Advanced Search Filters

Plant Type
Hardiness Zone
Heat Zone
Sunset Zone
Function
Sun Exposure
Soil Moisture
Water Requirement

GUAIACUM officinale

Image of Guaiacum officinale

Forest & Kim Starr

Family

Zygophyllaceae

Botanical Name

GUAIACUM officinale

Plant Common Name

Common Lignum Vitae, Palo Santo

Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

Loved for its purple to blue-violet flowers that yield bright red fruits, lignum vitae is heat, drought and salt tolerant, making it stupendous as a specimen in the coastal tropics. A rounded evergreen tree from the northern coastline of South America and the Caribbean islands, it is extremely slow growing and has a crooked, knotty form that adds to its beauty. The wood is very dense and does not float.

The green to yellow-green glossy leaves are leathery and held on yellowish leaf stems (petioles). Each leaf is made up of four or six leaflets that are usually oval but can be varied. Flowering when temperatures are warm in late winter onwards, usually triggered after a flush of soaking rains, the plant is covered in clusters of exquisite five-petaled flowers that are lavender-purple to blue-violet. The petals are elongated (not club-shaped). Attracting bees, these blooms become golden berries that eventually split open to show the bright red fruit with a black seed inside. Birds relish the seeds for food.

Grow lignum vitae in full sun in an exceptionally well-drained soil that is moist in the heat of the growing season. More slowly growing in the wild, this plant will increase its pace with fertilization and organic mulch in the garden. Use it as an accent specimen (single or multi-trunked) in a foundation bed, in a large container or on the windward slopes in the seaside landscape. There is little doubt as to why this is a prized, renowned tropical tree.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 10

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    10 - 15

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, H2

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    12'-30' / 3.7m - 9.1m

  • Width

    15'-25' / 4.6m - 7.6m

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring, Spring, Late Winter, Indeterminate

  • Native To

    Caribbean, South America

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Drought, Salt

  • Growth Rate

    Very Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Xeric/Desert, Drought Tolerant

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Sky Blue, Indigo

  • Fruit Color

    Yellow, Red, Orange

  • Fruit Color Modifier

    Multi-Color

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green, Olive

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Olive

  • Bark Color

    Tan, Sandy Brown, Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    Yes

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Fine

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Container, Feature Plant, Foundation, Mixed Border, Rock Garden / Wall, Topiary / Bonsai / Espalier, Tropical

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds, Butterflies

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes