BIXACEAE – Bixa – Bixa orellana


Bixa family

Bixaceae includes a single genus of small tree from tropical America. Some authors place this species in Cochlospermaceae, but it is distinguished by its simple, unlobed leaves. Flowers are bisexual and radially symmetrical with numerous stamens, 5 sepals, and 5 petals. The inflorescence is a panicle produced at the end of the branch. The fruit is a dry capsule covered with stiff bristles.


Bixa includes a single species of tree from tropical America. The inflated capsules, which vary from brilliant crimson to russet – brown, are covered with stiff hairs. Annatto, the oil – soluble powdery testa covering the seeds, is the “natural yellow coloring” commonly yellow or orange – colored snack foods. Unlike saffron, it is tasteless. It is used throughout Latin America as a food coloring mixed with garlic and herbs, most familiar in yellow rice. A few seeds are briefly heated in hot oil to dissolve the color and then discarded before rice, water, and seasonings are added. In  used in margarine, cheese, butter, and

concentrated form, annatto is red – orange. Indigenous peoples of the Amazon region use it for ceremonial body paint. Bixa has orange sap, which purportedly has insect repellant properties.

Bixa orellana

Lipstick – tree, annatto, achiote

Tropical America, widely cultivated. Evergreen tree, 10-20 ft, zones 10-11. Blooms fall. Regular moisture. Fertile, well drained soil. Full sun. Flowers: lavender to pale pink, to 2 in. wide, in terminal clusters, capsule covered with stiff bristles. Leaves: simple, broadly ovate to vordate, 4-6 in.long, tip tapering, 3 primary veins reddish, petioles to 4 in. Young twigs rusty brown. A compact tree that provides winter color. Mildew may be a problem in overly moist locations. The pastel flowers are followed by flamboyant crimson to ruddy capsules. Select for both flower and capsule color. Trees start blooming when quite small.

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