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Bursera microphylla A. Gray

Elephant tree

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassRosidaeRoses, legumes, proteas, dogwoods, hydrangeas, mistletoes, euphorbias, grapes, many more
OrderSapindalesIncludes citrus; maples, horse-chestnuts, lychees and rambutans; mangos and cashews; frankincense and myrrh; mahogany and neem
FamilyBurseraceaeThe torchwood family, the frankincense and myrrh family, or simply the incense tree family—over 500 species of tropical trees and shrubs
GenusBurseraAfter botanist Joachim Burser (1583-1649)

About plant names...

The elephant tree is native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It is related to frankincense and myrrh. Although endangered in the wild, it is popular as a bonsai plant.

Identification: Small tree, 12-15' (3.7-4.6 m) high. Foliage has a pleasant odor reminiscent of orange and pine, leaves are pinnate. Young branches have a purple color, changing to gray or white, and flaky and papery, as they grow.

Bursera microphylla (elephant tree)

By Glenn and Martha Vargas © California Academy of Sciences.

Bursera microphylla (elephant tree)

Pinnate leaves. By Miwasatoshi.

Online References:

Tom Chester’s Plant Species of the Borrego Desert

The University of British Columbia Botanical Garden Center for Plant Research

George and Audrey DeLange's Arizona wildflower site


The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Sonoran Desert Digital Library


The Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation



Bursera microphylla description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.

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Bursera microphylla (elephant tree)

2/17/2007 · Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Cali­fornia

Bursera microphylla (elephant tree)

Male. · 2/28/2010 · Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Cali­fornia

Bursera microphylla (elephant tree)

Male. · 2/28/2010 · Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Cali­fornia


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