Following the arrival in Brazil of the Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500, Caesalpinia echinata, from the Fabales group, began being shipped to Europe. The wood, also known as pernambuco, when chipped and soaked in water, provides an intense red dye. The tree is indigenous to the Atlantic coast between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, at the latitude of Rio de Janeiro. The tree was named “Brazil” for its color, from the French braises, i.e., “embers.” Indeed, it gave the country its name. The main dyeing ingredient, which the chemist Chevreul first isolated in 1821, was termed “braziline”. Over the centuries, exports of Brazil wood were intense enough that the species is now under threat of extinction. Violin makers in Italy (Cremona), Germany (Erlangen), France (Mirecourt) and elsewhere, used it to dye varnish red on the instruments they made. The familiarity thus gained with this extremely hard wood led to another application, the manufacture of bows for string instruments. A bow for a professional player can fetch nowadays several thousand dollars. In crafting a bow, about only 4% of the initial wooden block comprises the finished product—which helps explain the stiff price.
My book, in French, Copal benjoin colophane … , Le Pommier, Paris, 2007, provides more information on pernambuco.