Achiote (Bixa orellana), A.K.A. the Lipstick Tree, is a small deciduous tree native to Mexico, Central and South America. Achiote can grow up to 20 to 30 feet tall if grown as a tree. However, if pruned correctly, it can retain it’s shrubbery height of 12 feet. Throughout the growing season, Achiote produces attractive, heart-shaped leaves and an abundance of light pink flowers. It produces inedible green fruit that, when it matures, turns a brownish-rust in color and is covered with soft, spiky hairs.
Inside of the Achiote’s fruit are an abundance of seeds surrounded by pulp that is a bright red/orange in color. However, the seeds (Annato) are the true prize, as they are used commercially worldwide to create a red dye that is used widely in various types of products such as cheese, rice, butter and even cosmetics.
Visually, Achiote makes an exceedingly beautiful addition to gardens in USDA zones 10-11. Achiote can be grown from seed but propagation from stems and nursery-grown plants are recommended to provide rapid growth and a better fruit yield. In addition to full sun, Achiote prefers well draining, loamy soil and consistent watering. It can be grown in a container approximate to it’s predicted size. Typically, it takes 2-3 years before Achiote will produce fruit.
Achiote has very few pest problems or diseases (powdery mildew is one exception). Fertilizer is not required to grow this exceptionally hardy tree, but a combination of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash will greatly improve your yield and encourage faster growth.
Where To Buy Achiote Plants:
This is one that I have not heard of, although the name sounds familiar. I have no immediate use for food coloring or dyes, but could probably think of a few. The dyes that I know of are toxic, which does not really matter for what they are used for.