Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum-vitae)

It turns out to be that all Lignum-vitae trees are endangered. Today I happened to see a full grown specimen at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in south Florida. These are very slow growing trees and their wood are still coveted by craftsmen as being one of the most beautiful and durable woods, but now they have reached the endangered list in the IUCN list (The International Union for Conservation of Nature). The wood has been used extensively for musical instruments and fine art wooden craftsmanship.  It has medicinal properties as well.

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum-vitae)Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum-vitae) Aka  Lignum-vitae, Guayacán (Spanish), Gaïac (French), Guajacum, Holywood or Holywood Lignum-vitae, is native to  subtropical and tropical regions of the Americas including Florida in the United States and the Bahamas, south to Central America and the Greater Antilles. The genus name originated in Maipurean, the language spoken by the native Taínos of the Bahamas; it was adopted into English in 1533, the first word in that language of American origin. 

The leaves are compound, 2.5–3 cm (0.98–1.18 in) in length, and 2 cm (0.79 in) wide. The purplish blue flowers have five petals each.

GuayacanThe flowers yield yellow pods containing black seeds encapsulated separately in a red skin.

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum-vitae)                                                          Macro image of pod with seeds.

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum-vitae)“Lignum vitae” is Latin for “wood of life”, and derives its name from its medicinal uses; lignum vitae resin has been used to treat a variety of medical conditions from coughs to arthritis, and chips of the wood can also be used to brew a tea.

GuayacanOther names for lignum vitae include palo santo (Spanish for “holy wood”) and “bastard greenheart.” Lignum vitae is also one of the numerous hard, dense woods loosely referred to as ironwood. It’s color can range from a creamy yellow to a dark brown.

800px IMG_8536Lignum vitae is hard and durable, and is also the densest wood traded (density: 1.23 g/cm3); it will easily sink in water. On the Janka Scale of Hardness, which measures hardness of woods, lignum vitae ranks highest of the trade woods, with a Janka hardness of 4500 lbf (compared with African Blackwood at 2940 lbf, Hickory at 1820 lbf, red oak at 1290 lbf, Yellow Pine at 690 lbf, and Balsa at 100 lbf).”-

The Spanish encountered guaiacum wood when they conquered Santo Domingo; it was soon brought back to Europe, where it acquired an immense reputation in the sixteenth century as a cure for syphilis and certain other diseases.


Guaiacum sanctum L., Britton, N.L., Horne, F.W., Popular flora of Puerto Rico, Flora Borinqueña [unpublished watercolors], t. [719] [F.W. Horne]



32 thoughts on “Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum-vitae)

  1. Very interesting! And such lovely flowers. As always, your photographs are beautiful. By the way, if you come to west coast, the Naples Botanical Gardens are amazing!


  2. The wood does look very beautiful as do the flowers. Your macro photography is wonderfully detailed. It’s scary that so much of our natural world is in danger and that a day may come when your eloquent words and pictures are all we have left of the wood of life.


  3. I know the wood, but I’ve never seen the flowers or seed pods. They’re equally beautiful. Of course, I don’t work with the wood in my work. Wood so heavy it sinks isn’t necessarily desirable for boats. 🙂


    • Yes, and they were used ornamentally as young shrubs, but survival must ensure that they grow to be trees to ensure the most seeds for propagation. Sometimes some of the landscaping industry doesn’t understand this and instead and replanting young shrubs I’ve seen they get thrown away!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. How lovely! I can’t decide what is more beautiful, the flower or the seed pod. Your photos are gorgeous.
    I am sad however that it is endangered. Man has wiped out so many animals, and now plants, too.


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