Guaiacum officinale (Lignum-vitae)

  • TropPlant Accession Number (TPAN): 0020
  • Botanical Name: Guaiacum officinale
  • Common Name: Lignum-vitae
  • Cultivar: N/A
  • Family: Zygophyllaceae
  • Native To: Caribbean and Northern Coast of South America
Guaiacum officinale leaves and ripening fruits 
Photo by Matthew Gaston

Landscaping Information

  • Plant Type: Tree, Shrub
  • Texture: Dense
  • Form: Round-Headed
  • Height (on average, in landscape use): 10'-20'
  • Height to Spread Ratio: 2:1
  • Growth Rate: Very Slow
  • Landscape Values: Accent, Street Tree, Lanai, Background, Border, Edging, Facer, Filler, Foundation, Framing, Shade, Sculptural Form
  • Outstanding Quality: Flower Color, Foliage Characters, Fruit, Bark
Guaiacum officinale outside of St. John at UH Manoa
Photo by Matthew Gaston

Guaiacum officinale exhibiting its golden fruits 
Photo by Matthew Gaston

Botanical Descriptions

  • Flowers: 1", slightly fragrant, cream to blue to lavender/purple
Guaiacum officinale flowers
Photo by Matthew Gaston
  • Fruits: Dehiscent capsule, 0.75" long. Goes from green to golden yellow. Seed has a reddish aril. 
Guaiacum officinale fruits 
Photo by Matthew Gaston
  • Foliage Color: Young: Yellow Green. Mature: Light Green to Medium Bright Green
  • Leaflet Tip: Rounded
  • Leaflet Base: Rounded
  • Petiole: 0.5"-1"
  • Stipules: N/A
  • Margins: Smooth
  • Leaf Arrangement: Opposite
  • Leaflet Shape: Obovate to orbiculate
  • Leaf Type: Once Pinnate, Even-Pinnate, Leaflet #: 4-6 
  • Leaf Texture: Smooth, veiny undersurface
  • Leaf Special Notes: an attractive leaf structure

Guaiacum officinale adaxial leaf surface and unripe fruit
Photo by Matthew Gaston

Guaiacum officinale abaxial leaf surface and unripe fruit
Photo by Matthew Gaston

  • Bark and Trunk: Smooth, mottled, green to grey to beige bark; flaking, noteworthy bark.  
Guaiacum officinale bark
Photo by Matthew Gaston

Horticultural Information

  • Light Preference: Full Sun.
  • Light Tolerances: Semi-Sun
  • Soil Preferences:  Dry (Mesic), Well-Drained
  • Tolerances: Moderate Winds, Drought
  • Water Requirements: grows best when regularly watered for a relatively average soil moisture; once established, very drought tolerant
  • Notes on Maintenance: Slow growing, not many pest problems; non-aggressive roots, so ideal near sidewalks, streets, and sewer lines. 4' planting strip recommended.
  • Propagation: Seed, Cutting
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 10a-11a
  • Weed Risk Assessment Score (WRA): Not reported (as of Oct 2018)
  • Fast Fact: The wood is very hard and dense making it valuable in woodworking. The plant is known to have medicinal properties (as are most plants with the epithet of officinale). The flower is national flower of Jamaica, while the tree itself is the national tree of the Bahamas. 

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