Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A different red and green

with 35 comments

Guayacan with Fruit 0038

Many of you may be seeing or thinking about the red and green of holly today, but here’s a different bearer of those colors, a diminutive evergreen tree called guayacán, Guaiacum angustifolium. I’d seen the species on previous visits to arid west Texas but never at a time of year when it had bright red seeds on it the way it did in Big Bend National Park on November 22.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2015 at 5:00 AM

35 Responses

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  1. Those little leaves are almost needles, aren’t they? Is it evergreen? Is it aromatic?


    December 25, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    • This is indeed an evergreen. The way you see its little leaflets, almost folded up, is apparently their normal way to be (I say apparently because I’m not very familiar with the species and am going by what I read online). I suspect that guayacán is at least somewhat aromatic because it’s a relative of the creosote bush.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2015 at 9:16 AM

  2. This one must be more cold hardy than ours. The term originated from the Taino indians as “Guaiacum”
    Ours is the Guaiacum officinale, also known as guayacán, but its particular ‘lignum-vitae’ is a popular name because it’s the most coveted wood for woodturning and one of the hardest on the island. I’ve worked with this wood and it’s a woodworker’s dream.

    Maria F.

    December 25, 2015 at 9:09 AM

    • Wow, someone who’s not only familiar with the plant but who’s worked with the wood: I’d read about how hard guayacán wood is, and therefore how prized by woodworkers. I’d also read that the name of the tree comes from a language of the Taíno people, who unfortunately survive as a people only in some of the words they left behind. Lignum vitae is Latin for ‘wood of life,’ with lignum being the source of Spanish leña.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2015 at 9:26 AM

  3. (See how gorgeous it is :
    Unfortunately, ‘lignum-vitae’ is endangered because it has been exploited for commercial purposes, although P.R. still has trees:
    “Lignum-vitae was listed as an endangered species by the IUCN in 1998. It has been overexploited for its valuable wood and medicinal products. International trade of this species is restricted because of its placement in CITES Appendix II”-Wiki

    Maria F.

    December 25, 2015 at 9:29 AM

    • As far as I know, the species that grows natively in Texas is not endangered; there’s a lot of room in the dry lands of west Texas for guayacán to grow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2015 at 9:39 AM

    • Yes, it certainly looks pretty.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2015 at 9:39 AM

  4. Yours is very pretty too, so Hollies are definitely not the only source of red.

    Maria F.

    December 25, 2015 at 9:36 AM

    • The next time I encounter a woodworker here, I’ll ask about using the wood of the Texas species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2015 at 9:41 AM

      • I’m sure P.R. is cultivating these trees. They are also used for musical instruments on a world-wide scale, but I don’t know whether this tree has recuperated enough.

        Maria F.

        December 25, 2015 at 9:47 AM

  5. The seeds remind me of the Christmas berry (or Carolina wolfberry) that grows here, as well as the red seeds of the mountain laurel. It’s a beautiful tree.

    The name brought to mind the city that Lisa Brunetti often visits: Guayaquil, Ecuador. At first, I thought the similarity between Guayaquil and guayacán probably was superficial, but after a bit more reading about the history of the Taino and their roots in South America, I’m not so sure.

    What I do know is that Lignum vitae is so dense it won’t float in water. In shipbuilding, it was used mostly for such things as turning blocks. And, it was used for clock gears in Colonial America. I’d never thought about the possibility of wooden gears. That’s good evidence for its hardness.


    December 25, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    • I looked up Carolina wolfberry and added a link to your comment so people could see what that plant is like.

      That’s an interesting conjecture about a link between Guayaquil and guayacán. If you find anything definitive, do let us know.

      From the little searching I’d done I saw that lignum vitae wood is heavier than water, so it’d be no use to shipwrecked sailors trying to stay afloat. Clock gears: how quaint. Perhaps the wood was cheaper or more readily available than metal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2015 at 1:29 PM

    • For woodworkers, Lignum vitae makes an awfully hard and good striking mallet for chiseling hand cut mortices.

      Steve Gingold

      December 26, 2015 at 7:11 PM

  6. A beautiful photograph to grace the day. Happy holidays!

    Susan Scheid

    December 25, 2015 at 4:25 PM

    • I can do this now because I’m not doing the cooking!

      Susan Scheid

      December 25, 2015 at 4:25 PM

    • And the same to you. How about those temperatures in the Northeast that are as warm as the ones in Texas?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2015 at 11:12 PM

      • I’ll take it over what we had the last two years!

        Susan Scheid

        December 26, 2015 at 9:41 PM

        • Yeah, I thought about those recent frigid winters you underwent (literally as well as figuratively). Except for those people longing for an old-time Christmas, this year’s version must be a welcome relief.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 26, 2015 at 9:49 PM

  7. These look very beautiful. Have just been introduced to the botanical beauty butchers broom with red berries and a stalk that looks like a leaf with a tiny flower. Happy Christmas and thanks for all your fascinating posts.


    December 25, 2015 at 4:26 PM

  8. Beautiful and practical; I see its common name is soaptree.


    December 26, 2015 at 2:49 AM

    • Until I prepared this post I didn’t know about that other name. The website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes: “The bark of the roots is sometimes used as soap for washing woolen goods, as it does not fade colors.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2015 at 7:28 AM

  9. The strong light makes the inner branches appear almost snow-like at first glance.

    Steve Gingold

    December 26, 2015 at 7:12 PM

    • There was indeed strong light out there in the desert, but I would never have thought about snow. Looking at the image in the abstract, you’re free to see snow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2015 at 9:40 PM

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