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Guaiacum officinale - L.

Common Name Lignum Vitae, Guaiacum, Guayacan
Family Zygophyllaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Alluvial deposits near the coast[346 ]. Dry and humid coastal woodland[307 ].
Range Northern S. America - Colombia, Venezuela, the Guyanas to the Caribbean.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (5 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Guaiacum officinale Lignum Vitae, Guaiacum, Guayacan
Guaiacum officinale Lignum Vitae, Guaiacum, Guayacan


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Other common names include rough bark lignum-vitae, guaiacwood, pockholz, and tree of life. Native to the Caribbean and the northern coast of South America, Lignum Vitae or Guaiacum officinale is a small and slow-growing tree of about 3 -12 m tall and 60 cm in trunk diameter, with a dense crown and crooked bole. The leaves are compound, broadly oval and rounded at the tip. The flowers are blue in color with five petals. The fruits are heart-shaped, yellow-orange with red flesh and black seeds. It is the national flower of Jamaica. Established plants are very drought tolerant. The resin from the tree is used for flavoring cakes and chewing gum. It is also added to edible oils to prevent acidification. The resin is also used medicinally for chronic forms of rheumatism, skin diseases, scrofula, dysmenorrhea, toothache, etc. The wood is hard, close-grained, tough, dense, and durable. It is used for pulleys, blocks, pestles, etc. The plant is grown from seed.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Guaiacum officinale is an evergreen Tree growing to 10 m (32ft) by 10 m (32ft) at a slow rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils and can grow in saline soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Guaiacum bijugum Stokes; Guiacum breynii Spreng.; Guajacum officinale L.;


Edible Uses

The resin obtained from the tree is used for flavouring cakes and chewing gum[301 ]. It is also added to edible oils to prevent acidification[301 ].


Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

The wood is officinal in many Pharmacopoeias, and owes its medicinal properties to the presence of the resin, which is also official[346 ]. Both resin and the wood possess stimulant, diaphoretic, and alterative properties, though the resin has a much stronger action[346 ]. The resin is also regarded as an emmenagogue[346 ]. It is a useful remedy in the treatment of chronic forms of rheumatism ; also in syphilitic and gouty affections, scrofula, skin diseases, dysmenorrhoea, and other uterine affections[346 ]. The resin is applied to the tooth for treating a toothache, and also applied externally to bring relief in cases of rheumatism[303 ].


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Other Uses

Other Uses: The resin sometimes flows spontaneously from the stem of the tree; at other times, it is obtained artificially by jagging or notching the stem and allowing the exuding juice to harden, or by boring holes in logs of the wood and then placing them on a fire so that the resin is melted and runs through the hole, or by boiling chips in salt and water, when the resin floats on the surface of the water[303 ]. The deep reddish brown colour of the resin changes upon oxidation to a blue or blue-green, a property made use of for differential staining[303 ]. The wood is hard, close-grained, tough, dense, and durable. The heart wood is of a dark greenish-brown colour, owing to the deposition of guiacum resin ; the sap wood is pale-yellow[346 ]. The wood is remarkable for the direction of its fibres, each layer of which crosses the previous diagonally[303 ]. Its great strength and tenacity, combined with the self-lubricating properties due to the resin content, make this wood especially adapted for bearing underwater[303 ]. The wood is used for pulleys, blocks, pestles, rulers, skittle ball etc[346 ]. The most important as well as the most exacting use for it is for bearing or bushing blocks lining the stern tubes of propeller shafts of steamships[303 ]. Steel and tube mills are made using lignum-vitae in increasing amounts to replace brass and babbit metal for bearings in roller mills and pumps, as the initial cost is less than metal, the life is several times longer, and lubrication is unnecessary[303 ].

Special Uses


Cultivation details

A plant of the moist, lowland tropics, where it is found at elevations up to 100 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 22 - 28°c, but can tolerate 20 - 34°c[418 ]. It can be killed by temperatures of 1°c or lower[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,000 - 2,000mm, but tolerates 500 - 3,000mm[418 ]. Prefers a sunny position[307 ]. Succeeds in a range of fertile, moisture-retentive soils[307 ]. Tolerant of moderate levels of salt in the soil[418 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5 - 7.5, tolerating 4.5 - 8[418 ]. Plants are very tolerant of salt-laden winds[307 ]. Established plants are very drought tolerant[307 ]. This species is the national tree of Jamaica, where it is widely planted as a street tree[307 ]. Flowering Time: Late Spring/Early Summer. Bloom Color: Light Blue Medium Blue.


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Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Guaiacum, lignum-vitae, bois de vie - French, gaïac officinal - French, Guajakbaum - German, Pockholz - German, guayacán negro - Spanish, palo santo - Spanish, pockenholts - Swedish. Guajacan negro, Lignum-vitae, bois de gaiac, bois de gäiac, bois de vie, gaïac officinal, guaiac, guaiac resin, guaiaci lignum, guaiaci resina, guaiaco, guaiacum, guajakbaum, guajakholzbaum, guayacán negro, gum guaiac, legno santo, lignum vitae, lignum-vitae, palo santo, palosanto, pau santo, pockenholts, pockholz, resin guaiac, schlangenholz, uajacum,

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Bahamas; Barbados; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba; Colombia; Cuba; Curaçao; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Jamaica; Martinique; Montserrat; Puerto Rico; Saint Bathélemy; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Turks and Caicos Islands; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Virgin Islands, British; Virgin Islands, U.S., Africa, Belize, Caribbean, Central America, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Hawaii, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, North America, Pacific, Panama, Puerto Rico, South America, Suriname, USA, Venezuela, West Indies*,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Status: Endangered C2a

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Guaiacum sanctumLignum Vitae, Guaiacum, Holy WoodTree6.0 10-12 SLMHSNDM024

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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