TREE OF LIFE, THREATENED WITH EXTINCTION
An extraordinary wood, lignum-vitae is not only beautiful but exceptionally heavy and strong, and remarkably durable. It has been overexploited for centuries and is now in short supply. Grown in the coastal regions of Central America, lignum-vitae (which translates
as "tree of life") has been harvested for its medicinal resin and because its oily nature makes it self-lubricating - ideal for pulleys, bearings, wheels, rollers and die-cutting. It is used for balls in the game of bowls.
Type Tropical hardwood
Other names Ironwood, wood of life
Related species G. sanctum and G. guatemalense
Alternatives Greenheart (Ocotea rodiaei)
Sources Central America
Color Stripes of olive-green, dark yellow, tan, dark brown and black, with a flecked herringbone effect
Texture Generally fine and even, but can tear easily and feel coarse
Grain Interlocking and wavy
Hardness Very hard
Weight Very heavy (72-82 lb./cu. ft.) (1150-1310 kg/cu. m)
Strength Very strong
Seasoning and stability Must be seasoned carefully; moderate movement once dry
Wastage Few defects so wastage should not be high
Range of board widths Limited
Range of board thicknesses Likely to be limited
Durability Very durable, but some risk of insect attack
On quartersawn sides the wood is striped, while plainsawn faces reveal spectacular flamed grain and beautiful wavy bands.
Lignum-vitae is listed on the CITES Appendix II, which means it must be used with great caution. The species is certainly endangered, and in some places extinct. The same is true for the very similar G. sanctum, which is often sold under the name lignum-vitae.
AVAILABILITY AND COST
It is sometimes available from suppliers specializing in exotics, but is very expensive. It is often sold by weight rather than by board.