Common Name: Lignum Vitae
Habit: Guaiacum sanctum grows
as a small shrub to medium size tree up to 10 meters in height. The
trunk can be to 1 meter in diameter but usually much smaller and
branching at its base. The leaves are arranged oppositely and have
six to 10 opposite leaflets that are apiculate and have stipules at
their leaflet bases.
The flowers are arranged solitarily in
leaf axils. The calyx has five unfused sepals. The corolla has five
unfused petals that are bluish purple in color. The fruit is a
winged capsule that turns orange at maturity. The seeds are dark
colored with a bright red aril.
Habitat: Guaiacum sanctum
grows in limestone based Dry Broadleaf Evergreen Formations in
both coastal and interior habitats.
Distribution in Bahamas/Globally:
Guaiacum sanctum occurs on all island groups in the
Bahamian Archipelago as well as south Florida, the Caribbean, and
Central and South America.
Guaiacum sanctum has many medicinal, cultural, and
economic uses. Sap and other plant derivatives has been used to treat
syphilis, fevers, general pain, gout, arthritis, rheumatism,
tonsillitis, skin ailments, constipation, fish poisoning and as a
component of strengthening teas. Boiling leaves produces a tea that
has been used as an abortefactant.
Guaiacum sanctum wood is
extremely dense and hard and has been used to produce ball bearings,
bowling balls, and fish bats. Today it is a sought after wood for
wood-carvings. It is also the National Tree of the Bahamas and has
protected status. It is also now used in the horticultural trade
because of its beautiful flowers although it is very slow growing.
There is a closely related species, G.
officinale, that can be differentiated by its fruits that are two
winged rather than five winged (in G. sanctum)