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Useful Tropical Plants

Guaiacum sanctum

L.

Zygophyllaceae

+ Synonyms

Guaiacum guatemalense Planch. ex Rydb.

Common Name: Lignum Vitae

Guaiacum sanctum
Tree growing on open area
Photograph by: O. M. Montiel
Creative Commons License
Guaiacum sanctum Guaiacum sanctum Guaiacum sanctum Guaiacum sanctum Guaiacum sanctum

General Information

Lignum vitae is a very slow-growing evergreen shrub or small tree with an open, spreading crown; it can grow 3 - 13 metres tall with occasional specimens to 20 metres. The tree usually branches from low-down, often forming multiple trunks[
307
Title
Tropical and Subtropical Trees - A Worldwide Encyclopaedic Guide.
Publication
 
Author
Barwick. M.
Publisher
Thames & Hudson, London
Year
2004
ISBN
0-500-51181-0
Description
A superb book, very concise and well written, giving a wealth of information on 400 or more species including descriptions, habitat, cultivation details and plant uses. A wealth of colour photographs bring each plant vividly to life.
,
418
Title
Ecocrop
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://ecocrop.fao.org/ecocrop/srv/en/home
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Basic information on a wide range of useful plants, plus details of environmental needs where available.
].
The tree produces a very valuable timber, though not considered to be as good as G. Officinale, and is also said to have medicinal virtues. It is heavily exploited in the wild. The tree is also often grown as an ornamental in the tropics[
418
Title
Ecocrop
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://ecocrop.fao.org/ecocrop/srv/en/home
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Basic information on a wide range of useful plants, plus details of environmental needs where available.
].
Both the timber and medicinal resin are of commercial use and have been traded in quantity for several centuries. The tree has been heavily overexploited throughout its range and has become extinct or extremely rare in many areas. Regeneration is good but growth is very slow[
338
Title
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
A list of plants under threat and facing possible extinction, usually with brief details of the threats and information on habitat.
]. Populations have declined due to collection of wild plants and the removal of natural vegetation for agricultural purposes or developments in the tourist industry[
381
Title
Timber Trees of Meso America.
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.unep-wcmc.org/forest/timber/workshops/reports/MA2005/Annex%202.pdf
Publisher
UNEP
Year
2005
ISBN
 
Description
A PDF document, published on the internet. Detailed reports on about 30 species of timber trees from Central America.
]. The plant is classified as 'Endangered' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2011)[
338
Title
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.iucnredlist.org/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
A list of plants under threat and facing possible extinction, usually with brief details of the threats and information on habitat.
].

Known Hazards

None known

Botanical References

200
Title
The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Publication
 
Author
Huxley. A.
Publisher
MacMillan Press
Year
1992
ISBN
0-333-47494-5
Description
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.

Range

Central America - Costa Rica north to Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean.

Habitat

Lowland, deciduous, tropical forest, where it is largely confined to dry, exposed sites, and is often the predominant species and where the soil is very dry at least part of the year at elevations from around sea level to 700 metres[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
].

Properties

Conservation StatusEndangered
Medicinal Rating *  *
Other Uses Rating *  *  *  *
HabitEvergreen Tree
Height6.00 m
Growth RateSlow
Cultivation StatusOrnamental, Wild

Cultivation Details

A plant of the lowland moist 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
Title
Ecocrop
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://ecocrop.fao.org/ecocrop/srv/en/home
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Basic information on a wide range of useful plants, plus details of environmental needs where available.
]. It can be killed by temperatures of 1°c or lower[
418
Title
Ecocrop
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://ecocrop.fao.org/ecocrop/srv/en/home
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Basic information on a wide range of useful plants, plus details of environmental needs where available.
]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 700 - 1,500mm, but tolerates 500 - 2,000mm[
418
Title
Ecocrop
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://ecocrop.fao.org/ecocrop/srv/en/home
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Basic information on a wide range of useful plants, plus details of environmental needs where available.
].
Can be grown in full sun or partial shade on a wide variety of soils, including alkaline[
309
Title
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/
Publisher
University of Florida
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
PDF fact sheets on over 500 shrubs.
]. Plants will easily tolerate wet or dry soil, wind, and salt, making it an ideal choice especially for seaside plantings[
309
Title
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/
Publisher
University of Florida
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
PDF fact sheets on over 500 shrubs.
]. It grows well in shallow soils, particularly in limestone areas, well-drained low areas, low foothills subject to hot dry winds, and rocky limestone regions[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
]. Prefers a pH in the range 5 - 7.5, tolerating 4.5 - 8[
418
Title
Ecocrop
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://ecocrop.fao.org/ecocrop/srv/en/home
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Basic information on a wide range of useful plants, plus details of environmental needs where available.
].
Young trees commence flowering when about 6 - 8 years old[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
].

