williams 1961: 67. But see note 42 infra. 
3 For other early descriptions of the shrub, see Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes 
(!535) 1959/1; 253; Las Casas (1559) 1958; 48; Vazquez de Espinosa (ca. 1628) 1942: 
no - 683; Cobo (1653) 1956/1: 254; also Alcedo (1786-89) 1967/IV: 260. 
Anth 
■ropos 69. 1974 
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