Lignum vitae


Lignum vitae is native to the Antilles and from Panama to Venezuela. It is generally as a small tree, up to 15 feet high with one or more trunks a few inches in diameter. Nevertheless, a tree in the Guánica Forest, with an estimated age of 500 to 700 years, is 38 feet high with a trunk 2.5 feet in diameter. The leaves are up to 3 inches long and generally have six leaflets.  Flowers are up to seven-eights of an inch in diameter and appear singly or in groups. Fruits are up to three-quarters of an inch wide and have one or two seeds that are dispersed by birds. It  flowers irregularly during the year, depending on locality and rain intensity. The wood is used locally for carving, turnery, and other crafts. During the first centuries of Spanish colonization the wood was exported to Europe to use its resin (guayacol) for the treatment of gout, syphilis, and other diseases. The generic name derives from the indian name for the tree. The species name derives from the use of the resin for medicinal purposes.

The photographed tree was planted in front of the de Diego Building in the mid-1990s to substitute a larger specimen downed by a hurricane. It is the only member of the species in the campus, there are four larger specimens in the Alzamora Farm.

Guaiacum officinale (Zygophyllaceae)