Chinese cork tree (Phellodendron chinense) LC

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Chinese cork tree/ photo by X. Zhang


Chinese cork tree (Phellodendrom chinense), all called 川黄檗, Chuan Huang Bo, is deciduous trees that can grow up to 15 m. It grows in central and south China.

Chinese cork tree leaf/ photo by X. Zhang

Historical Importance

Phellodenrom spices have been recorded to dye paper both in China and in Japan. The dyed paper is called Yin Huang Zhi (hard yellow paper) in China In Qimin Yaoshu, a 6th century Chinese book, described how to dye paper with huangbo (Chinese name for Amur cork tree) in great details: "When the huangbo is thoroughly soaked, if one throws away the dregs and used the pure liquid only, it is wasteful, after soaking the huangbo, the dregs should be pondered and boiled, pressed in a cloth sack, and again ponded and boiled, three times. The liquid is then added to and mixed with the pure juice. Thus four times as much liquid is saved, and the paper so dyed will be bright and clear." [2]

Phellodenrom spices is also recorded in Tiangong Kaiwu (Chinese Technology in the 17th century)to dye yellow and green[3].


V&A T.9-1923

Summary of results

The major components of the plant are protoberberine alkaloids: palmatine and berberine. Berberine is by far the most abundant. Other alkaloids: Jatrorrhizine, phellodendrine, candicine and magnoflorine are also reported.

Analytical instrumentation and procedures

HPLC-DAD-MS analysis was performed with an Agilent 1100 liquid chromatography system consisting of an automatic injector, a gradient pump, a HP series 1100 DAD, and an Agilent series 1100 VL on-line atmospheric pressure ionization electrospray ionization mass spectrometer. Separations were done on a Vydac 214TP52 analytical column (2.1 mm diameterX250 mm; 5-ím particle size). The column was eluted at a flow rate of 0.2 mL/min with a tertiary gradient of water (A),acetonitrile (B), and 1% (v/v) aqueous formic acid (C) with the following elution program: 0 min, 90% A, 5% B, 5% C; 0-55 min, a linear gradient to 35% A, 60% B, 5% C; 55-60 min, a linear gradient elution to 15% A, 80% B, 5% C; 60-62 min, isocratic elution at 15% A, 80% B, 5% C; 62-70 min gradient elution to 90% A, 5% B, 5% C; and reequilibration with the latter solvent for 15 min. The mass spectrometer was run both in the negative and positive ion mode.


Chinese cork tree was extracted with 1 mL methanol:water (v:v=1:1). Then the upper 30 μL of solution was removed for HPLC-DAD-MS analysis (20 μL was injected).

[[|center|frame|Absorbance at 350nm (mAU)]]

Sample information

[[|center|frame|sample and experiments info by R. A. Laursen, Boston University]]

Identified compounds

palmatine UV-Vis


jatrorrhizine UV-Vis


Compound RT (min.) MW UV/vis Other
Berberine 37.1 351 348,428 major component
palmatine 37.1 351 348,428 major component
jatrorrhizine 34.4 337 348,428


[1] Xian Zhang, and Richard Laursen, Development of Mild Extraction Methods for the Analysis of Natural Dyes in Textiles of Historical Interest Using LC-Diode Array Detector-MS. Analytical Chemistry 77, 2022-2025 (2005).

[2] Xian Zhang, Corrigan, K., MacLaren, B., , M., and , R. A.Laursen, Characterization of Yellow Dyes in Nineteenth Century Chinese Textiles. Studies in Conservation 52, 211-220 (2007).

[3] Jing Han, The Historical and chemical investigation of dyes in high status Chinese costume and textiles of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911) PhD thesis, University of Glasgow February 2016.