Recent research on the chemical nature of the red dyes isolated from Pterocarpus santalinus and certain West African plants, viz., Baphia nitida, Pterocarpus osun and Pterocarpus soyauxii, have been reviewed. P. santalinus contains santalins A, B and C., but no santarubin. Santalins and santarubins have been found in P. osun, P. soyauxii and B. nitida. The structural formulae of the santalins are presented and their differences from santarubins indicated. Santalins A and B have some similarities in structure with hematein. This is probably responsible for their staining properties; the possible mechanism of staining is discussed. © 1981 Informa UK Ltd All rights reserved: reproduction in whole or part not permitted.