Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Elephant Tree
Bursera microphylla

Family: Burseraceae
Genus: Bursera (ber-SER-uh) (Info)
Species: microphylla (my-kro-FIL-uh) (Info)

3 members have or want this plant for trade.


12-15 ft. (3.6-4.7 m)

20-30 ft. (6-9 m)
30-40 ft. (9-12 m)
over 40 ft. (12 m)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Color:
White/Near White

Bloom Time:
Mid Spring


Other details:
Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From semi-hardwood cuttings
From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall

Seed Collecting:
Allow seedheads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds

Click thumbnail
to view:

By CactusJordi
Thumbnail #1 of Bursera microphylla by CactusJordi

By palmbob
Thumbnail #2 of Bursera microphylla by palmbob

By palmbob
Thumbnail #3 of Bursera microphylla by palmbob

By palmbob
Thumbnail #4 of Bursera microphylla by palmbob

By palmbob
Thumbnail #5 of Bursera microphylla by palmbob

By palmbob
Thumbnail #6 of Bursera microphylla by palmbob

By palmbob
Thumbnail #7 of Bursera microphylla by palmbob

There are a total of 30 photos.
Click here to view them all!


7 positives
No neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive azant On Apr 14, 2013, azant from Phoenix, AZ wrote:

What a neat species, grows well in Phoenix as stated previously here. I grow a few varieties, and they all smell slightly different but still intoxicating, almost as good as fresh cut C. myrrha.

For good form, get used to the idea of a little neglect.

I recommend Bursera suntui as well, similar scent to microphylla but sweeter. It has a similar leaf form as well.

Positive mrsS On Apr 17, 2012, mrsS from Los Barrilles
Mexico wrote:

I have many of these gorgeous trees at my home in Baja California South. They smell like pine+cinamon/nutmeg, and their bark peels off in scrolls that whistle/sing in the afternoon breezes. They don't want to be watered, it seems, and they appear to need the other plants/shrubs that they grow up with, i.e., occotilo, palo de arco/Esperanza, mesquite trees, Cardon cactus, choyo, + innumerable Baja scrub shrubs around them. The people next to me RAZED their property but left the Torote trees, and they all died within a year or two. (So sad). They grow beautifully on rocky hillsides, + actually seem to prefer this landscape, good air and good drainage. I am worried about the one that we built our house around, though, because it has a large sap leak at the base of its trunk. The sap is pearl-milky colored, but quickly turns black, and smells bad. When we've had to trim a branch, the normal sap is milky, but dries within a day or so to an opaque amber color. We never water these trees, but have pavers around it so we can lounge and enjoy it. It doesn't have any other issues (pests, fungi, they are very hardy) but it had this ongoing sap leak which worries me. It has leaves but they are beginning to turn half yellow half green, it's bark seems normal, like the other 10 or so on the property, but maybe a bit less rust colored than the more robust ones. Does anyone know if this is some sort of normal drain, like our gardener says, or if we can do something to keep it healthier? Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you!

Positive hortulaninobili On Feb 2, 2011, hortulaninobili from St. Louis, MO (Zone 6a) wrote:

Bursera microphylla:

For those of us not living in the arid desert of Southwestern United States, this plant still proves valuable as a potted plant. I purchased a plant several years ago from the Henry Shaw Cactus Society plant show at Missouri Botanical Garden as a small sapling. It has since grown well in a 8" clay pot outdoors during the growing season. Growing media should be approximately equal parts each of soil-less potting media, sand, a cherty gravel, and half-parts vermiculite and perlite. Adding a slow-release fertilizer to mix also is recommended. Once growing in the pot, use small pea gravel as a mulch atop the media in the pot. This will add weight and keep the pot from getting too dry (when growing in a pot, too dry can prove harmful even for drought tolerant plants).

I water usually every 3-5 days in the summer and more frequent if extended heat ongoing. Tolerates humidity well--as long as in full sun and sufficient airflow.

