BRAZILWOOD: Yields crimson red, pinks to violet/purple

Source: Powdered wood chips

Used as a textile dye from as far back as the 2nd or 1st Century BC to the 3rd Century AD, the trade in Brazilwood flourished in Europe through the Middle Ages, when it was first imported from Asia and Indonesia. Sappanwood, as it was known, produced the crimson red and other variants of scarlet reds and purples much in demand in fashionable France and Italy, as examples. During the Renaissance and the French Court, the richness of these colours in garments defined the nobility and royalty. It signified power and prestige. Fortunes could be made and were made because of a ready supply and high demand.

There are several species of this red producing tree, two of which were most commercially used through the ages and today: the sappanwood from Asia (also called Eastern Brazilwood today) and the 'brazilwood' also known as pernambuco from Brazil. The latter is now a protected species and most commonly used for making violin bows. 

The Asian sappanwood was the original source for this red dye in Medieval Europe until Portuguese explorers blown off course during a voyage in the 1500's, discovered the coast of South America, specifically Brazil. All along that coast, they found a tree quite similar to the sappanwood with the notable red-coloured inner wood. Logs of this brazilwood were shipped off to Portugal and the discovery forever changed the commercial and physical landscape of the market for the dye. This land now conquered and settled by the Portuguese came to be called Brazil after the dye wood. It is today the only country named after a dye.

The French soon followed in pursuit of the riches for the red dye, even trying to establish a French outpost in Rio de Janeiro Bay. Both French and Portuguese ships sailed the coast and loaded the timbers set for Europe. The industry relied solely on the labour of the local natives to cut and load these trees as there were no horses or donkeys. Where the French succeeded in amicable trade and cooperation with the natives, the Portugueses' mistreatment of the local tribesmen was cause for disruption in the trade between them. The French were eventually ousted and the Portuguese continued the monopoly of the trade.

By 1600, the over-harvesting of the trees and the number of natives succumbing to disease and mistreatment all but ended the glory days of the trans-Antlantic trade. In the 18th Century, less and less of the wood was exported to the European Market. Then by 1875, the demand for brazilwood was insignificant with the production of red synthetic dyes that forever changed the dye industry altogether.

In the midst of the Brazilwood heydey from the New World, the King of France, Henry II visited the French city of Rouen in 1550. To show the King the importance and potential wealth of this trade, the city welcomed him with an elaborate recreation of a Brazilian village on the banks of the Seine. Parrots and monkeys along with 50 tribesmen were transplanted in the "forest" and with another 250 characters,  all naked except for the red body paint. There they performed mock squirmishes and hunt scenes. They also sawed brazilwood trees and hauled them to the river bank as a representation of the benefits of this new found wealth in the trade of brazilwood red dye. 

Eastern Brazilwood is widely available and common in South East Asia today and the source for powdered dyes.