Description. Pau d'arco (pronounced pow-darko) is a large tree that grows in the Amazon rain forest and in tropical areas of South America. The botanical names for the species most commonly used are Tabebuia heptaphylla and Tabebuia impetiginosa. The tree is called taheebo or lapacho in South America.
Pau d'arco is a huge canopy tree native to the Amazon rainforest and other tropical parts of South and Latin America. It grows to 30 m high and the base of the tree can be 2-3 m in diameter. The Tabebuia genus includes about 100 species of large, flowering trees that are common to South American cities' landscapes for their beauty. The tree also is popular with timber loggers—its high-quality wood is some of the heaviest, most durable wood in the tropics. Pau d'arco wood is widely used in the construction of everything from houses and boats to farm tools. The common name pau d'arco (as well as its other main names of commerce, ipê roxo and lapacho) is used for several different species of Tabebuia trees that are used interchangeably in herbal medicine systems. T. impetiginosa is known for its attractive purple flowers and often is called "purple lapacho." It has been the preferred species employed in herbal medicine. It is often referred to by its other botanical name, Tabebuia avellanedae; both refer to the same tree. Other pau d'arco species produce pink (T. heptaphylla), yellow (T. serratifolia and T. chrysantha) or white (T. bahamensis) flowers. Though many of these species may have a similar phytochemical makeup, they are different species of trees.
Pau d'arco has a long and well-documented history of use by the indigenous peoples of the rainforest. Indications imply that its use may actually predate the Incas. Throughout South America, tribes living thousands of miles apart have employed it for the same medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. Several Indian tribes of the rainforest have used pau d'arco wood for centuries to make their hunting bows; their common names for the tree mean "bow stick" and "bow stem."