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GUAIACUM sanctum

Image of Guaiacum sanctum

Mark A. Miller



Botanical Name

GUAIACUM sanctum

Plant Common Name

Holy-wood, Lignum Vitae

Special Notice

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

General Description

Loved for its rich violet-blue 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 Central America, the West Indies and the Keys of Florida, it is extremely slow growing and has a airy, crooked, knotty form that adds to its beauty. The wood is very dense and does not float, but less so than the common lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale).

The green glossy leaves are leathery. Each leaf is made up of six to eight leaflets that are usually oval or oblong. Flowering when temperatures are warm from late winter onward - usually triggered after a flush of soaking rains - the plant is covered in single or sparse clusters of exquisite five-petaled flowers that are violet to blue-violet. The petals are claw-shaped, with a cupped, rounded end. Attracting bees, these blooms become four-winged golden berries that eventually split open to show the bright red fruit with a black seed inside, which will be a meal for birds.

Grow lignum vitae in full sun in an exceptionally well-draining soil that's moist in summer's heat. More slowly growing in the wild, this plant will increase its pace with fertilization and organic mulch in a garden environment. Use it as an accent specimen in a foundation bed, in a large container or on the windward side of the seaside garden. There is little doubt as to why this is a tropical tree of renown.


  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 10

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    10 - 15

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, H2

  • Plant Type


  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    10'-30' / 3.0m - 9.1m

  • Width

    12'-30' / 3.7m - 9.1m

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring, Spring, Late Winter, Indeterminate

  • Native To

    Southeastern United States, Mexico, Caribbean, Central 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


  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest


  • Flower Color

    Purple, Violet, Blue Violet

  • Fruit Color

    Yellow, Red

  • Fruit Color Modifier


  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Olive

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green, Olive

  • Foliage Color (Winter)


  • Fragrant Flowers


  • Fragrant Fruit


  • Fragrant Foliage


  • Bark or Stem Fragrant


  • Flower Petal Number


  • Repeat Bloomer


  • Showy Fruit


  • Edible Fruit


  • Showy Foliage


  • Foliage Texture


  • Foliage Sheen


  • Evergreen


Special Characteristics

  • Usage

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

  • Sharp or Has Thorns


  • Invasive


  • Attracts

    Birds, Butterflies

  • Self-Sowing