En EspaŅol
Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Mr. Smarty Plants - Dyes from native North American plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
2 ratings

Thursday - November 29, 2012

From: Saint Claire Shores, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: General Botany, Plant Identification
Title: Dyes from native North American plants
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I have been working as a textile designer for many years and am now interested in harvesting native North American plants in order to create natural dyes. Which plant species of plants are the most effective in creating natural dyes and native to Michigan / Great Lakes region? Thank you so much, in advance!

ANSWER:

Our focus and expertise are with plants native to North America—"to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes."  We certainly aren't experts on dyes made from native plants but we can perhaps help you become one.  First, if you haven't seen or don't have a copy of Dyes from American Native Plants:  A Practical Guide by Lynne Richards and Ronald J. Tyrl, you should try to locate a copy.  It gives information about 158 native plants that have been used to make dyes of various colors.  It appears to be out of print, but there are sources via the internet with copies for sale.  Perhaps you could find a used copy by searching online. 

An excellent online source for information about plant uses is Evergreen, a Canadian organization, that has a Native Plant Database with the option to search by plant uses. On their "Advanced Search" page, if you select "only native species" under Identification and "Dyes" under Uses, you will get a list of native Canadian plants that have been used to make dyes.  Since you live near Canada, there is a good chance that they will also be native to Michigan.  You can check their nativity by visiting the USDA Plants Database and entering the scientific name in the search slot.  The resulting page will have a distribution map.   Alternatively you could  enter the scientific name in our Native Plant Database to find a distribution list by state or province.  The online Plants for a Future Database also has the option to search by uses.  Their database does contain plants not native to North America so be sure to check their "Range" entry.  To be sure that the plant is native to your region, you could then search in the USDA Plants Database to confirm its range.  Another source to explore is the University of Michigan–Dearborn Native American Ethnobotany database.  For example, Alnus incana (Gray alder) and Alnus viridis (Green alder) are mentioned as sources for red and brown dyes using both the bark and the wood and Mahonia spp. [e.g. Mahonia aquifolium (Hollyleaved barberry) is native to Michigan] is cited as making a yellow dye.

Hopefully, these resources will help you find the information you are seeking and then, perhaps, you will share your expertise by writing your own book "Dyes from American Native Plants."

 

More Plant Identification Questions

Plant identification in Michigan
May 26, 2010 - We are trying to identify a plant in our yard. It is seven inches tall in May, grows to about knee high, has red leaves, flowers in late June, early July. The flower is light pink. It is a perennia...
view the full question and answer

Plant ID from Apex NC
June 16, 2012 - Can you identify this plant? It is growing in our backyard in Apex, North Carolina. Picture of plant is here: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/ZLJzQZyqq0dkU2HJQe50A9MTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?fea...
view the full question and answer

Correct photos of Cynoglossum virginianum
April 30, 2008 - I recently found some "wild comfrey" (Cynoglossum virginianum) growing in woodlands in Atlanta,GA. When I used the photos on Wildflower Center website to ID this plant, I found what appears to be t...
view the full question and answer

Plant ID from Foster RI
April 05, 2012 - I have a weed flowering plant in bloom in a moist semi-shaded area. I would like to send a photo but I do not know how to upload.
view the full question and answer

Plant identification
July 29, 2008 - Greetings, Sir/Madam! What is the name of that weed that grows ubiquitously in St. Augustine, Fl (literally overnight when it rains) and has two skinny "arms", with little greenish beads on the arm...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center