The Blue Mahoe is Jamaica’s national tree. It is indigenous to Jamaica and grows quite rapidly, often attaining 20m (66ft) or more in height. In wetter districts, it will grow in a wide range of elevations, up to 1200m (4000 ft.) and is often used in reforestation efforts. The tree is quite attractive with its straight trunk and broad green leaves and hibiscus-like flowers. The attractive flowers, which measure from eight to 13cm in diameter, range in colour from primrose to yellow to orange and change colour as they mature, when they become crimson. The flowers last just one day and flowering occurs irregularly through the year.
The name mahoe is derived from a Carib Indian word. The ‘blue’ refers to the blue-green streaks that are visible in the polished wood, giving it a distinctive appearance. It is often streaked with purple, metallic blue and olive hues. The wood has several attractive features: it is hard, elastic, very durable and when highly polished, has the appearance of marble. For these qualities, it is prized for cabinetwork, furniture, house interior trim and craft items.
The inner bark of the tree is often referred to as ‘Cuba bark’ because it was formerly used for tying bundles of Havana cigars. Cuba is the only other place where the Blue Mahoe grows naturally.