To create a dormant state in fall (before major freezing weather commences) place potted Bursera in garage and allow leaves to yellow and senesce. If potential for freezing becomes severe, place in an unheated basement and utilize supplemental fluorescent lighting set up with a timer to allow 12 hour photoperiod. Keep dry and maybe water one time every week. This will help keep plant dormant. As soon as weather becomes warm and freeze threat abates, Bursera can be placed outside again.

Never have observed insect pests or disease problems. Resin from sap turns whitish and has an agreeable fragrance much like frankincense, a plant to which it is related (Boswellia sacra). Purported to make an excellent bonsai subject.

Positive 3gardengirl On May 13, 2010, 3gardengirl from Phoenix, AZ wrote:

I have one growing in my front yard, Phoenix. It's a microphylla. Scent at first is tangerine-like, after that, it's overpowering. Just barely brushing the plant/tree gives off this scent.

The leaves are reputedly good for making into a tea for respiratory illness. I have distilled this plant both for the essential oil and for the hydrosol. The eo is quite abundant.

I am testing it now on ant bites on my thumb. It's quite promising. [you know those tiny, black ants that bite the heck out of you, if you live here. I have 4 in a circle around the base of my thumb] The itch woke me up twice in the middle of the night and the pain from one of them I'm well aware of. The whole thumb has been swollen and painful. 5-13-10

Most plants that grow in the wild, where there's little rainfall, do best when there's little watering in the domesticated yard. They concentrate their healing powers in their parts if left alone and not coddled. This elephant tree is that way. It will be better for you medicinally if you don't overwater it. Ditto Larrea Tridentata [chaparral].

Positive Xenomorf On May 8, 2005, Xenomorf from Valley of the Sun, AZ (Zone 9b) wrote:

This is a good drought tolerent tree for Phoenix. The foliage has a pleasant citrus orange and pine blend aroma. These photos of mine are of the tree growing at South Mountian Park in Phoenix while it was raining, so the bark has a wet look to it.
If you are seed collecting, you must be quick because as soon as the seeds are mature/ripe, the pod opens up and drops the seed immediately. If the seed pod is collected before it is ripe then seed is not viable. Try attaching a catch bag over the seed pod.

I've also seen this growing in the wild on the 'El Camino Del Diablo Trail' (Devils' Highway) that runs between Ajo and Wellton in Arizona through the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

Positive sonotaps On Aug 5, 2004, sonotaps from Phoenix, AZ wrote:

I have a bursera microphylla (hybrid) growing in my yard in NE Phoenix. Microphyllas have very small leaves compared to Bursera Hindsiana and Fagaroides and are not as cold sensitive. It's a beautiful tree and the scent is very strong, especially after rain (when we get some). My tree is almost 6 feet tall now. Its leaves are larger than the typical microphyllas growing naturally in Phoenix South Mountain park, and could actually be a naturally occuring hybrid with Fagaroides according to the nursery where I bought the plant. I can certainly see the difference in the leaves.

Well drained soil and some extra water is a good idea in our Phoenix summer for better growth and a better looking plant. That said, they are drought hardy and quite suitable for xeriscape.

Positive palmbob On Oct 17, 2003, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:

This is a good natural bonsai tree for So Cal and is very drought tolerant. It is a pretty low growing 'tree' up to about 5' (often only a 1', though), but can have branches that spread laterally for 4-5'. If watered well it can grow pretty fast (for a bonsai tree)... but care must be taken to have really well draining soil as it's apt to rot, especially in cool weather. The trunk of this tree has a papery thin bark that tends to flake off in large sections. It also has aromatic leaves that smell like an herb when touched or crushed.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Ajo, Arizona
Chandler, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona (4 reports)
Bostonia, California
Corona, California
Garden Grove, California
Rowland Heights, California
San Marino, California
Thousand Oaks, California

We recommend Firefox
Overwhelmed? There's a lot to see here. Try starting at our homepage.

[ Home | About | Advertise | Media Kit | Mission | Featured Companies | Submit an Article | Terms of Use | Tour | Rules | Privacy Policy | Contact Us ]

Back to the top

Copyright © 2000-2015 Dave's Garden, an Internet Brands company. All Rights Reserved.

Hope for America