Edible Uses

None known

Medicinal

Although considered to be less useful than G. Officinale, in practice the wood and resin from this tree are used medicinally in much the same way as that species[
418
Title
Ecocrop
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://ecocrop.fao.org/ecocrop/srv/en/home
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Basic information on a wide range of useful plants, plus details of environmental needs where available.
].
In particular, the wood is used as a mild laxative and diuretic. For tonsillitis it is given in powdered form. It is specially useful for treating rheumatoid arthritis, also in cases of chronic rheumatism and gout where it relieves the pain and inflammation between the attacks, and can lessen their recurrence if doses are continued. It acts as an acrid stimulant, increasing the heat of the body and promoting the circulation. When the decoction is taken hot and the body is kept warm, it acts as a diaphoretic, and if cool it works as a diuretic. It is also largely used for treating secondary syphilis, skin diseases and scrofula[
418
Title
Ecocrop
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://ecocrop.fao.org/ecocrop/srv/en/home
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Basic information on a wide range of useful plants, plus details of environmental needs where available.
].

The resins obtained from wood, bark, leaves, and flowers are used in some pharmaceutical preparations[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
].
The resin obtained from the heartwood is diuretic and mildly laxative[
46
Title
Dictionary of Economic Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Uphof. J. C. Th.
Publisher
Weinheim
Year
1959
ISBN
-
Description
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
].

Other Uses

A brown to reddish-brown resin is obtained from the heartwood[
46
Title
Dictionary of Economic Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Uphof. J. C. Th.
Publisher
Weinheim
Year
1959
ISBN
-
Description
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
]. It is used for making small objects where strength, hardiness and weight are required[
46
Title
Dictionary of Economic Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Uphof. J. C. Th.
Publisher
Weinheim
Year
1959
ISBN
-
Description
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
]. The resin contains guaiaconic acid, guaiaretic acid, vanillin and guaiac yellow[
46
Title
Dictionary of Economic Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Uphof. J. C. Th.
Publisher
Weinheim
Year
1959
ISBN
-
Description
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
]. It is obtained by boring a log longitudinally then heating it in a sloping position. This causes the resin to melt and flow from the log[
46
Title
Dictionary of Economic Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Uphof. J. C. Th.
Publisher
Weinheim
Year
1959
ISBN
-
Description
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
]. The wood can also be chipped and then boiled in water, which causes the resin to float to the surface[
46
Title
Dictionary of Economic Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Uphof. J. C. Th.
Publisher
Weinheim
Year
1959
ISBN
-
Description
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
].

The leaves are sometimes used as a substitute for soap[
418
Title
Ecocrop
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://ecocrop.fao.org/ecocrop/srv/en/home
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
Basic information on a wide range of useful plants, plus details of environmental needs where available.
].

Lignum vitae is one of the heaviest of all woods, sinking under its weight instead of floating in water[
309
Title
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/
Publisher
University of Florida
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
PDF fact sheets on over 500 shrubs.
]. The heartwood is a dark greenish brown to almost black, becoming even darker after exposure to air and light[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
]. It is readily distinguished from the narrow, pale yellow or cream-coloured sapwood[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
]. The wood is extremely hard and heavy; very fine and uniform in texture with a heavily interlocked grain; oily, due to a resin content (guaiac content) that constitutes about 25% of the dry weight; turns and shapes well and takes a high polish; very resistant to attack by decay fungi, termites, and marine borers[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
]. Because of the oily resins, the wood requires special surface treatments for satisfactory gluing. It does not require preservation due to its high guaiac resin content and high wood density[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
]. The wood is used in bearings, bushing blocks, pulley sheaves, mallet heads, and turnery. It was once popular for use in the manufacture of bowling balls. Its most noted use is in bearings and bushing blocks for the propeller shafts of ships because of its self-lubrication and hardness[
309
Title
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/
Publisher
University of Florida
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
PDF fact sheets on over 500 shrubs.
,
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
].

Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as ripe. Immersing them in running water (at 20 °c) for 24 hours before sowing improves germination[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
]. The seed is sown at a depth of 1 cm in containers of sandy compost. Germination begins 6 - 8 days after sowing and ends in 16 - 20 days[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
]. Fresh seeds have 40 - 60% germination in nurseries[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
]. When the seedlings are 6 cm tall, they are transferred to nursery bags. Seedlings are ready for outplanting 1 year after sowing, when they reach 30 - 40 cm in height[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
].
Seeds can be stored for 1 month at 5 - 8 °C. They lose viability in less than 1 month if stored at ambient temperature and humidity[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
].
Fruits must be collected from the soil very early in the morning to avoid seed predation by rodents[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
]. The fruits are placed on the floor and dried for 7 days in the shade; later the fruit pericarp is removed with running water to extract the seeds. The seeds are then dried in the shade and stored in hermetic containers. Seeds average 20,000 per kg[
337
Title
Tropical Tree Seed Manual
Publication
 
Author
Vosso. J. Editor.
Website
http://www.rngr.net/Publications/ttsm
Publisher
USDA Forest Service.
Year
2002
ISBN
 
Description
An extremely good guide, it can also be downloaded in its entirety from the address shown above.
].

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