A History of Logwood Trees – Making Men Rich



In St. Elizabeth logwood trees grow in abundance. They are cut for use as fence-posts and firewood, and mature trees are found in all different landscapes like here in the drier sections of the wetlands. The tree is not native to Jamaica. But endemic to southern Mexico and northern Central America. Henry Barham was an Englishman who came to Jamaica in the late 17th century. He owned plantations in St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland, he became surgeon-major of the military forces in Jamaica. A natural historian, studying and documenting Jamaica’s flora, he knew of the dangers faced by the English in Central America in their quest for this bloodwood, as logwood was also called. Barham sent to Campeche for seeds, and in 1715 had them planted in St. Elizabeth.

Logwood (not sugar) was at the core of the businesses that made Black River a bustling little port town in the mid 19th to early 20th century. The trees were cut, chipped (stripped of the bark) and sent as logs from estates like YS, down the Black River to the port. The logs would also arrive by cart from estates to the east and west of the town. From Black River the logs would be sent to Europe, where they were used to make dyes. Writing ink was also made from the lowly logwood tree for years before the advent of “ball point pens”.

In the dye world, logwood dye is known as “Natural Black No.1”. Its sale was outlawed in England in the 1500s, supposedly because the colours it produced did not last. It was discovered that the use of certain additives would make the colours more permanent. Depending on the additive, it can produce blues, purples and black on wool, black on cotton, and black and violet on silk.

The name bloodwood is attributed to the red colour of its heart. The tree’s biological name is Haematoxylum campechianum. “Haematoxylum” actually means bloodwood. The flowers have a light, pleasant fragrance that matches their appearance. The honey produced from the blossoms is known for its high quality and light, golden colour.