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Bixa orellana are well known for its seeds (which produce a red dye) and is often used as a spice or as food coloring. Because of it predominate red color, it is used in world famous Jamaican beef patties.
It is a small tree which bears pink, white, or purple-tinted flowers. The name Bixa orellana is derived from Francisco de Orellana, a 16th century Spanish explorer.
Bixa is known in Belize as the "lipstick tree" because Central and South American Natives used the seeds to color their bodies and lips. Red coloring on outside of seeds easily dyes bare skin. Several washings with soap are required before color can be removed.
Bixa orellana is a shrub or bushy tree which ranges from 3 to 10 meters in height. Its glossy, ovate leaves are evergreen with reddish veins; they have a round, heart-shaped base and a pointed tip.
With a thin, long stem, the leaves are between 8 and 20 cm long and 5 and 14 cm wide. The twigs are covered with rust colored scales when young and bare when older.
Bixa’s flowers are pink, white, or some combination, and are 4 to 6 cm in diameter. From the flower protrudes a striking two-valved fruit, covered either with dense soft bristles or a smooth surface. These round fruits,
approximately 4 cm wide, appear in a variety of colors: scarlet, yellow, brownish-green, maroon, and most commonly bright red.
When ripe, they split open and reveal a numerous amount of small, fleshy seeds, about 5 mm in diameter and covered with red-orange pulp, the embryo of which is poisonous.