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Bursera microphylla

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About Elephant Tree (Bursera microphylla) Bursera microphylla is a small tree in the Burseraceae (Torchwood) family known by the common name Elephant Tree. This tree is native to Northern Mexico (states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Sonora and Zacatecas) and the Southwestern United States (Southern California and Arizona), exclusively in desert regions. It is the only representative of this family in the U.S.; many species occur in Mexico. The Anza-Borrego Desert in San Diego County is the northern limit of this species in California. Although classified as a tree, in some locations it is a sprawling 3 ft. shrub. Its bark is light gray to white, with younger branches having a reddish color. The light foliage is made up of long, straight, flat, legume-like leaves which are composed of paired leaflets. It readily drops its leaves in response to drought and is extremely drought tolerant. The somewhat swollen trunk acts as water storage and has papery, exfoliating bark. The flowers are rounded yellow buds which open into small, star-shaped white or cream flowers. The fruit is a drupe containing a yellow stone. According to the Cahuilla Indians, the red sap of the Elephant Tree was used as a panacea.
Plant Description
Plant Type
Tree, Succulent

Max. Height
13 ft (4 m)

Max. Width
10 ft (3.0 m)

Fragrant - Pleasant

Growth Rate
Very Slow

Summer Deciduous

Flower Color
White, Yellow, Cream

Flowering Season

Native Status
Natural Setting
Site Type
Rocky slopes of the desert


Elevation ?
8' - 2623'

Annual Precip. ?
3.1" - 6.5"

Summer Precip. ?
0.64" - 1.55"

Coldest Month ?
47.6° F - 58.3° F

Hottest Month ?
80.4° F - 88.3° F

Humidity ?
3.35 vpd - 38.51 vpd

Soil Description
Typically decomposed granite


Cold Tolerance(° F)
Tolerates cold to 25° F

Companion Plants
It may be grown in a container almost indefinitely. If planted in the ground in a Desert garden setting, it can be combined with many native Desert shrubs, herbs and cacti from California and Baja. It is not usually offered for sale in native plant nurseries but may be found at specialty Desert or succulent nurseries.

Wildlife Attracted
The fruits are attractive to many insects, small mammals and birds, notably Ash-throated Flycatcher and Gray Vireo

Landscaping Information
Ease of Care
Moderately Easy

Water Requirement ?
Extremely Low, Very Low
Extremely Low
Very Low
Moderate - High

Max. Summer Water ?
No Summer Water
Keep moist

Propagation ?
For propagating by seed: No treatment.

Common uses
Bank Stabilization, Hedges, Deer Resistant

Nursery Availability
Rarely Available


Sources include: Wikipedia. All text shown in the "About" section of these pages is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Plant observation data provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, Sunset information provided by Jepson Flora Project. Propogation from seed information provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery. Sources of plant photos include CalPhotos, Wikimedia Commons, and independent plant photographers who have agreed to share their images with Calscape. Other general sources of information include Calflora, CNPS Manual of Vegetation Online, Jepson Flora Project, Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Tree of Life, The Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout. Climate data used in creation of plant range maps is from PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, using 30 year (1981-2010) annual "normals" at an 800 meter spatial resolution.

Links:   Jepson eFlora Taxon Page  CalPhotos  Wikipedia  Calflora

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