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Plants as a Source of Dyes
Among the most beautiful examples of man's handiwork are the baskets and blankets of the North American Indians, woven with a skill which cannot be equaled by manufacturers, and dyed in mellow colors with a few simple dyes extracted from local plants. The magnificent rugs and tapestries of Persia and Turkey, and the silks of India and Japan, give evidence that a knowledge of dyes is widespread and ancient. Until recently, the vegetable world was the source of practically all coloring matter, the pulverized root of the madder plant yielding the reds, the leaves and stems of the indigo plant the blues, the heartwood of the tropical logwood tree the blacks and grays, and the fruit of certain palm and locust trees yielding the soft browns. So great was the commercial demand for dyestuffs that large areas of land were given over to the exclusive cultivation of the more important dye plants. Vegetable dyes are now, however, rarely used because about the year 1856 it was discovered that dyes could be obtained from coal tar, the thick sticky liquid formed as a by-product in the manufacture of coal gas. These artificial coal-tar, or aniline, dyes have practically undisputed sway to-day, and the vast areas of land formerly used for the cultivation of vegetable dyes are now free for other purposes.