Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Bursera microphylla, Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree is a rare native tree with small yellow, white or cream colored flowers. Elephant Tree blooms from June to July. Bursera microphylla Elephant Tree is a native small tree, rare in the United States where it found only in Arizona and California. Elephant Trees are found on arid rocky slopes and limestone soils. Photo taken in the Harquahala Mountains, southwestern Arizona. Bursera microphylla Elephant Tree gets its name from the massive, swollen-looking trunks and, to a lesser extent, chubby branches that give this plant a squatty profile. Bursera microphyllaElephant Tree is fragrant species with pinnately compound leaves. Fruits are hanging drupes. Bursera microphylla

Scientific Name: Bursera microphylla
Common Name: Elephant Tree
Also Called: Littleleaf Elephant Tree, Little Leaf Bursera (Spanish: Torote Blanco, Copal, Palo Colorado, Torote Rojo, Torote Colorado, Cuajiote Blanco, Torote)
Family: Burseraceae, Elephant Tree or Torchwood Family
Synonyms: (Elaphrium microphylla)
Status: Native
Duration: Perennial
Size: Up to 20 feet, truck diameter of 1 foot or more.
Growth Form: Small tree or large shrub; trunk and branches are "fat" and swollen-looking; branches streaked red or reddish-brown; older bark fades to white; short with squatty profile.
Leaves: Green; alternate, deciduous, glabrous, pinnately compound, once- or twice-pinnate, leaflets narrowly oblong to linear, margins entire.
Flower Color: Yellow, white or cream; flowers with 4 or 5 petals and sepals, fruit is a hanging drupe (see photo above).
Flowering Season: June and/or July.
Elevation: Up to 2,500 feet.

Habitat Preferences: Abundant locally where found on arid rocky slopes and limestone soils.

Recorded Range: Rare in the United States, Bursera microphylla is found only in AZ and CA. It is also native to northwest Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Bursera microphylla.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.
Wetland Indicator: No information available.
Threatened/Endangered Information: No information available.

Genus Information: 2 species in Arizona.

Comments: A Sonoran Desert species, Elephant Tree foliage is aromatic and its name is in reference to its massive, swollen-looking even grotesque, trunks which may resemble an elephants trunk or leg. Arizona and California represent the northern most limits of Elephant Tree. Elephant trees are not frost tolerant and they are subject to natural "pruning" losses due to freezing temperatures.

In addition to Elephant Tree Family, the Burseraceae family is also known as; Frankincense and Myrrh Family, the Incense Tree Family and the Torchwood Family.

Ethno-Herbalist: Southern California Ethnobotany; Ethnobotany of Southern California Native Plants: Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla.

Elephant Tree has one or more ethno-botanical uses identified at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

Date Profile Completed: 4/30/2015, 07/20/2015, updated 09/22/2016, updated format 10/11/2017
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database – ITIS search
1993, The Jepson Manual, Citation: (accessed 4/30/2015)
Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet [accessed: 04/30/2015]. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Bursera microphylla', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 February 2015, 17:05 UTC, [accessed 30 April 2015]
SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations,