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Bursera microphylla

Bursera microphylla A. Gray

Elephant Tree, Elephant-tree

Burseraceae (Frankincense Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

Elephant-tree is an aromatic, tree-like shrub, from 3- 15 ft. in height, with crooked, tapering branches that suggest the shape of an elephant’s trunk. Aromatic shrub or tree with short, very thick, sharply tapered trunk with stout, crooked, tapering branches and a widely spreading but sparse, open crown. Young branches are smooth, reddish-brown; the older bark exfoliates in flakes. Pinnate leaves are deciduous. Small flowers are followed by a hanging, drupe-like fruit.

As the common name suggests, the stout trunk and branches recall the legs and trunk of an elephant. The northernmost representative of a small tropical family, it is very susceptible to frost; young plants are killed back by cold weather. The innermost bark exudes a reddish sap used as dye and tannin.


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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Pinnate
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Jun , Jul , Aug
Bloom Notes: Creamy-white.


Native Distribution: S.w. AZ, s.e. CA & n.w. Mex.
Native Habitat: Arid, rocky slopes to 2500 ft.

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil Description: Dry, limestone soils.
Conditions Comments: Fairly inconspicuous flowers bloom in June.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Tohono Chul Park, Inc. - Tucson, AZ

Additional resources

USDA: Find Bursera microphylla in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Bursera microphylla in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Bursera microphylla


Record Modified: 2007-01-01
Research By: TWC Staff

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