Lignum Vitae

photo from EchoTwo species of Lignum Vitae, which literally translates to “tree of life”, grow on the ABC Islands of the Dutch Caribbean: the Roughbark Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum officinale) and the Holywood Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum sanctum). These evergreen tree species, both native to the Caribbean, are very slow growing and have multiple twisted trunks as well as leathery dark green leaves. Several times a year, they become covered in large clusters of beautiful small blueish – purple flowers that yield bright yellow-orange fruits. The wood from both trees is extremely valuable as it is the second heaviest wood in the world and incredibly dense (it actually sinks in water). The trees are also harvested for the medicinal properties of their resin.

Both the Roughbark Lignum Vitae and the Holywood Lignum Vitae have been over-exploited throughout their range and have been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List since 1998. Their presence on CITES Appendix II also means that trade in their wood is strictly regulated. While the trees were harvested on a large scale on Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao throughout the 18th and 19th centuries (the wood was used for hardwood construction and carpentry purposes), they are now thriving on these islands and are a common sight, especially in protected areas such as the Washington Slagbaai National Park, Christoffel Park, and the Arikok National Park.