brazilwood - Wiktionary

The Only Nation Named After a Color

Brazil is the only nation named after a color. Brazilwood is a dyewood, which means that extracts from the wood were used as dyes to color cloth such as wool. There were no chemical dyes in the 1500s, so anything that could produce a bright and lasting color on wool and other cloth was greatly valued. 

Brazilwood produced a flame red to reddish to purple range of colors. Dyewoods had been used in Europe for centuries before the discovery of Brazil. Most of it came from the Mediterranean areas and from Africa. The word “Brazil” dates to before Brazil was discovered, apparently from a Spanish word “brasa” which referred to embers and related that to the colors of some colors obtained from varieties of dyewood. The name may go back even further, to a dyewood called ‘bresil’ wood, imported into Europe in Medieval times.

In 1500 a Portuguese fleet was blown off course. Under the leadership of Pedro Alvares Cabral, the fleet stumbled on Brazil. They explored the Brazilian coast, and always on the lookout for potential valuable resources, discovered a tree, native to much of the coastal area, that made a fine dye. 

Cabral had one ship loaded with the dyewood and sent it back to Portugal. The wood proved to be an excellent source of a fine dye, and the search for Brazilwood powered some of the early exploration of Brazil. In doing so they almost drove tree to extinction.

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