Friday, January 22, 2010

Sculpture and Lignum Vitae

Guaiacum sanctum is the latin name for lignum vitae or Holywood. Photo by Peter Buchwald from the great plant site Botany Photo of the Day

"Guaiacum sanctum is native to the Florida Keys of the southeast USA, Central America and the Caribbean. It is the national flower of the Jamaica. Lignum vitae is an extremely slow-growing, multi-trunked, broadleaf evergreen which can reach 9m to 12m, but because of its slow growth and heavy harvesting, it is more commonly found at 2.5m to 3.5m tall in the wild.

The wood of this genus is famous for its density, durability and strength. It is the hardest trade wood measured via the Janka hardness test and will sink in water. This dense wood was once popular for use in propeller shafts on steamships, gears and mallets.

Lignum vitae was also harvested, somewhat notoriously, for medicinal purposes. Purportedly, during his travels in the New World, Christopher Columbus picked up both syphilis and its cure--a concoction of lignum vitae!" Text also from Botany Photo of the Day.

Thank God they've found other cures for syphilis. All species of Lignum vitae are now on the endangered species list. Which makes my trusty carving mallet and collection of antique furniture wheels (made of lignum vitae) all the more forlorn.... .


Paul Anater said...

I don't know if it's because of its Latin name or if it's some spirit embodied in the tree itself, but I can't walk past one without touching it.

Patrick Gracewood said...

Knowledge adds to our appreciation of beauty. Far better to touch a living tree, Paul. It's probably a combination of your's and the tree's spirit......