*The generic name Haematoxylum (often spelled Haematoxylon) means bloodwood, referring to the dark red heartwood. The specific epithet campechianum refers to the coastal city of Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula, an important source of the valuable heartwood.
*Common Names: Bloodwood Tree, Campeche, Campechier, Campechy Wood, Logwood, Logwood Casha, Palo Campeche, Palo De Tinta, Palo Negro, Spiny Tree, Tinta) For the purpose of this article we will hereafter refer to
Haematoxylum campechianum as ‘Campeche’.
Once again I was introduced to a new species of plant while visiting friends in Puerto Rico. It was 2006 I believe, and I was traveling with Toby Diaz, and Hector Morales visiting Hector Ruiz. We were doing some collecting in the countryside of Puerto Rico. Hector had mentioned the campeche, a tree the ‘bled’ and had very hardwood, but I had not seen it yet. As we pulled off the main road, we traveled along a winding hilly road that was bordered closely by tall trees. At a location meaningful only to him, Hector pulled off the road and onto the shoulder. As we exited his truck, I could look down a steep hillside that was heavily wooded. I asked where the campeche was
and he resonded “Everywhere”. In areas of Puerto Rico the campeche grows almost as a weed. Large thorny thickets grow along roadsides, this was one such area! We made our way down the hill and began to collect trees. Having to duck and bend low to avoid the thorny branches, we collected the trees by first cutting the lateral roots, then leaning the tree so we could cut the tap roots. Very similar to collecting cypress here in Florida, and
equally hard work! It was hot and humid, and I ended up with hands that were stained blue, and many cuts inflicted by the sharp thorns. When we all had about 3 trees we made our way back up the hill to the truck. At the roadside I noticed small campeches growing close to the truck. They were very tiny and I simply pulled them up like weeds. I brought several nice trees home that day. The large ones I used to experiment with and
see how well they would grow as bonsai in Florida. Of the small ‘weeds’ I pulled, one became a nice shohin, and the others were planted as stock plants at my nursery.
In the years since I have revisited the same site with Hector. The next visit I collected a very large tree with a lot of natural deadwood. Hector and I could barely carry it to the truck. It stood about 5 feet tall and had a diameter of about 18 inches. Needless to say I left that one in Puerto Rico. I also have traveled to Mexico where they also work with campeche as bonsai. Known here also as Tinta che’ (the local Maya name) campeche can be collected just as easily. In fact campeche is distributed throughout the Caribbean, India, Madagascar and it is even listed as being naturally found in California, Hawaii, and Florida!
Campeche is a fast growing ornamental tree that can reach up to 50 feet in height,and up to 5 feet in diameter! The pinnate leaves consist of several pairs of reverse heart-shaped leaflets. The leaves can vary color and in size from 0.4 inches to 4 inches depending on environmental factors such as sunlight, substrate, and available nutrients.Showy yellow fragrant flowers appear throughout the year. The tree trunk and branches
are thorned and become more gnarled with age, lending to it’s attractive appearance. The wood of the tree is heavy and extremely hard and dense. Freshly cut wood will readily sink in water.
Campeche is a valuable dyewood, it is said to be ready for felling when about 8 years old. The wood, deprived of its bark and sap-wood, is sent the market in the form of large blocks and billets. It is very hard and dense, and exteriorally has a dark brownish-red color. A large export trade of campeche of good quality is carried on from Honduras and Jamaica. The wood was introduced into Europe as a dyeing substance soon after the
discovery of America. Campeche is prepared for use in the form of chips and raspings. Campeche is moistened with water and spread in thin layers until a sort of fermentation sets up. By exposure to air, and through repeated turnings of the chips, haematein is developed from the haematoxylin, and the chips gradually become coated with the brilliant metallic green crystals of haematein. Campeche is used for dying woolen goods, in which it produces shades of blue, from a light lavender to a dense blueblack. It is one of the few dye sources that can be stored in its natural state for long periods of time. The wood can dry out, yet still retain its potency. Both hematoxylin and hematein are still commonly used for bacteriological and histological stains.
Campeche also has other interesting uses. In herbal medicine systems in Mexico it is employed as a natural remedy for anemia, dysentery and diarrhea, intestinal parasites, tuberculosis, and for menstrual disorders. In Brazilian herbal medicine, the bark is used internally for diarrhea, and dysentery; externally as an astringent disinfectant for wounds and skin ulcers.
As a bonsai I have found campeche to be very rewarding. It recovers very quickly from initial collecting. Prior to the BCI 2007 convention in San Juan we collected numerous campeche and prepared them bare-root, wrapped in moss and plastic. We sold many of the ‘stumps’ at the convention vendor area, and they were packaged and shipped to the new owners after the show. All of the trees sent back to my nursery sprouted and grew well. The trees will bud back well on old wood, and can be trunk cut to various heights. You need not worry about leaving foliage on this tree as it will leaf out again quickly. The branches respond well to wiring. Most set to their new position with just one application. Larger branches may require repeated attempts, and Ive found it easier to remove thicker growth and wait for new shoots so as to only need to wire once. The wood is quite hard, similar in fact to Buttonwood, and will hold up well after carving. While carving you may notice the wood is a nice orange or red color. This will fade with time, and you may apply lime sulfur then to bleach the wood. In some cases the dye will seep down the tree staining the bark. I have not tried to remove this stain on the tree, as it to me adds interest at times. For those who don’t like them, the thorns can be removed and you will need only deal with the thorns on emerging growth. The new growth tends to have a nice coppery red hue, which greens up as the shoots harden off. If temperature drops below the mid 30’s campeche will drop its leaves but will sprout again
when it warms. If the temperature is forecasted low for more than just one night its safest to protect the plant. I repot and bare-root campeche in the summer months, and keep the tree in the shade for 7 to 10 days after until I see new growth. They seem to respond favorably to a soil mix of lava rock, pine bark, and turface – putting out an abundance of new roots quickly. Campeche grows well from cuttings, and will gain girth quite quickly if put into a large container. I am field growing as well as container growing campeche to see if I can replicate any of the gnarled trunk and bark characteristics of collected specimens. I believe however these traits may be due to environmental stresses, as opposed to an inherent trait such as the trunk contortions of the Brazilian Rain Tree. I have not in the 3 years of growing campeche noticed any pests on the plant. If problems do arise, I have safely tested ‘Merrit’ systemic insect control for adverse reactions on the plant with none noted. I grow my campeche in full sun, and this seems to keep the foliage compact and the internodes short. My campeche’s have not bloomed as bonsai, however this year one did produce seed pods for the first time. In conclusion, I think we will see more campeche bonsai in the coming years as they increase in popularity. I have seen some very impressive large collected bonsai, as well as tiny mame and shohin sized specimens. The availability of collected specimens and inexpensive nursery stock will make it an feasible option for anyone’s budget.
By Erik Wigert