NATIONAL TREE OF THE BAHAMAS & THE WOOD OF CRICKET BAILS
LIGNUM VITAE The “tree of life” (Guaiacum sanctum) is a very heavy wood with clusters of small blue flowers at the branch tips. Its strength, density and durability made it a valuable trade wood historically. It easily sinks in water and is the densest of all trade woods. As alternative materials and compounds have been discovered, the demand for LV has fallen… which is fortunate, since Lignum Vitae (also commonly known as Greenheart and Ironwood) is now considered a potentially endangered tree species.
LIGNUM VITAE TREE IN HOPE TOWN, ELBOW CAY, ABACO
The wood had – and still has – many important uses. All cricketers know that bails of lignum vitae are used in windy conditions to forestall any “…and the bowler charges in… reaches his delivery stride and… oh my goodness the bails have blown off…” dramas. The wood is also used in other sports: for bowls and skittle balls, and croquet mallets Flower Image Credit Grooko
LIGNUM VITAE TREE ON MAN-O-WAR CAY, ABACO
Photo credit: Eric Forsyth of the Yacht Fiona
10 MEMORABLE FACTS ABOUT LIGNUM VITAE
- Traditionally, it was used for making British Police Truncheons (now made of soft fluffy pink fabric to reflect new caring policing methods)
- Its physical qualities made it widely used in shipbuilding (though presumably not the whole ship, which would sink instantly)
- Cabinet-makers, stone-carvers and gem-cutters all use the wood in their crafts
- LV has many engineering uses. The wood is self-lubricating and is ideal for bearings. The 1st nuclear submarine had some of these
- The world-renowned UK fishing rod maker Hardy’s made a famous ‘Greenheart’ rod
- LV has medical uses, including for arthritis; and its bark / shavings allegedly make a nice cup of “tea”… (Any evidence of this?)
- A 1920’s calypso song “LignumVitae” was sensationally saucy for its allusions to the bark tea’s prophylactic quality in addition to exploiting the phallic connotations
- Gabriel Garcia Márquez incorporates uses for the wood in two of his novels (neither of which I have read. Oh dear. The guilt)
- Pete Seeger, singer / songwriter, made the neck of his banjo from LV
- The wood is also connected to mauve tiling, vitamin glue, anti-evil gum and the ‘vigilant emu’ by anagrammatic chance
A Lignum Vitae tree at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco, with a camera-shy juvenile black-faced grassquit
JANKA HARDNESS TEST
The Janka Hardness Test is an international test of the hardness of a given wood by measuring the force needed to embed a steel ball to half its diameter. The size of the ball is internationally standardised, though the reading may be given in ‘local’ units. The hardest wood (using pounds/force units) is the Australian Buloke (5060); Lignum Vitae is the second hardest (4500). Other examples are Ebony (3220); Satinwood (1820); Zebrawood (1575); Caribbean Pine (1280); Teak (1000); Mahogany (800) Balsa (100).
Some examples of items traditionally made from lignum vitae: gavels (auctioneers, TV Judiciary eg in Perry Mason); bowls; pestle & mortar; and (for dudes) a seriously cool guitar pick (less than $5 too)
PS 2012: I now have 2 hardwood plectrums (plectra?) to try out. The Lignum is nearly 3 times as hard as the Zebra wood. This does not imply that I am a dude (or even a superannuated one), but merely that I haven’t had the heart to dispose of my guitars. Mrs RH has a view about that… a strong one, I think
Info Card by Scott Johnson of the Bahamas National Trust
The above is cobbled together from Wiki and other snippets. Ta to all. An interesting site for a look at LV’s practical uses and some helpful information is Lignum-Vitae.com CLICK LOGO===>>>
The mention of cricket has made me nostalgic for the season just ended… UK – indeed any – cricket nuts will know exactly where I am coming from with this…
Thank you for this very informative page. One detail that I would like to know, in which season does the LV flower?
There’s a long flowering season, the usual range being February to June.
good information site it help my son out well with his homework on the the Lignum vitae tree
I am so pleased to hear that. Thank you for taking the trouble to tell me. I wish your son the very best with his schoolwork – and I hope he gets very good marks! RH