Plants & Gardens Blog

Botanical Dyes

This winter's plant display in the Steinhardt Conservatory highlights natural dyes. Its macramé plant hangers are made of cotton rope that was dyed with a variety of plant material, sometimes to surprising effect. Black beans, for instance, produce a lovely blue tint, while beets produce a somewhat muted tan. Avocado skins produce a light pink. Much of the plant material used to create the dyes—including acorns, fallen leaves, and flower heads—was collected at the Garden.

“We purchased some things like indigo and the beans, but having access to materials from the plant collection here really opened up the possibilities to doing trial and error. There were so many surprises,” says Lenna Petterson, BBG horticulture intern who studied plant dyes as part of her internship.

Petterson and Margarita Poulson, curator of interior displays, worked together to dye the ropes for hangers. Pettersson had been studying plant dying techniques as part of her internship here. Poulson constructed the knotted planters using macramé.

Be sure to see the the display in the conservatory through early January.

More: Learn how to use indigo to dye your own textiles.

Sarah Schmidt is a former editor of BBG's digital editorial content and the Guides for a Greener Planet handbook series.


  • Dennis Barlow January 2, 2018

    I really enjoyed the article about natural dyes. I’m always interested in making use of what nature has to offer. In the 1970s I learned how to weave plant hangers and make a belt. It was all the rage then. So were bell-bottom pants.

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