How to Tell Genuine Lignum Vitae from Argentine Lignum Vitae

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


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.

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Hi Eric
Can you help me determine what kind of wood I have here? It’s been used for bulwarks and is at least 70 years old. It sinks in water. The magnification is 10x.

Stijn A

Hey Eric.

I have a couple of pieces that I got in my possesion, though I am confused between lignum vitae and Holywood,

I will share a few pictures regarding to what I got (one of which is oiled in cooked linseed oil), but what is the diffrence between Lignum vitae from the caribbean, and Holywood?

and how comes that some pieces of lignum look more red than others?


Is there any way we can have the different species listed as their own? Rather than having then all lumped under “lignum vitae”

Luka Mrkonjic

It definitely is not an easy hardwood (genuine) to get. I have a quarter log I bough about 20 years ago from a woodworking buddy of mine. Made a couple sets of book ends, and still have about half the log left. But man, does it do a number on your tools.

steve rajski

Do you know a (brave/guitar builder) Luthier who has attempted to hand carve an acoustic Archtop guitar(backs & sides) with Argentine Lignum Vitae? I’ve used it for small carvings………but an entire Archtop guitar is another story. Am I lookin’ for BIG trouble? Is this a bad idea?? Pic’s?

thomas dijkstra

those who are looking to secure the real thing should not neglect searching for vintage / antique items that were made of it: i.e., lead dressing tools for plumbers; old-time two-hole bowling balls, etc.


Hi. I wrote to you on another post a few days ago. A good example of questions that come up for me is what happened on today’s asia wood safari. Is this Argentine Mahogany? See pic below:….. can’t seem to attach photo.

Last edited 3 years ago by Hugo

Trying again now. Seems to work now. Maybe operator error before.

T Luhm

Whatever it is, it’s quite beautiful and should yield you some fine projects!


I was told it’s mahogany from Argentina and then found your article. I understand that Argentine lignum vitae is sometimes mistaken or sold as mahogany so I wondered if you could tell by looking at it. Asia wood safari refers to just searching for woods here. Sorry, I should have been more clear. Everything is imported. Names
of woods are changed or hidden. Origins are obscured. Quite frustrating.



mariano Di Tonto

hola, soy Luthier argentino, las tablas de tu foto, no son caoba argentina, esa madera aquí se le conoce como viraró. Es una madera muy dura, se usaba para pisos. Yo la he usado para mastiles de guitarra. Y mi abuelo carpintero la ha usado para construir heladeras de carnicero en los años 70s

Ken woolcutt

Would lignum vitae possibly be turned to a size bowl as described here:


A wooden knife opener I made from Guaiacum officinale.


Two species of Lignum Vitae grow on the ABC Islands of the Dutch Caribbean: the Roughbark Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum officinale) and the Holywood Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum sanctum). While the trees were harvested on a large scale on Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, they are now thriving on these islands and are a common sight. I have several Guaiacum officinale trees in my garden and I’m growing a hedge of them as well. I’ve also planted one Verawood, which indeed grows much faster.

Johnny Mayo

I have some 2×12’s from an old old barn. It has a greenish heart. I routed on some, it really dulled my bit.
Id like to know if this is from south America. Maybe came from an old ship !

Steve Earis

as eric says you won’t get lignum in that sort of section size. the wood you have may well be Greenheart.

Mark Stebbins

Eric; thanks for the great article. I’ve grown many tropical hardwood species on my property in Central Florida and have to say that Verawood is one of my favorites. Much faster growing than Lignum Vitae and a nice ornamental with yellow flowers. I’ll post a photo of a tree I grew from seed. It was lost in a freeze and I used the wood to turn handles for the vices on my workbench.

Schennelly Stoughton

This is an amazing compilation of data on woods of that world , very impressive and appreciated.A very big thank YOU!!


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?

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?


We have a similar lamp with the same inscription. Did you have any luck researching the lamp/value?

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.

Hunter John

I completely agree about the aroma. I have a trumpet turkey call turned out of it and it is my favorite because of the smell. Wish I could buy a candle that smelled like it.

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.

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.


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.


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.


One part of the country (Valentia Island) is considered sub-tropical due to the Gulf Stream. We are also seeing an increasing number of Tropical fish species such as Sunfish, Gt white sharks, Lions Mane jellies and Portugese Man-o-war. No Box jellies or Irukandjis (yet).

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.

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