METRO PLUS

Wood of life

STURDY SPECIES Wood of life in flower

STURDY SPECIES Wood of life in flower  

Here is a sturdy species whose wood is impervious to water

The `Wood of Life' tree, a native of South and Central America, is botanically known as Guaiacum officinale. It is a slow growing tree, having a twisted trunk with knotty branches. The bark of the trunk is furrowed and variegated in shades of grey and beige. The leaves are compound, glossy and rich green in colour with a tiny orange spot at the base. Its charming, abundant flowers ranging in colour from pleasant purple to blue over time is the native flower of Jamaica. Each small flower has ten, yellow tipped stamens. Shortly after the flowers appear, the tree is studded with orange coloured compressed fruits, which later dehisce exposing the bright red seeds.

The wood of Guaiacum officinale is the heaviest of all commercial woods and is loaded with fats and resins so that objects made from it are self-lubricating and nearly impervious to water, hence also known as `Lignum Vitae' - Wood of Life. Propeller shafts for steamships, bowling balls, axles, chisel handles and bearings are therefore made from this wood.

Guaiacum officinale contains lignans (guaiacin), vanillin, terpenes and a resin known as Gum Guaiacum, which is used as a fat stabiliser. The resin is anti-rheumatic and anti-inflammatory which makes it valuable for treating gout. It is also used by forensic experts to detect the bloodstains that might otherwise go unnoticed as the resin turns blue when it comes into contact with bloodstains.

Though not a common sight in Chennai, the tree can be found in the campus of the Agri-Horticultural Society and the Women's Christian College.

PAULINE DEBORAH & RIDLING MARGARET WALLER

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