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Lignum Vitae (Argentine)

Lignum Vitae (Argentine)

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How to Tell Genuine Lignum Vitae from Argentine Lignum Vitae

by Eric Meier

Original source: http://www.wood-database.com

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

vs

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.

4 Responses to "How to Tell Genuine Lignum Vitae from Argentine Lignum Vitae"
  1. Tomas Procopio February 13, 2013 11:02

    I read in some other site that Verawood/Argentine Lignum Vitae is toxic, at least when worked. Does it results to you? Do you think this could be a problem while using it, expecially considering the hand moisture?

    Thank you very much

    Tomas

    Reply
    • danblizniak February 13, 2013 03:02

      Thank you for your comment.
      I know that Genuine Lignum Vitae was commonly ingested by the indigenous people in South America. They used the wood chips to brew a tea. Argentine Lignum Vitae is very similar, though it is a different species. You will not have any issues when handling the wood. The only allergen problems you might have is from breathing in the saw dust. I can say from my experience, Argentine Lignum Vitae doesn’t bother my sinuses as bad as other exotics. Cocobolo, Bloodwood, and Ipe are the worst for me. Those woods really bother my sinuses. Even wearing a mask, it is inevitable that I will breathe in some of the dust in the air. Some exotic woods dust have caused irritation to my skin before, but not Argentine Lignum Vitae. To conclude, you should not have any issues when handling the wood. The only way any of the exotics we work with will cause problems is from the saw dust and splinters. However, these are only issues when working the wood.
      On an unrelated note, I make incense cones from Argentine Lignum Vitae saw dust that smells quite lovely.

      Reply
  2. Tomas Procopio February 13, 2013 05:02

    Thank you very much for your reply. May anyway ask you if Genuine Lignum Vitae will return available? His cost is very different from Argentine Lignun Vitae? (I think could be interesting for other peoples to, so I ask herre. Hope I’m right)

    Reply
  3. Tomas Procopio February 13, 2013 05:02

    too* and here*, sorry

    Reply
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