LOGWOOD: Yields deep blue/violet, purples, greys and black

Source: Wood chips 

Logwood has an economical and historical background similar to that of Brazilwood where profit and trade ruled the new found lands in South America and the New World. Its main characteristics is the by-product of natural dye, a valuable commodity in Europe beginning in the 1500's and even more so during the 17th century to the 19th century. Clothing in late Medieval Times were nothing more than browns and grays and logwood would add the colour purple, shades of blue/purple and the soon to be popular black, difficult to yield in a natural dye. By the 19th century, the new middle class included barristers and judges, priests and men in top hats & tail-coats, who all wore the fashionable new black. Black cloth was in high demand and logwood was a new and plentiful source of that dye.

The tree is native to the Yucatan Peninsula in and around Mexico. The Bay of Campeche played prominently in the export trade to Europe. The tree was planted and naturalized in the Caribbean beginning in 1715.

Although the Spanish discovered the dye producing tree, it is believed to have been used by the Mayas as a face and body paint and also a black dye for clothes. The tree was named logwood as it was harvested and cut into logs for transport on ships over the Atlantic.

The British soon followed, discovering logwood on the coasts of Central America and exporting to Europe.  But the dyestuff was banned in Britain between 1581 to 1662 because of its easy degradation and fading. When mordants were introduced and new stabilizing techniques  applied to the logwood, the dye once again became a hot commodity in the fashions of England. And so began the battle for supremacy over the trading of logwood for export to European nations. In the late 1600's, pillaging and piracy became the norm with settlers from New England arriving with Native American slaves as well as Jamaican settlers all looking to exploit this plentiful resource. The ships and the stockpiled logs at ports were easy targets as well as the unguarded shoreline woodlots along coastlines and in the interior.

By the 1700's and 1800's, up to 13,000 tons of logwood a year were exported. Britain and Spain were at the forefront of this commerce well into the 1870's. Logwood was also the dye of choice in colouring the uniforms during the American Civil War and also during WWI and WWII. British Honduras became the country of Belize, beginning as logging camps where slaves worked the swamplands building an economy through exports of logwood. Today, these slaves are recognized on the national emblem, currency and flag of Belize. The natural dye is still available today and used for colouring textiles & wools in the same vibrant colour schemes of these bygone eras.