Bursera microphylla A. Gray

Elephant Tree
Burseraceae (Torchwood Family)


Elephant tree, aka torote or copal, is the only species of its family in California, and is rather oddly located here since the family's 500-600 species are mostly represented in tropical America, northeast Africa and Madagascar, the Galapagos Islands, and in Malaysia.  Two other interesting members of the family are frankincense (Boswellia) and myrrh (Commiphora).  It is an intricately-branched small shrubby tree with a short, thick trunk growing in age into a more arborescent form to 16' tall with white bark that exudes resin when cut.  Younger branches though are generally reddish in color.  The alternate leaves are aromatic with a scent of camphor, and are once-pinnately compound, each leaf with 7-33 oblong-linear glabrous leaflets to 3/8" long. The sepals are tiny and green, and the white- to cream-colored petals (of which there are 3-5) are about 1/8" long.  Elephant trees are primarily dioecious. The picture at top is a staminate flower with very prominent stamens and the three-petalled flower below is pistillate with stigma and ovary visible. The fruit is a hanging drupe which splits into three valves and contains a single yellow stone, maturing in late fall.   Elephant trees are locally present in rocky places to about 2000' in eastern San Diego Co. and western Imperial Co., and blooms in early to mid summer. The Jepson Manual considers it rare in California. It also grows in Arizona, Baja California, and Sonora, Mexico.  These pictures were taken at the native plant garden at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and at the Living Desert in Palm Desert.

Click here for Latin name derivations: 1) Bursera 2) microphylla.
Pronunciation: BUR-ser-a my-KRO-fil-a.
Click here for Botanical Term Meanings.