RSC - Advancing the Chemical Sciences



Purple in nature

Natural Dyes


It took 12,000 molluscs to produce just enough Tyrian Purple to dye a single dress the size of a Roman toga. Purple garments labelled the wearer as a wealthy or privileged individual. The purple toga was introduced to Roman Civilisation by the first kings of Rome from 753 BC.
A mollusc
Lichen beans

Cheaper natural dyes


With the discovery that it was possible to produce purple dye from lichen (Rocella) the use of the Royal or Tyrian purple declined. It was replaced by cheaper dyes such as lichen purple and the madder plant.
Kermes insect

The Pope and the Roman Catholic Church


In 1467, Pope Paul II introduced "Cardinal’s Purple" a scarlet colour extracted from the Kermes insect from which the English word crimson derives. It became the first luxury dye of the Middle Ages bringing cardinals on to a level with kings.
The Pope
Red carrots
In 2003 a new species of purple frog was discovered by two scientists in India.
Purple frog

Purple Carrots


Temple drawings from Egypt dating back to 2000BC show a plant believed to be a purple carrot. It was not until the 17th Century that they turned orange, when patriotic Dutch growers favoured the colour - as used on their national flag.
Butterfly