Guaiacum sanctum, Holywood Lignum vitae
Holywood Lignum vitae ‘Lignum vitae’ is Latin for ‘Tree of Life,’ It was applied to Guaiacum because of the plant’s medicinal properties.
Southern Florida in the United States and the Bahamas south to Central America and the Greater Antilles.
This small tree is slow growing, reaching about 20 ft in height with a trunk diameter of 20 in. The tree is essentially evergreen throughout most of its native range. The leaves are dark green in color and occur as three to five pairs of leaflets. They fold together during the hottest parts of the day. The purplish blue flowers have five petals each. They can grow individually or in clusters at the ends of branches. The flowers yield yellow pods containing black seeds encapsulated separately in a red skin. Depending on your source, Lingnum-vitae bears the 2nd-4th hardest wood in the entire world !
Cultivation & Culture
Guaiacum sanctum is a slow growing evergreen tree. It is hardy to zone 10. Suitable for all types of well-drained acidic or alkaline soils. It is shade tolerant. It easily tolerates maritime exposure, and once established these trees are very drought tolerant. It has no major pests. Does very well as a container specimen.
Guaiacum sanctum is the national tree of the Bahamas.
This tree is one of two species which yield the valuable Lignum vitae wood, the other being Guaiacum officinale.
The wood is hard, heavy and self-lubricating and has a Janka Hardness Score of 4500, which is one of the hardest in the world. It sinks when placed in water. The wood has been used for making specific parts of ships that needed to be self-lubricating so that they would last longer.
The tree is considered to have medicinal value, used mostly for home remedies, though it had also been used to treat Syphilis. The bark can be steeped to create tonics.
The type of rainforest (tropical-deciduous and dry forests) that holywood is found in are the most threatened ecosystems in the world. The plant was exploited until it was endangered due to use for timber and medical resin. Deforestation also occurred to create more human managed areas like farmland, cities, etc.