Guaiacum officinale

Guaiacum officinale L.

Common Names: 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 with 2 opposite, obovate leaflets that are apiculate and have stipules at their leaflet bases.

The complete, perfect, actinomorphic, flowers are arranged solitarily in leaf axils.  The calyx has five unfused sepals.  The corolla has five unfused pubescent petals that are bluish purple in color.  The fruit is a 2-winged capsule that turns orange at maturity.  The seeds are dark colored with a bright red aril.

Habitat: Guaiacum officinale grows in limestone based Dry Broadleaf Evergreen Formations in both coastal and interior habitats

Distribution: Guaiacum officinale occurs on the southern island groups in the Lucayan Archipelago as well as the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

Medicinal/Cultural/Economic usage: The other species of Guaiacum has been used for 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 officinale 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 now used in the horticultural trade because of its beautiful flowers although it is very slow growing.

There is a closely related species, G. sanctum, that can be differentiated by its glabrous petals and fruits that are 5 winged rather than 2 winged (as in G. officinale).