Using logwood a dyeing art

As part of a know-your island programme, members of the National Trust Cayman Islands held a heritage class on making logwood dye on Saturday.

At the Trust’s Webster House on South Church Street, Denton Rivers gave visitors a rundown on where logwood could be found, other uses for the tree and dyeing tips.

‘To make the dye, use the heart of the logwood. Put it in a pan with water, add one tablespoon salt and let steep overnight, or for a couple of hours. The longer you steep, the stronger the dye becomes. To dye clothes just dip in and take out. For a darker colour, leave the clothes in the solution overnight,’ said Mr. Rivers.

‘Logwood dye never fades or washes out,’ he added.

Other woods that can be used for dyeing are mahogany, red mangrove and maiden plum. Users must be careful when handing maiden plum because it burns the skin.

A pamphlet composed by the National Trust’s Frank Roulstone states logwood is a common tree on Grand Cayman where it was introduced in the 1700s as an agricultural crop.

Logwood is now naturalized and is invasive, spreading rapidly and displacing other native trees and plants.

Early settlers planted logwood as a cash crop as the heartwood of the tree was used to extract a bright red to almost black dye.

Some of these beautiful logwood trees can be seen on Crewe Road.

Today logwood can be found in almost every low seasonally flooded area of Grand Cayman.

The tree is shallow rooted and many hundreds of trees were blown over by Hurricane Ivan. The trees produce large clusters of fragrant yellow flowers that swarm with bees. The trees are spiny and grow into dense impenetrable thickets.