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Palo de cachimbo is an evergreen shrub occasionally reaching 5 m in height but usually 2 to 3 m in height and 3 to 6 cm in basal diameter. The shrub usually has several stems formed by suckers from the lateral roots a few cm out from the central stem and by branches low on the principal stems. The wood has a moderately low density, is moderately strong, and has faint annual rings. Palo de cachimbo plants are supported by relatively shallow lateral root systems, at least in soils that have poorly aerated subsoil. The roots are tan colored and flexible. The branches and twigs are green, slender, and usually paired. Shiny, dark-green leaves are ovate to lanceolate, entire and pointed at both ends, 7 to 20 cm long and 3 to 8 cm broad, with a 1- to 3-cm petiole. Small yellow to greenish-white flowers are tightly clustered in open terminal panicles. The 4- mm ellipsoidal berries are tightly clustered. They are dark purple or dark blue at maturity and usually contain two hemispherical seeds having the inside face concave and the outside face with five ridges.
Palo de cachimbo grows mostly in wet forest areas that receive from 2000 to 3000 mm of mean annual precipitation. It occurs at elevations from near sea level to 800 m.