Special Closure

Due to the 58th Presidential Inauguration, the U.S. Botanic Garden will be closed January 18-21, 2017. We will reopen at 10 a.m. on January 22.

Tree of life or Lignum vitae

Guaiacum officinale
Plant Botanical Name: 
Guaiacum officinale
USBG Plant Location: 
Conservatory
Conservatory Room Location: 
Garden Court
Plant Threat Level: 
Endangered

Before polymers, alloys and composites, the wood of Guaiacum officinale, also known as tree of life, was extremely important due to its combination of strength, toughness and density. The common name, Lignum vitae (tree of life or wood of life), comes from its historic medicinal use as a remedy for conditions from arthritis to coughs to syphilis. These uses caused over harvesting, reducing native populations to the point that Lignum vitae is now listed as "Endangered" by IUCN (The World Conservation Union). It is native to most of the Caribbean (including Key West), a 'biodiversity hotspot' that supports exceptionally diverse ecosystems. Most of its native habitat has been devastated by deforestation and development.