by Eric Meier In the world of wood, Lignum Vitae is the stuff of legends. Among commercially available hardwoods, it is widely regarded as the heaviest and hardest wood in the world. It’s unique olive green color, delicate feathered grain pattern, and other-worldly rot resistance only serves to add to its aura. Unfortunately, Genuine Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum officinale, G. sanctum) has, like so many other exotic hardwoods, been over-harvested: so much so, that in 2003 it was added to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II, which restricts the wood from traveling or being traded across international borders. As a result, a few closely related species outside of the Guaiacum genus—but still within the Zygophyllaceae family—have been substituted. Argentine Lignum Vitae (Bulnesia sarmientoi), and Verawood (Bulnesia arborea) are two very closely related wood species that are usually used interchangably with one another. These two species have been used to satisfy the demand of Genuine Lignum Vitae—yet in 2010, Argentine Lignum Vitae (Bulnesia sarmientoi) was also added to the CITES Appendix II, and perhaps it is only a matter of time before all variants and related species of Lignum Vitae are restricted from international trade. Yet not to make the point moot, there are perhaps a number of reasons why one would want to differentiate between Genuine Lignum Vitae and the Argentine variety.

Genunine Lignum Vitae

vs

Argentine Lignum Vitae


Lignum Vitae (sealed)

Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum spp.)


Argentine Lignum Vitae (sealed)

Argentine Lignum Vitae (Bulnesia spp.)

Color: Ranges from a light olive green to a darker greenish brown to almost black.**Despite the great color differences shown in the samples above, both woods have virtually the same color range, and could easily be confused with one another. Color: Ranges from a light olive or yellowish green to a deep brownish green.*Despite the great color differences shown in the samples above, both woods have virtually the same color range, and could easily be confused with one another.
Average Weight: 84 lbs/ft3 (1,350 kg/m3)**The two weights are so close, and easily within overlapping range of one another from tree to tree, that weight is not a reliable means to distinguish these two species. Average Weight: 81 lbs/ft3 (1,300 kg/m3)**The two weights are so close, and easily within overlapping range of one another from tree to tree, that weight is not a reliable means to distinguish these two species.
Scent: Lignum Vitae has a distinct, perfume-like fragrance that lingers even after it has been machined. (Though typically, the scent seems to be less potent in Genuine Lignum Vitae.) Scent: Verawood/Argentine Lignum Vitae has a distinct, perfume-like fragrance that lingers even after it has been machined.

Lignum Vitae (endgrain 10x)

Lignum Vitae (endgrain 10x)


Argentine Lignum Vitae (endgrain 10x)

Argentine Lignum Vitae (endgrain 10x)

Endgrain: Although the pores are very small and difficult to make out on both species, examining the endgrain pores is really one of the easiest and most reliable ways to separate these two woods. I suggest cleaning up the endgrain and possibly sanding it to a fine (400+) grit to help get a clear view of the pores and their arrangement. Using a 10x magnifying lens, you’ll notice two things about the pores of Genuine Lignum Vitae: they are almost all exclusively solitary, (that is, none of the pores are bunched together in groups or pairs), and they are arranged in a somewhat random pattern, or perhaps slightly diagonally. However, in the pores of Argentine Lignum Vitae, you’ll notice the pores are frequently arranged in clusters and radial (vertical) rows. This pore arrangement is a dead giveaway for Bulnesia spp.

  • Robert Harrison

    Good morning, I have an old wood piece from the Doinican Republic.
    I believe the wood type is Lignum Vitae. I was hoping that you could identify the wood by a picture. Thank you for any help you might provide. Regards, Robert

  • Juan Pablo Salmon

    By the way, I love your explanation of the difference between Genuine Lignum Vitae and Bulnesia.
    Dear Robert, if the Lignum Vitae piece you have is from the Dominican Republic it is most probably Ganuine as Bulnesia or Argentine Lignum Vitae grows further South in Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay among other Countries.

  • Brad Elliott

    Could genuine Lignum Vitae, be raise, on tree frams, as pine is raised in the southern states. If it could be raised in this way, what would be the best climite, for it to grow in the united states.

    • lorem

      Lignum vitae is a relatively small and very slow growing tree, taking upwards of 15 years to reach the stage where one could cut lumber. In addition, the seeds display unpredictable germination periods and sprout extremely slowly. However, G. Officinale is grown as an ornamental tree in southern california and florida.

      • Shane Kennedy

        I guess it needs quite warm conditions to grow. I have discussed the possibility with someone else in Ireland.

        • larry

          G. Officinale does not like the cold. it grows best between 10° and 30° north latitude in moist warm climates. socal coast is really too dry for it and inland is too cold, but it will grow if it is taken care of.

  • Shane Kennedy

    Hi. I am looking for some Lignum Vitae to refurbish the outer propshaft bearings in a 1955 (small) warship. If anyone has any that they would be prepared to part with, I would appreciate a note. I am in Ireland btw. It is fair to say that, for my use, the Argentininian variety would suffice. I don’t have the money for fuel for any major voyages.

    • Christopher Edward Penta

      Get yourself some delrin, that would do the job best for a fraction of the cost.

      • Shane Kennedy

        There is an American company that make L.V. bearings … for water turbines/hydro-electric powerstations. It seems that nothing is anywhere near as good. My propshafts are 3 1/2″, in probably at least a 5″ housing.

  • tek wyzrd

    I have a few pieces of argentine lignum vitae and it is the best wood I haave ever worked with hand tools. Dense and hard but not too much so and the aroma is wonderful. I used a piece for the handle of a hickory and bigleaf maple cane and the final result was spectacular.

  • Marge Herring Ellert

    I have a lamp that was given to us as a wedding gift in the ’70s. The bottom of it reads “Lignum Vitae Lamp Company, Designer David Kongas, Long Key Florida, 2 March 1978” It is a very large and heavy lamp. I am wondering how to determine its value as well as whether it is actually made of Lignum Vitae wood or not. I have attached a picture of the bottom of the lamp. Do you have any ideas?

  • asadefa

    i have a piece of lignum vitae that is olive green but much lighter in colour than the lignum vitae photo on this site. It also has green lines in the grain. Do you think it is real?

  • Sullivan Wagoner

    Wood is good. .. ^This one