Mark A. Miller
Plant Common Name
Holy-wood, Lignum Vitae
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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
Full Sun, Partial Sun
10'-30' / 3.0m - 9.1m
12'-30' / 3.7m - 9.1m
Early Spring, Spring, Late Winter, Indeterminate
Southeastern United States, Mexico, Caribbean, Central America
Xeric/Desert, Drought Tolerant
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Container, Feature Plant, Foundation, Mixed Border, Rock Garden / Wall, Tropical
Sharp or Has Thorns