As a broadleaf evergreen tree, the holywood lignum vitae is conspicuous in the dry season, when most of the other surrounding plants are leafless (6). It produces many blue flowers throughout the year, but more frequently in the warmer months between March and August. The fruits of the holywood lignum vitae are produced simultaneously with or subsequently to these flowers. During the fruiting period the tree may bare fruit continuously for up to six weeks (3) (5).
The holywood lignum vitae may play an important role in the forest ecosystem, providing vital resources and niches for many other species. As well as providing cover for several species of bird, its seeds also provide a food source to many species. These birds either consume the seeds themselves or transport them for consumption by nestlings or fledglings (5).
The holywood lignum vitae has a very slow growth rate (4) (6) and it has been known to live for up to 1,000 years (5).
‘Lignum vitae’ is Latin for ‘wood of life’, which was derived from the fact that the holywood lignum vitae has long been known for its medicinal uses. It produces a gum or resin that acts as a stimulant and induces sweating. It has been known to relieve gout, chronic rheumatism, and is used in blood-purifying compounds and as an anti-inflammatory (4) (6). In Jamaica, it is even soaked in rum and used as a gargle for sore throats (6).
The wood of the holywood lignum vitae is also highly sought after for its desirable qualities of strength, toughness and density. The wood is largely used as a building material for, producing structures such as ship propeller shafts, mallets, caster wheels and stencil and chisel blocks (4) (6) (7).